Athletic Director Joel Johnson has the "best job in the world" at Northwest ISD
With a long-time dream of being able to impact student-athletes in the way he was impacted as a young man by the coaches and adults around him, Northwest ISD Executive Director of Athletics Joel Johnson has learned some of the best parts of an athletic director role come every single day. VYPE DFW sat down with Johnson as he went over what his job and Northwest ISD means to him as well as what it has taught him:
11 Years of Memories & Counting
Shana Willeford (VYPE Media)
There's no doubt when it comes to Johnson's knowledge, resume, and skills- he served as a coach at Canyon High School then Naaman Forest High School in Garland before spending five years as the head football coach and athletic director in San Saba. From there, Johnson found his way to Northwest High School as a coach before accepting a position as the assistant athletic director for Northwest ISD. Then Johnson stepped into the role of executive director of athletics where he has watched his programs continue to strive towards excellence for the last six years.
Eleven years is a long time to dedicate to a school district, but it's also a lot of time to create memories that will last a lifetime. Thi has proven to be the case for Johnson who grinned with delight when asked about some of his favorite memories at NISD. "There's a bunch," Johnson told VYPE. "Byron Nelson volleyball won the state championship in 6A and that's right up there at the top. Eaton baseball won the 5A state championship. It's so hard to win a state championship in a team sport- especially at the highest level- so it makes it even more special. I think- from a winning and losing championship standpoint- those two are right up at the top," he added.
Strengths and Benefits
Like most things in life, it "takes a village" to run things. Johnson recognizes that the same applies when it comes to an athletic department; for him, that's the strengths at NISD. "It starts with our coaches," said Johnson. "We have really, really good coaches- especially our head coaches. It starts with them and filters down from there." Johnson went on to commend Northwest ISD assistant coaches before moving on to the students. "You know, if you're going to be successful, you've got to have good kids; you've got to have kids that buy in and want to work hard. Then, sprinkle in some really good athletes to go with that combination and all of a sudden you have a pretty good chance to be successful. At the end of the day, it starts with our coaches and if filters all the way through to our parents and community members."
As anyone can imagine, there are plenty of benefits that come with being the head of an athletic department. One of the biggest benefits to Jonhson? "I get to see kids. Athletics played such an important role in my life when I was growing up," said Johnson. "I wanted to be a coach because of the influence my coaches had on me and I think it's the best profession in the world. I can't imagine anyone having a better job than I do. I get to be around kids and watch them compete. The best part- without question- is getting to watch our kids perform."
On top of being able to watch kids compete in the highest level of high school sports, another joy Johnson is able to experience through his work is watching their lives change because of those they are surrounded by. "I get to watch them find their way through adversity as well as watch our coaches interact with them to build strong people, strong teams, and strong programs."
Athletic Director, Joel Johnson, looks over the field at McKinney ISD Stadium (8/20/2021).Shana Willeford (VYPE Media)
No one would argue with you if you said 2020-21 was a strange year- especially in sports. There was so much uncertainty surrounding health, safety, and whether or not seasons could be completed safely. Fortunately, many school districts were able to continue competition with guidelines that helped keep their athletes safe. This school year, the goal of athlete safety remains. "I don't know that our goals ever change. Last year a big goal was to just get through it," noted Johnson. "With COVID, we were excited just to be able to see our kids- we were thankful to get to compete. As you and I sit here right now, that COVID spike is coming back a little bit and school districts are trying to figure out how to navigate it again. We were hoping to be beyond that this year. So, I would say our goal is the same as last year- to get through it while providing all of our sports and giving all of our students a chance to participate."
Despite a weird year, Johnson noted that last year Northwest ISD saw one of the most successful years ever in athletics history. "We won more games and championships than we ever have," Johnson told VYPE. "Safety with the emphasis that we always have of winning as many championships as we can win and get as many programs and teams into the playoffs that we can is part of our goal."
Johnson went on to add, however, that the main goal of Northwest ISD athletics has always stayed the same: "Fostering relationships and raising good kids... raising good teammates."
Students first, the rest will follow
It's easy to get sucked into a drive to compete, but at the end of the day, the business everyone buys into needs to be about the kids. "The number one thing being in this business takes is remembering the decisions you make and how they impact others," said Johnson. "Are the decisions that we are making as an athletic department- as the coaching staff- in the best interest of kids? Because everything we do impacts the kids. Sometimes you get lost in trying to figure out how to navigate through something or what decision to make or not make. Someone told me one time: when you make that decision or you're ending that meeting you want to look back and ask yourself 'was the decision I just made the best thing for the kids?' and if you find out it wasn't, then you need to go back and start over."
"The number two rule of this business," Johnson added, "is realizing how important relationships are- especially nowadays with the kids. As a coaching staff in NISD, we really focus on our relationships with our kids, our parents, and our stakeholders. So, doing what's best for kids and relationships come up every single day in my job."
Working Hard - it gets the job done
Shana Willeford (VYPE Media)
Sports in Texas is no joke. The atmosphere as well as the time and money that goes into creating the atmosphere is, oftentimes, overwhelming. Johnson noted that it's easy to get caught up in "who has the nicest facilities, the biggest gym, and who can spend the most money," but at the end of the day that's not at all what it's about. "You can outwork people," Johnson said. "You may not have the fastest kids or the strongest kids. You may not have multi-million dollar facilities, but you can beat people and win games because you refuse to be outworked. This job is a 24-hour a day job and we preach working hard around here- doing whatever it takes to get the job done."
There's no question about it. Johnson and his staff put in the time, effort, and hard work that it takes to foster an environment that encourages students to work hard as well as enrich their lives. Whether it's excelling on the field and court or excelling in the classroom, there isn't a student-athlete that is going to leave Northwest ISD not understanding the value of hard work thanks to the trickle-down determination of Johnson and his coaches.