There is no empty space on the walls of Tony Johnson’s office at Bishop Guertin High School.
Almost everything hanging up there can fit into two different categories – motivation and memories. There are the framed words that feature titles like “Secrets of Success” and “What it takes to be No. 1.” There are even more pictures, most of them championship teams that found out how to succeed and how to be the best under Johnson’s direction.
Both would be reasons why, by the end of June, those walls will be empty.
After 18 years as both a coach and administrator at Bishop Guertin, Johnson will leave the school at the end of the academic year for Worcester Academy, to become the head football coach and assist with the track teams.
Johnson spent 17 years as the football coach for the Cardinals, turning the team into the perennial favorite in Division II. Bishop Guertin played in 10 championship games under Johnson, including seven in a row from 2004-10, winning six titles.
During that time, Johnson also coached the indoor and outdoor girls track, leading the Cardinals to five straight indoor and outdoor titles from 2003-07.
But when he was named Bishop Guertin’s athletic director in 2007, Johnson gave up coaching track. He remained the football coach, leading the Cardinals to titles from 2008-10, but last May, Johnson was forced by the school’s administration to step down and turn his focus to being an athletic director.
The change in duties didn’t sit well with Johnson, who was also as an assistant football coach for Saint Anselm’s last season, and he decided it was time to move on.
“It was a tough decision,” Johnson said of leaving Bishop Guertin. “A little bittersweet, but the fact of the matter is, I’ve always wanted to coach. That’s my passion, and my energy is the commitment to the kids that comes with coaching.
“I felt like it was premature for me to get out of coaching. I didn’t want to do it, and that’s why I went to Saint Anselm’s. I asked myself what I wanted to do for the balance of my career and the bottom line was coaching.”
Johnson, who graduated from Bishop Guertin in 1977, began his coaching career not on the gridiron, but on the slopes in Minnesota, teaching young skiers how to race. From the start, he enjoyed working with the kids, so much so, when Johnson returned to New Hampshire to coach football at Plymouth State, he also began coaching a junior race program at Waterville Valley.
“I love the aspect of coaching, of teaching something to an individual and watching them excel,” he said. “The hard thing about being an administrator is that you do not know the kids personally. My fear in even taking the job as an athletic director was that I’d become disenfranchised with the kids. That was my fear and that fear came true.”
While he might get mixed up on which championship team is which, Johnson has no problem remembering the kids he’s coached. For every picture hanging in his office, whether it’s the team photos or a one of a group of kids, there is a memory that goes with it.
There was the football team that was so good, the coach felt the only way it could lose is if he and the assistants messed something up. There was the track athlete who, while on a school trip to Europe that Johnson helped chaperone, insisted on getting workouts in every day.
“She was so committed, she worked out every single day,” Johnson said. “We went to the island of Rhodes and we needed to do a track workout. We were working on a particular jump, so we were running around the island of Rhodes, trying to find a track. We found one. Things like that, that’s what I love about this.”
One photo shows a half dozen girls wearing track uniforms from different colleges, with two girls in the middle wearing Bishop Guertin uniforms. All were high jumpers while in high school, and all went on to continue competing in track in college.
While Johnson estimates that the number of scholarship athletes he’s coached is in the hundreds, he knows he’s had three football players get a whiff of the NFL – Matt Farbotko, who played at Harvard and spent time with the Colts; Tom Mante, who kicked at Yale and most recently had a tryout with the Cowboys; and Mark Spinney, who played Boston College and tried out for the Redskins this spring.
“This is why I have pictures in my office,” Johnson said. “That kind of thing gives me a lot of pride.”
He’ll have a chance to accumulate more photos at Worcester Academy, a private co-ed day and boarding school that includes postgraduates. When it came time to look for a school, Johnson contemplated going back to the college level and looked at other prep schools. Worcester seemed like the perfect fit because of its location, and the teams that he’d be coaching.
“Worcester Academy has a great community and they seem like they have some extremely talented kids,” Johnson said. “The beauty of it was that it was football and track. And then the college counseling is part of it. I’ve been doing that for 17 years.
“It’s going to be a new chapter, and a fun chapter. I now have that opportunity again to go out and coach.”