Vernon Johnson has spent the better part of his illustrious basketball coaching career in Bryan County, earning Athletic Hall of Fame honors while taking three different schools to state tournament appearances.
The highly successful girls basketball coach will make his fourth stop in the county this year after recently being named the new head coach at Calera.
Johnson coached seven years at Silo, four at Achille and 10 at Caddo during a 30-year career that has included a tremendous 646-156 record (an .806 winning percentage).
“I’m excited because I know he’s going to make us better,” Calera High School principal Kevin Robinson said. “I think the parents are excited and the kids are excited. It is definitely a shot the arm for what we need. There’s definitely been a lot of buzz throughout the community, even during all this coronavirus stuff.”
Johnson ended a decade-long coaching tenure at Caddo, where he won numerous Bryan County titles, two years ago in order to watch his youngest son Kaden play more and relax for a little bit.
Rejuvenated after a couple of years away, he decided he wanted to get back into it and Calera seemed like a natural fit after the job opened.
“I guess if I live long enough, I might coach at every school in the county,” he joked. “I’ve enjoyed every stop I have made in the county and I thought Calera has always had good facilities and a good administration, so I thought it was a good fit. I wasn’t moving out of Bryan County again and one of my grandkids goes to school there so that will be nice.
“I’ve been blessed with good players everywhere I’ve been. Good players make coaches look good. People have told me for a long time they have good kids there and I remember some of the current players from back in eighth and ninth grade when I was still coaching at Caddo. I thought they had really good talent then. They have struggled a little the last couple of years and I think that they really want to win. I’m here to win 20 games, not six.”
Low numbers have been a problem in recent years for the Lady Bulldogs, suiting up just seven players some of the time this past season.
In just a handful of meetings with prospective players, Johnson has seen an uptick in those numbers and feels like he knows how to continue that increase from his previous rebuilding efforts.
“I’ve met with the kids a couple times and know the numbers haven’t been good,” he stated. “Right now, it looks like we have about 14 kids. I think we have the talent to be competitive this upcoming year. The key to turning it around is having some success the first couple of years. It’s going to take hard work to get there though and I’m pleased with the work ethic so far.
“We are going to work hard on changing the atmosphere. Calera has had success in softball, baseball made it to state last year and boys’ basketball was one game away in March. We are going to carry that success to girls’ basketball. We plan on winning and are going to step on the floor expecting to win. It’s easier to change the mental aspect when you win a few. I expect more kids to buy in when we start winning and see the younger kids get excited and put in the time. It’s really up to the kids if they want to win.”
One different twist than in his previous coaching stops is that he will have to match wits with his son Kolby, who is the girls head coach at Caddo, at least once every season.
“That will be a first for me and he won’t take it easy on us,” Johnson joked. “The good thing is that we are in different classifications, so we won’t have to play them in the playoffs.
“Right now Silo and Caddo are leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else in the county, but you’ve got to start somewhere. I took this job like every other one I have taken. Expecting to get to the state tournament. Calera kids are pretty much the same size as every other team around. We’ve got a lot of good kids so there’s no reason we can’t compete. I’m excited to get back after it.”