|Coach remembers tackling record losing streak|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 25 September 2008 13:31|
M, the Panthers' streak had already stretched to an NCAA-record 68 straight losses.
``I just went there with a winning attitude, with a winning mentality, and it wasn't about winning. It was about if you could endure the storm, if you could weather the storm. That's what it was about,'' Johnson said. ``It was about perseverance, overcoming obstacles, and I'm not just talking about on the field. I'm talking about off the field.''
It was 10 years ago that Johnson finally ended the futility, but not without a struggle. He found that losing was ingrained in the Prairie View culture, and he was branded an outsider. That he dared to decorate his office with pictures of his success at other schools only won him ridicule.
gave me more momentum to prove myself. I may not have been a Panther-ite, but I knew I could coach football and I knew I knew how to win, and that it was going to happen at some time or another,'' Johnson said. ``That just kind of gave me more incentive to work a little harder and get the job done.''
Johnson had compiled a 35-30 record, a pair of conference titles and an NAIA semifinal berth at Langston - a historically black college in central Oklahoma - before deciding in 1997 to venture out to Prairie View, the Division I-AA school in Texas that hadn't won in nearly eight years.
``I figured I could turn it around and maybe stay there long enough to turn it into a winning program. That's why coaches take jobs. They think they can conquer the world and beat anybody,'' Johnson said. ``So I figured I could upset somebody in a given amount of time.''
His first task was ditching the losing mind-set, and it wasn't easy. He shielded his players from the press, which was tracking the historic streak, and then took more drastic action.
He staged a mock funeral for the streak, throwing into a grave old game tapes and anything the players wanted to add.
That was just how they wanted to look at it,'' Johnson said.
``That was just part of changing the attitude. From that point on, we grew as a team and got some things done and made it happen.''
The streak reached 80 losses before Johnson ended it on Sept. 26, 1998, with a 14-12 win against none other than Langston, his old school, in Oklahoma City. It would be the only victory in Johnson's two-year stay at Prairie View, which ended because he broke NCAA rules by paying for a player's tuition and housing with scholarship money available from players who'd left the program.
At the time, Prairie View was offering only 15 scholarships, one-fourth of what other conference teams were giving out.
``I just kind of got caught up in trying to do too much. Obviously, I wish I could have seen it through. No doubt, no question,'' Johnson said. ``I would have liked to have stuck it out and seen it through and say, `This is the house that Johnson built.' It just didn't work that way.
``Things happen for a reason, you learn from your mistakes and you move on.''
Ten years later, Johnson has come full circle. Langston hired him again after it posted two-win seasons in 2002 and 2003, and he's put together four straight winning campaigns. This year, the Lions started out ranked No. 22 in the NAIA poll and fell out only after a loss to Stephen F. Austin of the Football Championship Subdivision.
current challenge is sustaining success after losing his offensive and defensive coordinators the past two seasons.
``I've had a total facelift as far as coaches. ... All the guys are mine now, but I think we'd have been better off obviously if we had a little more stability with the coaches still being here,'' Johnson said.
``But I still think we've got a chance to be good and battle for the conference and be in the top 25 this season and possibly get a playoff bid.''
The 47-year-old Johnson dreams of proving himself in the NFL or at the top level of college football, but Langston is a comfortable fit for now. It's about an hour from his family's home, and part of the draw to return was being able to spend time with his ailing grandfather and be there for his grandmother.
One of his most satisfying wins came in 2006, when he returned to Prairie View and led Langston to a 28-7 victory in a game that was called off late in the third quarter because of lightning. Once again, Johnson was playing with about 20 scholarships while his opponent had around 60.
``The irony of that game, boy I tell you, was something special,'' Johnson said.
Nowadays, Prairie View is no longer losing. The Texas school is enjoying back-to-back winning seasons, and Johnson likes to think that his breakthrough win was a catalyst for the turnaround - even if some have forgotten.
ecent article in a Houston newspaper that gave the landmark win to Clifton Gilliard, the interim coach who won two games with the Panthers in 1999.
``The guys that played on that team said, 'Man, coach, they don't even give you any credit.' I said, 'Hey, you know what? We know the truth,''' Johnson said. ``That's all that really matters.''