Johnson to prioritize culture change

New head coach Denver Johnson is the 13th head coach in Missouri Southern football history. Johnson, has an overall head coaching record of 69-66.

Levi Andrew | The Chart

New head coach Denver Johnson is the 13th head coach in Missouri Southern football history. Johnson, has an overall head coaching record of 69-66.

Believe it or not, new Missouri Southern head football coach Denver Johnson thought his calling card was in the sport of basketball coming out of high school. Johnson was a 6-foot 5 All-State post player in high school. Well, what led him to pursue a career in football, you may ask? It’s simple.

“I couldn’t run up and down the floor and jump,” he said. “I didn’t have the skills to play a three or four in college so I round up being an offensive linemen.”

Johnson hails from Seminole, Okla., roughly 50 miles away from Norman, Okla., home of the Oklahoma Sooners. And if you know Oklahoma football, you know that high school football and football in general has always been huge in Oklahoma.

While Johnson was in high school, the Sooners won back-to-back national championships in 74-75. Also, the Dallas Cowboys (America’s Team), who Johnson described as the “It in that part of the world,” were also a team he looked up to. Johnson says he can still remember watching his first Oklahoma versus Nebraska game on Thanksgiving Day. That rivalry was the premier matchup on Thanksgiving Day. Johnson recalls sitting in front of the TV watching the game and between other rivalry games, he would go out back and play football. And that’s where he gets his love and passion for football.

“Football, I think it’s just such a part of the American fabric,” he said. “And that’s just how we were brought up.”

Johnson has a much bigger vision than the next 11 games in the 2015-2016 season. If you sit down to talk with him, you might come away with the feeling that he cares more about the advancement of this program than the team itself. Johnson wants to build and find the “foundational underpinnings of our program,” he said. He wants to get this program more attached to the community and the Missouri Southern student body. It’s not just about football with Johnson. He’s looking to promote a different culture and buzz about this program that the Southern faithful have yet to witness in a model football program.

“It was made fairly clear to me as I came and visited with President Marble and others that this was more than the next 11 games,” Johnson said. “One of the things I thought was always cool to do was start a program from scratch. This is very much a new beginning. The discussions were about how to move this program in the right direction.”

Five months into his tenure as Missouri Southern head coach, the culture is already starting to change.

Johnson has been coaching the game of football for over 30 years, and he still has that drive to establish a relationship and lead a bunch of young collegiate men to success. Johnson admits to having failed in upholding relationships with players in the past. But he realizes that the relationship that is built on the field is just half of it.

“That’s one of the founding pillars of this program is to have the proper relationship between player and coach,” he said. “I’ve got two daughters, but my wife will tell you that we have hundreds of sons. Once you establish that proper relationship between player and coach, it is lifelong and it is meaningful, probably as close as true family as you can come. I can be making more money somewhere else, but I love the involvement with these young men.”

Johnson is just excited to be head coach again. At one point, he wondered if he’d ever become a head coach again after his last head coaching stint. But after receiving the opportunity at Southern, Johnson couldn’t be more proud to be a part of the Southern family.

“I feel like we’ve [my family] been enthusiastically received [by] the community and University,” he said, “and I couldn’t be more pleased with that. Thank you.”