Johnson hired as Barnesville hoop coach

BARNESVILLE — Matt Johnson has coached a lot of different sports over the course of his 24 years in education.

Despite stints as a football, baseball and softball coach, his passion always remained with basketball.

After gaining the approval of the Barnesville Board of Education Thursday evening, Johnson will get a chance to fulfill his passion at his alma mater.

Johnson was formally approved as the new Barnesville High School boys basketball coach, replacing Chris Pack, who stepped down following the 2016-17 season.

“I love basketball,” Johnson said. “It’s always been my favorite sport to coach. I am looking forward to the challenge, getting the program back to respectability and injecting some life into it.”

Just a couple of months ago, Johnson’s name was on the BOE agenda. He resigned as the Shamrocks’ head football coach after five years at the helm. When he stepped down from that post, he immediately said he wasn’t done coaching.

“I had an inkling this (basketball) job may be available,” Johnson said. “That had a lot to do with (my decision) to step down as the football coach.”

After Pack resigned, Johnson, 44, wasted little time in submitting his letter of interest to Athletics Director Mark Cook.

“I had tried before to get this job, but it didn’t work out for me, so I feel fortunate that it fell my way this time around,” Johnson, who is a 1990 Barnesville High graduate, said.

Johnson hasn’t coached basketball in some 20 years. His hoops resume includes only one stop. He was an assistant under the late Rich Saffield at Bridgeport before ascending to the head coaching post in 1996. He held that job until after the 1998 season.

He left Bridgeport to coach and teach at Cambridge. He worked under Rick Goodrich in football and was also the head baseball coach for a stint.

“I had thought I was going to be in basketball a good while, but the opportunity to go to Cambridge came about and that took me away from basketball,” Johnson admitted. “My years at Bridgeport were great. Coach Saffield was wonderful to me.”

Though he wasn’t on the Bobcats’ staff during his years in Guernsey County, he did spend a lot of time talking basketball and collecting information by picking the brain of the legendary Gene Ford, who was the Bobcats’ coach at the time.

“I had a feeling that I may want to get back into basketball at some point, so I was always picking Coach Ford’s brain,” Johnson said. “I filed all of the information he gave me away. I am definitely fortunate to have been able to have that experience. I am now hoping to be able to incorporate some of that into our program at Barnesville.”

Johnson is taking over a program that has struggled mightily the last several seasons. This season, several young players were thrust into varsity roles. While that resulted in a 4-19 season, Johnson now inherits a team with some experience.

“We have three starters coming back and a couple of other kids who played a good bit,” Johnson explained. “But, I am not sure what that’ll mean exactly because it’s going to be a different program than what they’re used to. Some (kids) will buy in and others may not. We’re going to value the ball, take good shots and really dig in defensively. There’s a lot of work to do. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s a challenge we’re looking forward to.”

Johnson, who indicated Jason Perkins will be his chief assistant, plans to begin open gyms on Monday and then head into the summer schedule.

Along with his role as basketball coach, Johnson was also approved as an assistant football coach where he’ll work with the defense under recently hired Blake Allen.

“It wasn’t my plan to coach football again when I stepped away,” Johnson said. “Blake approached me and I enjoyed coaching football and this allows me to remain involved, but I’ll also be stepping back. I’m going to see how it plays out and if it’s too much, I’ll give up football.”

Johnson offered high praise for his wife, Mindi and her willingness to offer her blessing at him coaching two sports.

The couple has two sons — Payne, who will play for his dad next winter as a sophomore, and Hank, who is in fifth grade.