Most Navy fans only know Coach Paul Johnson through his press conference transcripts or from seeing him on the sidelines of a game. But what about when he is not delivering one-liners to an attentive reporter or an absent-minded player…who is the real Paul Johnson? Who is the man behind the success of the Navy football program?
The search for answers
begins back in 1977 when Susan Propst met Paul Johnson while both were attending
"I guess it was…he's always had a high opinion of himself. He's very self confident – very assured of what he was doing. I was attracted to that," said Susan Johnson. "He was also very handsome and smart.'
But what about that Southern charm…
"Well, he'll say I chased him and he finally let me catch him."
But surely, there must have been a pretty impressive proposal?
"Actually we just had a little spat, and then, he's like, here [you go] and he handed me an engagement ring. That's the way he did it."
It may not sound like the
typical courtship, but 27 years later there is no denying the Johnsons are as
happy as ever. I mean what's not to
be happy about? They live in a
gorgeous home. They have a
beautifully gifted daughter. And Paul Johnson has perhaps the most secure
coaching job in
In a profession that is known much more for whose been fired than whose been hired, Susan Johnson is thankful for not having to see her husband out of work since he began coaching in 1979.
"We've never been in that situation…it's remarkable to be this long into his career and never have anyone want to fire him."
However, Johnson's first full-time job wasn't coaching; it was in a classroom, but not your typical classroom.
"His first year at Avery County High School he was one of those in-school suspension people…where he just got the bad kids, recalls Susan Johnson.
"There was this one time a young man was suspended because Paul had asked him to do something and he said he wasn't going to do it. And in order to come back to school, the student had to bring his guardian in and apologize to Paul. So [the student] comes back in with his grandpa. His grandpa looked at Paul and asked his grandson if [Paul] was the ‘boy' he was going to woop?"
"The student replied, ‘Yep, that's the one,' which made his grandpa turn to him and say, ‘Son, you need to go back home with me now, you're too dumb for any schooling.'"
Susan Johnson says they "would have been perfectly happy to retire at the high school" but budget cuts soon forced the school to cut her husband's position. He received an offer to teach at an elementary school in the district; however, the job would have meant Paul would likely have to give up coaching both football and basketball at the high school, and that was something he just didn't want to do.
"So he just went to the junior college in the county and talked to the football coach one day," said Susan Johnson. "He made such a good impression that the coach said he wanted to hire him. I remember moving into faculty housing soon thereafter. I think [the housing] was free. It was a pretty small place. It maybe had one or two rooms – including the bathroom."
Johnson would stay at
Johnson was offered and accepted the position to coach the defensive line for the Eagles in 1983.
Although Johnson started
coaching defense at
"Bob Wagner had just gotten
the head coaching job at
Unfortunately, Wagner's initial call to the Johnson house wasn't very well received.
"Paul hung up on him," explained Susan Johnson. "Some of the younger coaches had made prank calls in the past so he thought someone was fooling him. Fortunately, Bob Wagner called back."
When it comes to changing jobs and moving on to a new place, Mrs. Johnson enjoys the opportunity.
"It's very exciting," she said. "It's very complimentary to Paul to know that these other people want to hire him. I lived in the same home [growing up] and my parents still live there, but I don't know why but I'm usually ready to move."
There was a time, however, when Susan Johnson said family played a role in blocking a potential career move.
"When I was pregnant with
Kaitlyn [in 1993] and she was due any minute, Paul got a job offer from Baylor
to be their offensive coordinator. He decided not to take it and we stayed in
Family came first in that decision but a close second was how content her husband was in his current job.
"I think the thing with
However, two years after
Kaitlyn was born, the Johnson family was ready to move closer to their families
But once again the phone call from an admiring head coach didn't take place without a hitch.
"We were in
And just like that the
Johnsons were off again – this time to
Paul Johnson's first trip
"It's a great place to be…a great place to live. It's beautiful, and we were extremely happy to be back on the East Coast."
As for leaving Navy back in 1996 after only two years, Susan Johnson said the timing was right.
"He needed to be a head
coach. He was ready. After being in
She continued, "When we
For the next five years, Paul Johnson led the Eagles on arguably one of the greatest runs in college football history, compiling a 62-10 record and winning two Division I-AA titles.
"It was like we never lost," remembers Susan Johnson.
Well those days would soon be in the rearview mirror as the Johnson family was about to make a decision that would lead to one of the longest years of their lives.
Be sure to come back to GoMids.com tomorrow because…
In Part II of my interview,
Susan Johnson remembers the 2002 season at Navy and answers some questions fans
are dying to know all about like: Will Paul Johnson ever coach at Army? Could they be happy retiring in
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