When Edgar Johnson began teaching science at the newly-opened Shaw High School in Columbus in 1978, he didn’t know that his benevolent gesture to “help out” with coaching the track team would turn into a 40-year passion.
But it did. Johnson eventually became girls’ head coach in 1993 and took over the entire program six years later. Under his leadership, the Raider girls won state titles in 1997, 2001 and 2002. Johnson built the boys team into a consistent region and state title contender. Shaw’s boys team finished as high as second in the state’s highest classification at the time – AAAA – in 2002. During his time at Shaw, Johnson also spent 16 years as an assistant football coach on the staff of legendary head coach Charles Flowers.
The Willacoochee native (Atkinson County), who graduated from the old Carver High in Coffee County in 1966, and then earned degrees from Fort Valley State (BS, 1970), Tuskegee and Auburn retired, from teaching at Shaw six years ago, but continued to lead the track and field program. However, he has decided to make 2018 his final season on Raider Way.
Last week he took time during his daily fitness walk to reflect on his career, his future plans and the state of track and field, in Georgia and in the US.
What will you miss most about coaching?“I’ll miss being with the kids. It keeps you young and vibrant. Over the years, I’ve probably gotten more from the kids than they did from me. Now, I’ll have to find something else to do (laughs).”
In fact, what will you do with your spare time now?
“I like to travel and I love national parks, so I’m going to visit as many of them as I can. They’re all just beautiful. Every time I go to one, it just overwhelms me. Also, on May 30th I’m going to visit MIT and Harvard, just to go on campus and experience the sights and sounds.”
How has the sport changed over the years?
“For one, the athleticism of the kids has just gone off the charts, and two, the coaching is a lot better now. I think the better coaching has led to the better performances by some of our athletes in our state. You look at guys like Angelo Taylor and Terrence Trammell (multiple All-Americans and US Olympians) from Southwest Dekalb, and a kid like Christian Taylor (Sandy Creek, multiple All American, World Champion and Olympic Champion). Performances like that don’t just happen. They were coach extremely well , starting in high school. It’s a testament to the level of coaching we now have in Georgia.”
You’ve been able to coach some great athletes over the years. Who are some that stand out to you?“I’ve been so fortunate to have coached so many great athletes and great kids. Too many to name, really. But I look at that 1997 girls team that had Regina Tate (played basketball at Georgia Tech and now is the head basketball coach at Woodstock), Tasha Mahone (ran track at UGA) and Ishika Lay. Those teams in 2000 and 2001 had Marion Polk, Marissa Ship, Sherie Cozart and Terrangia Edmonds. For the boys, I think of guys like Marvin Menifee (ran track at UGA) ,Troy Bergeron (played arena football for the Georgia Force), and Lee Thomas (ranked in the top 10 all time in Georgia in the long jump). I still keep in touch with a lot of them.”
Who are some of the athletes from other schools who impressed you the most?“I’d have to say Candace Hill (Rockdale County, now a professional sponsored by Asics) and Kendall Williams (Kell, multiple All American and national champion in the multi events at UGA), and Christian Coleman (Our Lady of Mercy, world record holder in the 60 meters, 2017 silver medalist in the 100 meters at the World Championships) and Tyreek Hill (Coffee, NFL Pro Bowl receiver and kick returner for the Kansas City Chiefs).”
Track and field is not nearly as popular in the US as it is in Europe and other parts of the world. What do you think it will take to help the sport become more popular here?“There is more notoriety around the sport in Europe and that is what we need here. Just like soccer here. A few years ago, it wasn’t that popular. But now thousands of people go to those (Atlanta United) games. I think we can do the same thing for track and field.”
What do you think that will take?“It’s going to take more money and commitment. You have to get big sponsorships to help the sport grow in the major cities and areas of the country. You have to invest in making the sport viable and popular with the kids. You have to invest in elementary and middle school programs to build the sport. And we have to have good coaching, coaches who can help the kids understand what kind of commitment it takes to be a high level track and field athlete. Most kids just see it as running, but there is so much more that goes into it.”