Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mychal Johnson...and the Two-Minute Drill

Recently, someone was asking where I get my ideas for my topics and how do I find the folks I interview. My ideas come from all over—things I read about, conversations I have, etc.

For this interview subject I didn’t have to look too far…as Mychal Johnson is my cousin. And, he just happens to be a former Division 1 defensive lineman.
Mychal at the 2006 Conference
Championship game.
He played in the 2006 Southwestern Athletic Conference’s Championship game for the Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions. This was quite a feat for the school, considering it was the first time the team had played in the championship game and the first time anyone but Grambling State and Southern had even played for the title. To get there they had to win six straight games, before falling to Alabama A&M 7-3 in the Championship game.

Currently, Mychal is the varsity coach for the defensive line at Beverly Hills High School in Beverly Hills, CA. He also handles all the video for the defense and is the head junior varsity baseball coach.
This past fall I had the pleasure of watching him coach his squad and although they had a rough game, I could definitely see the impact he has made on the kids. Mychal definitely has a bright future ahead of him as a coach and I for one, will be cheering from the sidelines.

He has successfully made the transition from player to coach, but as with all journeys it has taken a little time to get here.
I sat down with Mychal recently and he shared some insights on his transition.

PJ: So, what has the transition to coach been like?
Mychal: It still is difficult. I played football since I was 13 years old and stopped when I was 23. It was my life. I did things, made choices for football. And, it stopped out of nowhere. It’s been hard to find things that are that competitive.

Coaching fell into my lap. It has changed my life. I still miss playing. It was a lot of who I was and it was tough after it was over.
I struggle every day with not being in full control. I can do the scheme; teach the technique—every aspect except execute the play. It’s a lot different. I used to rely on my talent to get the job done. Now I motivate the players to get the job done.

PJ: So, it’s been a total shift for you. How does that make you feel—to be teaching and motivating the players, instead of executing?
Mychal: It’s frustrating and exhilarating at the same time. To be molding a kid brings in the mental aspect—far more than in my playing days. It’s more satisfaction. I have to find ways to motivate the players and to show them how to do things right. Physically, they can’t do what I can do. Athletically, they are not at my level.

This is what drives me and keeps me coming back. Not having complete control is the driving force in this. It’s different from what I am used to.
PJ: So, who are your coaching role models?

Mychal: I saw many different personalities in my coaches. Now, I do research on successful coaches like Nick Saban and Bill Belichick. I go to clinics and read books. I know the X’s and O’s—I know this from being in football for so long. Things I don’t know I study.

It’s funny, I never understood why coaches did certain things—like make us run laps, etc. Now, I know why.
For the most part, I look at coaches who changed the landscape of football…like Lombardi…to understand the style they were using and mold myself based on that.

For me, it’s the day-to-day challenges off the field—grades, etc…making sure they are doing things better. We aren’t in this to just win football games. We are trying to build them into good people with good character.
Grandma (my Aunt Elaine),
Mom (my cousin Debbie),
and Mychal.
PJ: What advice would you give other athletes who face this transition?

Mychal: Always having a plan. I know it’s a cliché. But, that’s where it starts. Your playing days will come to an end, whether it’s high school, college, or the pros. You can’t play forever, so you need to find something you’d like to do after—whatever you love. Find what you are good in. I fell into it. But, if I think about what I was good at was always working with kids.
PJ: You are just getting underway with your spring sport, baseball. How does your team look this year?

Mychal: Baseball is one of the main sports at my school. If you can run, you play soccer or baseball. It’s interesting; they don’t have Pop Warner football or feeder programs here. We have good kids and we compete for the league championship every year. Rarely do we have great hitting, not a power team. But, we focus on bunts, sac flies, taking bases, good fielding and defense. We try to win like that.
PJ: And, how is it to slow down the pace from football?

Mychal: It’s a good thing. I’m not in charge of as many kids. In football I have 20-30 kids, while in baseball it’s around 15. So, I can do more individual work. It’s a nice break. Football is so intense—a lot of time off-the-field in game prep, meetings, looking at film. In baseball the work is on the field. It’s good to go home and not watch film, just to work on the lineup, etc. That’s nice…sort of like my vacation, I guess.
PJ: What are your goals?

Mychal: Coaching football is now my passion. Furthering that as a head coach in high school or I’d love to coach in college. Breaking though in college is much harder. And, of course, teaching in high school.
PJ: I couldn’t end my interview without this question. I know each level you played you had to bulk up and increase your calorie intake. What was highest calorie intake and where are you now?

Mychal: This changed dramatically when I stopped playing. At my peak I was at 3,000-4,000 calories per day and still had a tough time gaining weight. I had to eat right before I went to bed—ice cream and peanut butter sandwiches. I was working out so much.
Now, I’m around 2,000 calories per day, which is pretty low for my size. I’m at 220 lbs. now. My playing weight was 245 lbs. [and, listed at 6’5’’ in his playing days] I’ve gone down a bit and would still like to lose 5-10 lbs.

I don’t work out as much as I did before. It’s good that I married someone, Valencia, who watches her health. I am definitely healthier than I was four years ago!

And, it’s tough as football coaches have the worst eating habits. I am one of the smallest on our coaching staff. I try to keep in check.

Favorite Team: Packers—no wavering on that. I was raised a Packer fan. (Good answer!)
Favorite Sport: To watch and play I still love football. However, I am growing fond of golf, although not sure if it is growing fond of me!
Favorite Athlete: My inspiration growing up was Ken Griffey, Jr. For sure, he is my all-time favorite. I loved baseball first; didn’t play football until junior high school. Another one is Tiger Woods for his mental capacity. It was outrageous when he was in his prime. How he could channel the mental aspect—now I have a great appreciation of that knowing how hard golf is. And, I love Kobe. I have a Lakers bias.