After 44 years coaching at Petaluma High School and 36 years as the head girls basketball coach, Doug Johnson, 74, is in his final season of coaching.
"I love going to practices. I love going to games and I love my kids, but it's time to move on," Johnson said last week, confirming that this will be his final season at Petaluma.
The numbers alone are staggering. From the 1978-79 season when his first team went 10-13, his T-Girl teams won 660 games and lost 326, a winning percentage of .669, with the rest of his final season still to play. His teams have won nine league championships, including three in a row from 1995-96 through 1997-98 and four straight from 2005-06 through 2008-09. Four times his teams never lost a league game, including last season when the T-Girls were 24-5 and 14-0 against SCL teams. He has been chosen league Coach of the Year on numerous occasions and twice was North Coast Section Coach of the Year. In 2009 he received the Community Award for Service to Youth.
His 1999-2000 team did not win a league championship, but it did play its way into the state championship game with an amazing playoff run that captured the imagination and excited the entire community.
But those are numbers, important numbers to be sure, because they reflect Johnson's commitment to detail and excellence. They also reflect his intensely competitive nature. But as much as Johnson enjoys winning and hates losing, he relishes teaching, which is what coaching really is, more.
"It was not what I taught the kids about basketball, it was what I taught them about life and preparing for life," Johnson said.
Johnson was an innovator, not afraid to try new things. Occasionally his ideas would not catch on, but often they became traditions, like the Westside Relays for elementary school kids, that are still going. He formed a National Junior Basketball League in Petaluma when one of his future T-Girls was not allowed to play what was, at that time, a boys-only CYO program. Since, hundreds of grade-school-aged girls have learned basketball fundamentals while playing NJB basketball.
Johnson has, and always will be, Petaluma High School's biggest booster. "I lot of people don't understand what the school is all about," he said. "There is a tradition there that is unbelievable. I have a deep feeling for the school."
Former Petaluma High football coach Steve Ellison, who coached at Petaluma for more than 30 years, said much of that tradition was established, or at least perpetuated, by a core group of coaches like Johnson who were teachers more than coaches. Included in the group with Johnson were people like long-time baseball coach Roy Lattimore, his baseball successor Frank Wright, Bob Pawlen, Linda Jacobson and several others. "I honestly felt like I was with a group of all-star coaches," Ellison said. "Just being around them inspired me. Winning was important, but what was really important was doing what was right."
He said Johnson was "one of the most creative teachers I've ever been around.
"He is a unique individual, but in a good way," Ellison said. "He is unlike anyone I've ever met. I learned a lot from him."
Johnson taught the T-Girls not only how to play the game, but how to respect the game. "I try to teach them that they need to know the game," he explained. "That means if you are up by 30, you're not pressing, and it means that the little things are important."