In naming Will Johnson as the new boys basketball coach, Conway High officials are following a pattern that has been good to the school.
Johnson has been the coach of the Conway ninth-grade White team since 2006, winning either conference regular-season or tournament championships six years.
Both of his successors, James Bates and Joe Graham, began their Conway careers as junior high coaches and when elevated to the varsity post, produced almost 700 victories during the last 42 years (447 for Graham and 249 for Bates, who resigned after last season).
“I wasn’t aware of the pattern; we just went out to find the best coach,” said Dr. Greg Murry, superintendant of Conway Public Schools. “We think he has everything we were looking for, including integrity and character and the skills and knowledge of good basketball. In his presentation to us (the search committee), we were excited about his style of offense and defense and impressed with his plans for moving our program forward.”
“I think the future and the potential is bright here,” Johnson said. “I have big expectations. It’s a great community atmosphere. I’m honored to be put in this position. I appreciate the administration and everyone involved for the opportunity.”
Coincidentally for his hiring on “Jackie Robinson Day” in Major League Baseball, Johnson becomes the first African-American coach to head a varsity sport at Conway High.
“In hiring who we thought was the best coach for the job, we’re certainly happy to have an African-American coaching a program that we consider very important to our school,” Murry said. “It’s just a win-win situation in every concept.”
“He’s somebody we have been able to watch over the years and how he has conducted himself with the young kids,“ said Steve Daniels, Conway’s athletic director. “He has done a great job in developing he younger kids in our program. He’s done a good job working with the seventh-graders at Simon Elementary. He knows his X’s and O’s, and I think he is a good up-and-coming coach. But beyond that, he’s a man of integrity and high character and will be a good role model for our athletes.”
“He knows and has coached or influenced every player in our program who has played basketball,” Murry said. “That gives him an immediate connection. He knows what they can do and he’s someone they know and respect.”
“I look on it as a reunion,” Johnson said. “I’m excited to talk and get to coach kids that I’ve worked with and watched grow up. Even though I coached the White team, I know the kids who were on the Blue team. When I opened up the gym, the Blue team players would come work out and train with the White team. It was a family atmosphere.
“On the other hand, I have to tell the players on the eighth-grade team that I won’t be their coach next year and that’s the tough part. But if they stay with it, I’ll be their coach again and I’m looking forward to that reunion.”
Johnson played high school basketball at Wonderview and played collegiately at Williams Baptist. He began his coaching career as the assistant varsity coach and head junior high coach at Tate Central in Cape Girardeau, Mo., where he spent five years before coming to Conway.
“It was good experience because that was in one of the toughest conferences in Missouri,” he said. “I know I’m coming into a good conference and I look forward to building relationships with the coaches.”
“We will play hard and we will try to make it fun for both the kids and the people who watch us,” he said. “The big thing for me is for us to play disciplined. I want us to be a disciplined team both on the court and in the classroom.”
Murry said the search committee had about 20 conversations with coaches who were potential applicants.
“We had a coach who had coached at the 7A level and other level and had won championships,” Murry said. “That’s makes us more happy to have found the person with the package we wanted right here.”