Denfeld News

Aug. 19, 2007
Duluth News Tribune

Proctor coach takes over as school's AD
By Rick Weegman

He’s been on the job for less than two weeks and Rory Johnson’s desk is already a mess.

Unlike his predecessor as Proctor activities director, Rich Petersson, who always kept a tidy workstation, Johnson doesn’t count organization among his biggest attributes.

But that doesn’t mean Johnson isn’t prepared to handle the challenges that await him in his new role. As a longtime teacher and coach at Proctor High School, he’s in tune with the school and the community.

“I don’t think there’s anybody [in Proctor] that Rory doesn’t know,” said Petersson, who was activities director from November 1999 until he retired in June and was at the school for 31 years. “I didn’t necessarily know all the kids or their parents, but Rory knows everybody by their first name. He’s very much a people person.”

Rails football coach Dave Hylla agrees.

“He knows the community very well,” Hylla said. “He has a relationship with the kids all the way up from when they are little to when they are seniors in high school.”

Johnson, 51, hopes that’s enough to overcome the inherent difficulties that activities directors face these days in an era of low budgets, high costs and a lack of time to deal with it all.

Johnson, who will still teach health at the high school two hours per day — a class that he’s taught at Proctor since 1993 — is considered five-sevenths time in his job as AD. He’s spent most of his time so far working on aspects such as coordinating transportation for Proctor’s six fall sports, collecting athletic participation fees and physical forms and answering phone calls from players and parents.

Later, duties such as scheduling and hiring officials and gameday workers will come into play.

It’s a position that he’s desired to attain for some time, though he freely admits — and others readily agree — that he’s not an administrative-type person.

“He may not be the most organized guy, but he knows where everything is,” Johnson’s youngest son, Seth, said jokingly.

Organization, by all accounts, was Petersson’s No. 1 strength. Johnson says he’s still devising a strategy.

“The confusing part is I have to figure out either my own system on how I want to do things or I have to figure out how Rich’s system worked on how he did things,” Johnson said.

“I don’t think he’ll have any choice but be organized,” Petersson added.

Before taking the job, Johnson wanted reassurance from his family and the school district if it would be OK that he coached football one more season. He’s beginning his 24th season as an assistant to Hylla, and Johnson, who also was basketball head coach for 17 years, considers it special because Seth is a senior offensive and defensive lineman.

“My son said, ‘Dad, it wouldn’t upset me if you didn’t coach, but it would upset a lot of my teammates,’ ” Johnson recalled. “I think I have a pretty good rapport and a good niche with the kids.”

That’s evident at Proctor football games and practices. Hylla tends to lean hard on his players, many of whom saunter back to the jovial Johnson for a pick-me-up.

“Basically [Johnson] will sit you down and tell you what you did wrong and how you can correct it,” said senior offensive tackle Landon Lalor, who has been playing under Johnson’s tutelage since seventh grade. “Hylla, he’ll rip into you. Coach Johnson will sit you down and talk to you.”

Hylla and Johnson say they’ve found that to be an effective learning tool for teenagers.

“We’ve always been a good team because I can chew on a kid and Rory will come and pat him on the back, and Rory will chew on a kid and I’ll go pat him on the back,” said Hylla, Proctor’s head coach for the past 27 seasons. “We work so well together in dealing with kids. But he has that special ability to work with kids. He knows when a joke is needed, he knows when to get serious, he knows when he needs to come down [on a player] and he knows when he needs to lighten up. A lot of people don’t have that.”

Oddly enough, Hylla, Johnson’s boss on the football field, now answers to Johnson in the school. That’s not a difficult situation for either.

“I don’t treat it that way,” Hylla said. “We’ve had an understanding of each other for a long time so I don’t think he sees himself in a power position.”

In fact, Johnson is more likely to place himself on the same level as his students. The Duluth Denfeld graduate says he lives by the philosophy that his door is always open.

“I tell the kids that the first day of school — my door’s always open,” he said. “And it’s not just the door in my classroom, but it’s the door to my house, too. … Kids come and ask me for advice and have problems or situations and I don’t mind dealing with that.”

Now, at times in his new job, it might be Johnson’s turn to ask for advice. Petersson expects that will happen fairly often.

“I told him ‘Don’t be afraid to call,’ ” Petersson said. “But I said, ‘Don’t call before 8 [in the morning].’ ”

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