Although the window won’t be as tight, Bryan Johnson faces a similar task taking over the Westerville North High School football team as he did four years ago when he became the coach at Liberty Union.
Johnson was named the Warriors’ coach May 24, exactly three months before the season begins at home against Groveport.
He was hired July 3, 2014, at Liberty Union, less than a month before preseason practice began and 57 days before the season opener.
The major difference is that Lions team ended up 7-4 and made the Division V playoffs for the third consecutive year.
North, meanwhile, is coming off a year in which it went 2-8 overall and 0-5 in the OCC-Buckeye Division and has not had a winning season since 2004.
“I was joking that I have a lot more time to work with now (than in 2014),” Johnson said. “There’s a lot to do, but at the end of the day it’s all about relationships, getting to know your kids. We’ll be in the weight room pretty quickly and then it’s on-field work.
“This place has great facilities. The weight room is excellent. They were 2-8 last year but they were in quite a few games. They went to overtime with New Albany and (the Eagles) were a (Division II, Region 7) finalist. They beat Canal Winchester and Canal ended up making the playoffs (in Region 7). There’s talent here.”
Johnson, a Westerville resident and 2000 Westland graduate who played one year of football at Otterbein, replaces Scott Wetzel, who resigned in April to become the coach at Delaware.
Johnson was 19-23 in four seasons at Liberty Union and guided the Lions to the playoffs in 2014 and 2016. Johnson is a former Grandview and Gahanna assistant who also was offensive coordinator at Maple Heights when it won the Division II state championship in 2010.
Johnson will be a special education teacher at North.
“The most important thing is he listens and knows how to establish relationships,” Liberty Union assistant coach Brandon Twiss said. “He inherited 70 sons when he came here and he brought a family atmosphere to the program. There was a brotherhood on our staff and in the locker room. He never reacts harshly to anything. Now did we like absolutely every decision? Of course not, but that’s all part of being a head coach. I have no doubt he will be successful at Westerville North.”
Johnson said he lives “about two minutes” from North with his wife, Jill, and 2-year-old son, Everett, whose nickname is “Tot.”
“He’s a rambunctious little guy,” Johnson said. “He’s everywhere. He owns the practice field (at Liberty Union) and he’ll probably do the same thing in Westerville.”
That connection to the community was emphasized when Johnson met with North players.
“We’re confident that this is a long-term fit for the program, and frankly that isn’t something we’ve had the past few years,” athletics director Wes Elifritz said. “He told the players he knows that he is their third head coach in four years, but he strongly stated that he wants his 2-year-old son to go here. That really resonated with our guys.”