Grand Valley High School’s Mike Johnson steps down as football coach
PARACHUTE — Grand Valley High School is in search of a new football coach, following the resignation of longtime head coach Mike Johnson.
Johnson, whose coaching tenure with the Cardinals began in 2000, discussed his resignation with Grand Valley principal Ryan Frink the week before the team’s season finale against Coal Ridge. He turned in his letter of resignation to athletic director Dave Walck the Monday after the game, but also disclosed that he and his coaching staff had discovered that one of his players was ineligible for much of the season. The student did not turn in all of the paperwork required by the Colorado High School Activities Association, the governing body for high school sports in the state
“What it ended up being was a lot of miscommunication, and that resulted in [the student] playing in games,” Walck said.
An ineligible player participating in football games for the Cardinals resulted in Grand Valley forfeiting its victories over Pagosa Springs and Coal Ridge, dropping the team’s overall record from 2-7 to 0-9. It also puts the football program on probation with CHSAA, meaning the football team would forfeit its postseason eligibility if another rules violation occurred in the next year.
The probationary status initially involved all sports programs at Grand Valley, but Walck said it was reduced by CHSAA assistant commissioner Harry Waterman to just the football program. The status will last through the end of the 2015 season, Walck said. Also, Johnson, who serves as the girls basketball team head coach, will be on probation with CHSAA through the end of the school year.
Johnson said he decided in about the third game of the season that 2013 would be his last as a head coach. After speaking to Frink, he said he told a handful of players before the Coal Ridge game, then told the rest of the team and parents at the team’s postseason banquet.
“I became very frustrated,” Johnson said. “This is my 16th year of coaching two sports. I didn’t feel I was as committed as I needed to be. And if I were to continue, it would be a disservice to the kids that I coached.”
Johnson coached the Cardinals to three consecutive appearances in the Class 2A state football playoffs from 2007 to 2009, including a 10-1 season in 2007, and another postseason appearance in 2012. His career coaching record — including the 0-9 campaign from 2013 — is 66-68, based on information from Johnson and what is posted on maxpreps.com.
Paperwork required for ‘practice pass’
Grand Valley has a system within its athletic program called a “practice pass,” where student athletes bring their proof of insurance, impact test results for concussion testing, a medical physical and a permission slip. The athletes are issued that pass to participate on an athletic team.
The student — who neither Walck or Johnson would identify — was physically injured before the season and, near the halfway point of the schedule, came to football practice with a doctor’s note that medically cleared him to play.
Johnson was not at practice that day, so the note was accepted by one of Grand Valley’s assistant coaches. That coach did not know about the school’s “practice pass” system, and the athlete was issued equipment and allowed to play the rest of the season. The student was never issued a practice pass, however, and Walck said he never took a physical or had CHSAA consent.
“Those are some big issues,” he noted.
Walck said he saw the results of the impact test and, with that, was under the presumption that a practice pass had been issued. Walck found out the student was ineligible when Grand Valley’s administrative athletic secretary, Tracy Chartier, called him while Walck’s volleyball team was on its way to a 3A regional volleyball tournament in Manitou Springs the weekend of Nov. 2, 2013, saying the practice pass for the student was missing.
Johnson said it wasn’t until players were turning in their equipment that he discovered the missing paperwork.
“Being a football coach now has become more about management and less about game preparation,” Johnson said. “I take full responsibility for what happened. It really bothers me that this happened in my last season. I had made the decision to step down well before this happened. But it’s also confirmation for me as to why I need to step away from this. It sucks that this had to happen.”
The following Monday, Johnson came into Walck’s office, disclosed that the ineligible player had participated during the season, and turned in his official letter of resignation.
“I feel very bad for the senior class,” Walck said. “I have a son in the program who played varsity this year, and he scored a touchdown in the Coal Ridge game. He was really bummed, and he said to me ‘so that means nothing?’ My response to him was, ‘Yeah, other than the fact that you did your job and, in the end, there were variables outside of your control’.”
‘you play by the rules’
Johnson, since he is on probation with CHSAA, is required to write a corrective plan of action and turn it into the state’s athletic governing board. Walck, after Johnson told him of the infraction, reported the violation to CHSAA, notified Pagosa Springs and Coal Ridge of the violation by letter and wrote a plan of action, which reduced the probationary status from the entire school to just the football program, to CHSAA.
“Some people actually asked me why I reported it,” Walck said. “Well, you don’t step past the free throw line to take a foul shot. You don’t step over the service line in volleyball. You play by the rules, and this is a rule that has to be followed.”
A search for a new head football coach has been under way since November. Walck said he would prefer the new coach also have a teaching position within Garfield School District 16.
Johnson, meanwhile, said he takes away plenty of positive memories from a 14-year coaching tenure.
“It’s been an honor to be the head football coach at Grand Valley High School,” said Johnson, who added that he wouldn’t rule out becoming an assistant football coach down the road. “I’ve put a lot of time and effort into this, but now it’s time for me to put a lot more focus on my friends and family.”
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I’m not often given to public displays of affection, but on the morning of Monday, July 19, I felt it necessary to give an old and dear friend a proper send off.