Earlham College (D-III - IN) may have finished 2015 with an 0-10 record, but when it came time to recognize All Conference coaches and players, Quakers head coach Nick Johnson was at the forefront of everyone's mind.
Despite their record, Johnson took home the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Coach of the Year award, and not a single coach in the conference would have it any other way. I'd argue that no head coach, in any conference across the country, is more deserving of the honor. To understand why, you have to know coach Johnson's story.
Back in late October, the Indianapolis Business Journal did an outstanding piece on Johnson that highlighted his life off the field, which is dominated by his wife's health struggles. Over the past two years, Johnson's wife Melissa has spent over 500 nights in various hospitals and has undergone over 15 operations and procedures on her road to treatment and recovery.
In January, Earlham offered Johnson the head coaching job after he spent a number of years on staff as an assistant at his alma mater. As tempting as it was to fulfil his longtime dream, his first reaction was to turn it down so that he could focus on Melissa. But knowing how much the opportunity meant to him, she insisted that he take it, and he eventually did.
Here's the video that Earlham released to introduce Johnson.
But rebuilding a program that hasn't won more than two games in a season since 2009 is no quick task. The Quakers gave up fifty or more points in nine of their ten games, and allowed sixty or more in four of those games. Their closest game came in week nine when they dropped a one-point nail biter to Hanover College (IN).
Despite their on-the-field struggles, and his wife's daily health issues, Johnson has never missed a practice, and has missed just one game.
“There are lessons you get from athletics you don’t quite get from textbooks, and some of those things are very transferable to—quote-unquote—the game of life, which is also a tough game for tough people," Johnson told IBJ. "It gives me encouragement to pass on to her. It gives me encouragement to get through the day. This has been a great release from some of the mire that has been my life the last two years.”
Considering all of that, the HCAC made the decision to name Johnson the conference coach of the year citing:
"respect for Johnson and his dedication to his profession, his program, and his personal life. Coach Johnson instills life lessons to his student athletes on the field while embodying real life challenges."
"I do not accept this award for me, but on behalf of our staff," Johnson noted in the official release from the HCAC. "I don't know where Earlham Football would be without Robert Lee, Chuck Ehret, Dyrell Roberts, Elijah Ferguson, Kevin Carr, Patrick Piper, Jeff Adams, Kyle Fischer, and Rick Davis. These men are the glue that held Earlham Football together, and I am honored to be associated with them."
"If anyone 'won' this award it was our coaching staff as a whole. I was fortunate to see their dedication, work ethic, care, and concern for our young men and the game of football. It is sincere my privilege to work with each of them and to learn from them every day."
We see a lot of guys get run off after going 0-10, but coach Johnson's story is much different because of his perspective on the situation. My hat goes off to the HCAC for this gesture and showing players and coaches around the country that football is about so much more than just winning games. This is a small part about what is so great about the coaching profession.