PITTSBORO — Mitch Johnson was already familiar with Northwood High when he recently applied to become the team’s next head football coach. Heck, he had already applied for the job the last time it was open after the 2021 season.
Things didn’t work out back then, and Johnson settled on a move from Appleton-West High in Wisconsin back to his home state and South Iredell High in Statesville. But after leading the Vikings to a 4-7 record this past fall, Johnson found himself with another opportunity to take over the Chargers.
This time, the stars aligned.
Last week, Northwood officially announced that Johnson had been hired as a teacher and the team’s next head coach.
“When they told me I had gotten the job, I was extremely excited,” Johnson told the News + Record. “It’s a beautiful area, and the school is rich in tradition in all the sports. They have a very supportive and strong admin team, which is something I always look for. They’ve been very down-to-earth and very helpful since I’ve come in contact with them.”
Johnson’s coaching career began as an assistant at Pinecrest, his alma-mater. After four years with the Patriots, he took the head coaching job at Lake Mead Christian Academy in Henderson, Nevada, and led the team to a 6-3 record in 2017. In four seasons at Appleton-West after leaving Lake Mead, he amassed a 15-26 overall record.
Johnson takes over for Chris Kenan, who coached the Chargers to a 4-6 record this past fall. Kenan resigned as the head coach and as a teacher at Northwood following the fall season.
“We are extremely excited to bring Coach Johnson into our school community,” Northwood athletic director Cameron Vernon said in a statement. “Not only did he impress us with his track record of turning programs around, but we also know we are getting an outstanding teacher in the classroom. Coach Johnson is going to instill a strong work ethic in our students and student-athletes.”
With a lot of experience, and miles, under his belt, Johnson believes he has what it takes to help Northwood generate sustained success.
“I’ve been at a small school,” he said. “I’ve been at a big 4A school in North Carolina. I was at the highest level in Wisconsin. I’ve seen a lot of different types of cultures and a lot of different types of kids, and I feel like it has really prepared me for this position. I hope to be at Northwood for as long as I possibly can, and I’m looking forward to working with all the student-athletes I’m going to come in contact with.”
As far as coaching philosophies, Johnson said he like to spread things out on offense to make opposing teams, “defend every blade of grass,” though he also won’t shy away from also using the power run game. On defense, Johnson said his team will have a “bend but don’t break,” mentality, though his main emphases will be coaching his players to play with both discipline and passion.
Outside of offense, defense and special teams, Johnson also preaches a secret “fourth phase” of the game that he believes gives his teams success: the sideline.
“I want the kids to acting professional, obviously, but I want them to be crazy and being the biggest fans for the guys on the field and be ready for when their number is called upon,” Johnson said.
Johnson will be the fourth coach Northwood has had since the start of the 2018 season, following Kenan, Cullen Homolka and Brian Harrington. Over that span, the Chargers have an overall record of 22-28 and a conference record of 13-16.
With a move to 2A on the horizon next fall, Johnson hopes his presence will bring a level of continuity that has been absent with the Northwood football team over the past several seasons.
“They’re looking for structure. They’re looking for leadership. And I think I can help provide that ...” Johnson said. “I hope to be here at Northwood as long as they’ll have me.”
Sports Editor Jeremy Vernon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jbo_vernon.