By Patrice Nkrumah
Known for both his innovative offensive schemes and tactics to go along with a calm demeanor on the sidelines, Glenn Johnson helped hundreds of young men learn life lessons during his 25-year career as the head football coach at Dunbar Vocational Career Academy. Johnson, 72, passed away July 6 after a long battle with cancer. Funeral arrangements were pending at Crusader press time.
As a football coach, Johnson was known for his offensive schemes which gave opponents fits. Dunbar teams were known for their running offense to the point that the opposing team could know what was coming but still could not stop it. Former Mighty Men running back Rocky Harvey, who went on to play in college at the University of Illinois, benefitted significantly from Johnson’s system. He is the fifth all-time leading high school rusher in the state, amassing over 7,300 yards in his career at Dunbar.
Johnson’s teams qualified for the state tournament 19 times, which is the second most for any Chicago Public League coach. Johnson is a member of the CPL coaching Hall of Fame and was part of a generation of Black football coaches who had influence over their players and the communities they came from.
“Glenn was a great coach, a great person, a quiet person,” said former Public League Sports Coordinator Mickey Pruitt. “He was always a gentleman in a sport where that is not often the case. His teams competed hard and he did his best to help his kids off the field as well.”
Johnson along with former Robeson coach Roy Curry and former King coach Lonnie Williams, was part of a group of African American football coaches who worked with student-athletes who came from challenging backgrounds. Dunbar students faced challenges in the neighborhood surrounding the school. Johnson tried to help them navigate those challenges and learn from the mistakes many of their classmates had made that cost them their lives in one way or another.
Johnson’s former players said their coach was known for his one-liners and sayings that at the time, made no sense to them. Jesse Evans said he will be forever impacted by Coach Johnson.
“‘Do a job big or small do it right or not all,’ that was one of a million things he would come at you with,” said Evans, who added many of Johnson’s sayings would probably not be printable in a newspaper.
Elton Harris, the legendary head coach at Hubbard, recalls losing to Johnson in the city championship about 15 years ago on a cold day at Gately Stadium. He said he was so frustrated with that loss at the time, he almost quit.
“He was legendary, and I could tell the officials were giving his team more calls than mine,” Harris said. “But when you think about it, he was such a gentleman and so quiet on the sidelines, as opposed to me going crazy, I later understood how respected he was.”
Johnson’s former players have gone on to coach at other schools. He also mentored current coaches, like Phillips’ Troy McCallister, who served as an assistant under Johnson for one season. McCallister said he will be forever grateful for the opportunity Johnson gave him by making him part of his staff.
Lahrone Miles is now a respected IHSA football and basketball referee. He said Johnson was like a father to him and many other African American kids who were part of the program. He said Johnson’s presence will be missed. Like others, Miles shared one of his former coach’s favorite sayings.
“He would say three things are certain in life; death, taxes and we are going to run the ball,” said Miles with a laugh.
Johnson’s record at Dunbar was 193-114. In 2013, his team finished 10-3 and qualified for the state playoffs. It would be the last of the 19 teams he coached that would qualify for a state playoff berth. He would coach at Dunbar for two more years before moving on to become an assistant coach at Chicago Vocational after the 2015 season.