When Brad Johnson was a student at Little Wolf High School, and a member of its wrestling program, he knew he wanted to one day become the head coach of the program.
“As soon as I was in high school I knew I wanted to get back here,” Johnson said. “I just didn’t know how I was going to do it.”
After graduating from high school, he attended college to become a teacher. He student taught in the Manawa School District during the 2012-13 school year, and was hired by the district to teach in the Manawa Elementary School for the 2013-14 school year.
He got a head start to his dream by being an assistant wrestling coach in the district last year.
“I figured I’d have to wait my time,” Johnson said, about becoming the head coach for the wrestling program.
That wait was shorter than expected when Scott Hahn resigned as head coach prior to this year’s season.
Johnson admitted he was surprised by Hahn’s resignation, but it also opened the door to him realizing his dream. He applied for the head coach position, and was hired.
“I knew I wanted to coach and where else but where you grew up,” Johnson said. “I thought the situation was right and everything just feels right here, and that’s where I wanted to get back to. I like how we did things.”
Johnson said it made sense for him to go for the head coaching job.
“I know all these kids. All the kids know me,” he said.
He acknowledged that there are expectations that go with the job of head coach.
“We’re in a rebuilding process a little right now but I just want to get us back to the dominance we used to have in the CWC,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be the kids working, and the coaches helping. If we can bring back the bright side of wrestling which is hard to do sometimes because there are so many easy ways out. But it means a lot to me that the kids know what it is to work hard and the names that are on the wall. I want it to mean something to them when they go down there and see how many conference champs we have and all the state place winners and state qualifiers.”
Hahn may have resigned as head coach, but Johnson plans on keeping some of his ideas alive, especially the importance of expectations.
“I wasn’t a big expectation guy before Mr. Hahn,” Johnson said. “He’s always preaching about meeting your expectations, don’t let down on those. I think I was more goal-driven before. I think expectations are something everybody can relate to. … That’s one thing that I really like that he’s instilled in me when I was younger.”
Johnson described his coaching style as positive, loud, upbeat and helpful, while having fun with the wrestlers.
“I think most of them would say it’s a pretty light atmosphere but we’re working really hard,” Johnson said. “That’s a tough line to draw and not cross. I think we’re doing it pretty good right now.”
With the season already in full swing, Johnson hasn’t changed his goals for the season. He said the goal is to send four wrestlers to state, and bring back two state championships to Manawa.
“You have to set the goal high,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s younger brother, Casey, has his sights set on a return trip to state. Garret Griffin was on the path to state last season, before breaking his wrist. Griffin has been slowed this season by injury.
“It’s a setback where he’s at right now but what people don’t know is Garret is a unique individual,” Johnson said. “With ever rep he’s not taking, he’s taking three mental reps.”
Johnson said he expects Griffin to return in early January.
“I always tell him our goal is March 1, not January 1,” Johnson said.
Johnson admits the season has been up and down, but that hasn’t deterred the wrestlers.
“They’re not winning a lot of matches but every match they’re doing something special,” he said. “We have a great atmosphere and a lot of young kids.”