Joel Johnson is a well-traveled guy.
He was born in Connecticut and moved to Port Charlotte, Fla., at the age of 8, played baseball, football and soccer at Port Charlotte Christian, played three sports at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla., for one year and then concentrated on baseball and soccer the final three years, began his head coaching career at 24 at Crown College in Saint Bonifacius, Minn., moved to Toccoa Falls (Ga.) College and then Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn.
After six years as Bryan’s head baseball coach, Johnson became an assistant coach at Chattanooga Christian School where he worked for five years under head coach John Visser, who resigned after the 2013 season, but remained as the school’s athletic director.
Johnson succeeded Visser and returned to the familiar arena of head coach.
“I had never been an assistant coach before coming to Chattanooga Christian,” Johnson said Friday.
He’s starting his first season leading the Chargers’ baseball season and eager to continue a program Visser built into a winner – in 40 years Visser won five district, four region and three sub-state titles and took three teams to the Spring Fling with fourth-place finishes in 2003 and 2004.
“This program is well-established and has a great history under coach Visser,” Johnson said. “John did a great job building the program and it’s nice to not start from scratch. The last two jobs I had I had to start from nothing. We have a solid program and that’s refreshing.”
Johnson, 43, said the Chargers have 24 players and will field varsity and junior varsity teams this season and their home field now has lights for the first time.
“We’re really excited about that,” said Johnson, whose CCS head coaching stint begins March 10 with a 5 p.m. game at Boyd-Buchanan. “I learned a ton from coach Visser and took everything I could from him, trying to soak it all in. I do some things differently, but anybody who watches CCS play in the past will recognize us. We’ve got good kids, good talent and I’m excited where we’re going.”
The Chargers went 15-9 last season and lost to Sequatchie County in the District 7-AAA tournament.
And Visser expects Johnson has the skills to continue growing the program.
“I think he’ll do a fine job,” the veteran coach said. “He’s been in the coaching profession for some time, so he’s got a lot of experience. I decided after last season it was a good time to step aside because I had good people in place to take the team over.”
Johnson served as Visser’s pitching coach for five seasons, but admits that’s not “my heart’s passion.” He plans to spend more time working with the Chargers’ hitters and has turned the pitching duties over to Chris Henegar, a former CCS player in the 1990s.
Johnson said he was a “gap hitter” during his playing days because he didn’t have an abundance of power for home runs. So, Johnson was capable of stroking doubles into the gaps and said he was a “.450 hitter in college.”
“I was pretty successful doing that,” said Johnson, who played center field.
As for the Chargers’ prospects in 2014, Johnson likes what he’s seen so far from his first squad.
“I really like this team,” he said. “There’s a lot of talent in our district and it’s wide open this season. I think we can be right in the mix with a chance of winning the district. No one team has a stamp on it.”
Johnson said the team’s strength could well lie with three solid pitchers – senior Logan Phillips, junior Zach Mercer and sophomore Brandon Mason, all right-handers.
“I think we’re going to pitch really well and our hitting and pitching should be a notch below the pitching,” Johnson said. “I think we’ll pitch well enough to be in every ballgame in an extremely competitive district.”
The Chargers are joined in District 7-AA by Bledsoe County, Grundy County, Notre Dame, Sequatchie County and Signal Mountain.
Although Johnson has a new job, he won’t go into league play blind. He’s had five years to prepare for his latest coaching role.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)