Last updated: March 20, 2012 12:51 pm
Coaching legend hangs 'em up at Fanshawe
Men's basketball head coach Glenn Johnston steps down
LONDON (CUP) — After 35 years of coaching the Fanshawe men’s basketball team, the clock has finally struck midnight for head coach Glenn Johnston.
“I think it was time and I don’t think you can do anything forever,” said Johnston with a laugh, quick to point out that he hadn’t retired, but had actually resigned. “I’m too young to retire. No matter what they say.”
Call it what you will, but Johnston is synonymous with Fanshawe basketball. He helped guide the Falcons to back-to-back national championships in the seasons ending in 1980 and 1981.
Those two championship teams were part of four consecutive Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA) championships starting in 1977, and Johnston’s teams struck gold at the OCAAs seven times, the last coming in 2007. Add in several other medals, including silver in 2010 and bronze medals in 2011 and 2012 and a picture of success is clearly visible. Johnston was also recognized as Canadian Colleges Athletic Association Coach of the Year in 1996, and his overall coaching record stands at 400 wins against 195 losses.
“(Johnston) has had a profound impact on the basketball program at Fanshawe and at the OCAA level as well,” said Fanshawe athletic director Mike Lindsay.
“Those four consecutive Ontario titles in the 1970s and the consecutive national championships put London, Ontario on the basketball map in Canada. I don’t think anyone looks forward to coaching against him. Even after 35 years he remains a student of the game, constantly watching games, observing, learning and applying that knowledge.”
While this story could easily be about a basketball coach and all that he has accomplished, it is about much more than that. It’s about the men Johnston helped mold and mentor during their time at Fanshawe. Often times the relationship of coach-player evolved into lasting friendship, like the one Johnston shares with Euril Glasgow who played for the Falcons from 1993 to 1996.
“Our personal relationship started from our love for sports and family,” recalled Glasgow, who now lives in Edmonton, Alberta. “He was nice enough to invite me to his home to watch football, he introduced me to his family, and soon after that we just started to hang out almost every weekend. He’s like the brother I never had.”
For Bryan Kamerman, who played at Fanshawe from 2006 to 2010 and then joined Johnston’s coaching staff after graduating, Johnston helped make the change from player to coach seamless.
“[Johnston] helped my transition from being a player to coach in a number of ways,” said Kamerman. “First, while I was playing, he trusted me to help teach rookies the plays and make sure that everything was being completed properly. That is part of the reason I wanted to get into coaching after I retired from the team. Also, [Johnston] made himself available to me to ask questions about why certain decisions were made during the course of a game or the season.”
To understand how Johnston was able to build a competitive environment, you have to understand Johnston the person and his own competitive nature.
“[Johnston’s] teams certainly put Fanshawe on the map when they won back-to-back CCAA Championships in 1980 and 1981. But before the national championship years, [Johnston] instilled a very high competitive level to all his teams,” said Fanshawe athletic officer Ernie Durocher, who is the coordinator of Fanshawe’s basketball program and was the team trainer during the team’s championship years. Durocher has been working with the basketball team for 33 years.
“(Johnston) is a very competitive guy,” continued Durocher. “He excelled at every sport he played. He ranked in the top five in badminton in Canada, he’s a scratch golfer, he won an OCAA basketball most valuable player award when he played for Fanshawe. He’s passionate about being successful.”
Lindsay experienced Johnston’s competitive drive as a former basketball teammate at Fanshawe.
“What impressed me about [Johnston] when we played for Fanshawe in the ’60s and early ’70s was his competitiveness, his drive to win. He was our go-to guy,” remembered Lindsay. “He could score 40 points on any given night. His shot was a lot like he lives life: a compact quick release with devastating accuracy. He was a top player in the college system.”
That passion to succeed manifested itself in preparing his teams to succeed, not only on the court, but in life as well.
“I feel [Johnston’s] impact on the basketball program at Fanshawe is one where a young man can come into his program and be placed in a situation where he will succeed on and off the basketball court,” said Glasgow. “The program has been so successful because he runs a clean program his way, stresses academics, great leadership, has a consistent style of coaching, how he relates to his players, determination, integrity and support for his current and former players.”
“[Johnston] is very demanding as a coach. He wants perfection and demands excellence, which is part of the reason why he is so successful as a coach,” said Kamerman. “He’s very intense, but as a player, that helped me get intense. For a player not used to that level, it can be very intimidating, but I personally really enjoyed it.”
Johnston’s heart always remained in the right place when it came to his players. “[Johnston’s] commitment to his players is a strength he has. He’s sought after as a coach, and he is a reason why so many top players choose to come to Fanshawe,” said Lindsay. “He consistently goes to bat for his players, he’s focused on their academic success. He wants to give his players the best experience possible. He is always there for his athletes, whether they needed academic or financial help, he is always advocating for them.”
Despite the intensity and demands Johnston put on the players, there was always a purpose grounded in knowledge.
“[Johnston] is very organized when it came to practice,” said Durocher. “He is a good teacher of the game. He understands basketball well and was able to get his message across to the players when it came to the X’s and O’s of the game.” For Kamerman, Johnston’s coaching experience shone through.
“[Johnston] has a tremendous knowledge of the game,” said Kamerman. “It is always satisfying knowing that when you show up for your first practice, the coach is well established. He understands how plays are run and why they need to be that way.”
“He makes the time to teach you the fundamentals of the game,” added Glasgow. “He’s never afraid to take risks.”
For Johnston, watching the players listen, learn and flourish is a source of pride.
“When you’re coaching, you’re creating something,” he said. “You decide how they play. You get people to buy into what you’re doing. It’s a treat to watch your guys play and do well. That’s a rush. It’s also great watching guys improve from first to third year.”
Johnston fondly remembered his two national championship teams as not only talented but determined.
“The national championships without a doubt are memorable to me,” said Johnston. “The winning was nice and those teams were special. They weren’t the most talented, but they were hardworking and it was a rush to watch them win.”
Those national championship teams remain close to this day.
“That group has a team fishing trip every year. After that long you get to know the guys and their families pretty well. I think it’s a blessing to be able to coach young guys and follow their lives. You make a lot of friends.”
In the mid 2000s, Johnston got to experience a first, coaching a former player’s son. Pat Sewell, son of Bill Sewell, a player from the national championship years, attended Fanshawe and helped lead Fanshawe to its most recent OCAA title in 2006-07, a run that was punctuated by a perfect OCAA season. Unfortunately, at the national championships Pat turned an ankle in the opening game and Fanshawe ended up losing in the bronze-medal game.
As Fanshawe prepares to turn the corner and replace Johnston, it won’t be easy. “It’s going to be a very difficult task. [Johnston] put a lot of time into the basketball season,” said Durocher.
“We will never replace [Johnston], but there are a lot of good coaches out there. The task will be finding a coach with similar qualities.”
“[Johnston] has provided Fanshawe basketball with a stable foundation,” said Kamerman. “It makes it very easy to build a basketball program when you have a coach that has been committed for so long. After 35 years of coaching, you experience almost any situation a game can present.”
While replacing the coach will be a tough task, replacing the man may be far more difficult.
“[Johnston] is a great friend, generous, a good family man, fearless leader and never afraid to speak his mind,” said Glasgow. “I’ll always remember him making time for me whenever I had needed someone to talk to about basketball, school or life in general.”
As for Johnston, he wouldn’t change a thing.
“It’s been fun. I certainly didn’t do it for the money. You have to love it,” stressed Johnston. “I have no regrets. I’ve enjoyed it.”