In Utah high school football history, instances of a father and a son being the head coach at the same school at some point in history are rare.
The most well-known is probably at Judge Memorial Catholic High, where Gil Cordova coached the football team from 1966-77 and where his son James has coached since 2004, according to prep football historian George Felt.
There may be more, but the point is that it’s a short list.
Add one more to it.
Ben Lomond High announced Lyndon Johnson as its new head football coach Tuesday and Johnson will take the reigns of the Scots’ football program this fall nearly 35 years to the day after his father Ralph Johnson started his five-year run leading BLHS.
“This is where I want to stay until I’m done teaching and coaching,” Johnson said. “If we win, I’m staying. If we lose, I’m staying.”
Johnson will meet with the football team Thursday afternoon.
The local football and basketball coaching circle raised its collective eyebrows when word of Johnson’s hiring swirled last week.
Most people don’t know Johnson’s dad once coached at Ben Lomond, so it would appear on the surface to be a surprising move.
But the University of Wyoming football helmet on his desk and the countless football posters and schedules that adorn his classroom may speak otherwise.
Johnson’s never been a head football coach at the high school level, instead spending 15 total seasons as a head boys basketball coach at Roy, Brighton and, currently, Northridge, where he’s about to finish his fifth season.
But since he graduated from Weber State, he’s had stints as an assistant football coach at Ogden, Fremont, North Summit and Northridge.
“When this opportunity came about, where I’m more of a football guy and I knew I could have a huge impact on kids at that school where I almost went to school, where my father coached, I knew it was the right thing to do,” Johnson said.
Here’s the challenge facing Johnson: get the Scots to winning ways again. By the time they kick off the 2019 season opener, it will have been nearly three calendar years since their last win (Oct. 7, 2016, against Judge Memorial).
The team has struggled with participation numbers over the years, and getting more kids involved with football is one of Johnson’s biggest priorities.
“As soon as I finish up basketball season here, we’re going to meet with the kids and get them in the weight room and encourage them to come out and give them reasons why to come out, make sure they understand the value of the sport, the importance they have in the school and how they can help us as a program, and help the community and help the school,” Johnson said.
As Ogden’s undergone a revival under Erik Thompson, Johnson hopes to do the same for the Scots.
“I’m good friends with coach Thompson at Ogden, which will make for an interesting dynamic once a year, but he and I are going to work together to bring about a lot of change in the city as far as getting more kids involved in football and flag football, we’re going to do a lot of good together — we’ll just be at odds one week a year,” Johnson said.
He hopes to emulate and draw inspiration from the Army Black Knights football team, which has become one of college football’s biggest turnaround stories since Jeff Monken took over in 2014. Before that, Army had just one winning season from 1997-2013 and paled in comparison to other service academies.
Since Monken’s been the coach: a 35-28 overall record, including 29-10 the past three seasons, three straight bowl wins, three straight wins over arch rival Navy, and a year-end poll ranking of No. 19 for the 2018 season.
“It’s a place that I’m going to go visit this spring for spring ball and try to learn as many things as I can about what they did as far as implementing their culture, and bringing about their change in what people viewed at the time was the most difficult academy to win at,” Johnson said.
Johnson and his father went to the Army-Navy game this year, as it happens.
When Northridge was at home, Johnson was usually there. When they were on the road, he still took in some football.
“I went to a game almost every Friday and it could be anywhere from Rich high school, where I went, to Ogden-Ben Lomond, it could be North Summit and Beaver, I just love high school football,” he said.
Ogden has a special place in Johnson’s heart for many reasons. It’s where he went to college and got his start in coaching (Ogden High).
But the 44-year-old history teacher grew up near the mouth of Ogden Canyon and 12th Street, spending school years at Horace Mann and Mound Fort, and spending summers at his family’s ranch.
In the late 1800’s, his great grandfather incorporated the ranch that straddles the Utah-Wyoming border in Utah’s Rich County and Wyoming’s Lincoln County.
Every summer as a kid, Johnson and his family would pack everything and live there for the whole summer.
In 1984, Ralph Johnson became the Ben Lomond High head coach. That year, the Scots went 8-5 (one of their three best records since 1970) and beat Jordan, Provo and Pleasant Grove in the 3A state playoffs before losing to West 19-6 in the championship game.
Lyndon Johnson (yes, he’s named after President Lyndon B. Johnson) almost went to Ben Lomond High as a kid, but his family moved to the ranch full-time when he was in eighth grade.
So now, for the first time, he’ll be at BLHS on a dry, hot, first day of school in the fall, eager for a new challenge in a place that is both new and familiar.