Bill Johnson already has had success coaching basketball at Tallmadge High School.
Johnson coached the Tallmadge girls basketball program from 2010 to 2014, leading the Blue Devils to a district championship in 2014, which was their first since reaching the state semifinal in 1999.
So when he got the opportunity, Johnson jumped at the chance to return to the sidelines at James O. Maddox Court.
"It was a great place the first time around," Johnson said. "It’s really exciting to be back."
Johnson was introduced Monday to Tallmadge players as the new head boys baseball coach. His position was confirmed Tuesday at a special meeting of the Tallmadge Board of Education.
Johnson also said he has been offered a special education teaching job at Tallmadge Middle School. That position will be ratified at a future board meeting.
Johnson replaces Mike Bluey as head boys basketball coach, after Bluey resigned May 9 to take the head boys coaching position at North Canton Hoover.
According to Tallmadge athletic director Don Seeker, things fell into place perfectly to allow Johnson to return.
"We had a couple of special education teaching jobs come open. Billy applied for one of those jobs," Seeker said. "First and foremost, we wanted to get the best teacher we could. With his history in our school, he did a great job with the girls basketball program.
"Hopefully, this is going to be long term," Seeker added. "When we hired Billy as the girls coach, that was his first head coaching job. He did a great job getting us to the regionals."
Both Seeker and Johnson noted basketball played little role in Johnson’s decision to leave Tallmadge in 2014.
"I was going back to school to get my degree. It was time to move on with the next step of my life," Johnson said. "I just thought I couldn’t do both. It wouldn’t be fair to either."
Johnson pursued a bachelor’s degree in special education from Western Governors University, which he completed in May. The 2003 graduate of Cuyahoga Falls High School also returned to coach at his alma mater during the 2015-16 season, where he served as freshman boys coach under his brother Kenny Johnson.
"When K.J. got the job at Falls … I couldn’t say no to him," Johnson said. "I was able to coach freshmen, which still gave me flexibility."
During the last two winters, Johnson has coached the girls basketball program at Uniontown Lake.
"I felt like it was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. I felt like it was a school district I would like to stay at," Johnson said. "I would probably still be there, except for the education part of it, given that the job just wasn’t there.
"Things happen for a reason. I’m super excited to be back"
Seeker said Lake athletic director Joe Bogdan had nothing but positives to say about Johnson.
"They just didn’t have a special ed opening down there [at Lake]," Seeker said. "We’ve still been close with Billy even since he left here. He and (current Tallmadge girls basketball coach) Collin Epstein have a great relationship. Billy never really went away. He’s always stayed in touch with us.
"We were all very surprised when Mike (Bluey) said he was taking the North Canton Hoover job," Seeker added. "He’ll have a better chance to get basketball-first kids there. At Tallmadge, we’re just not that big. There were always a possibilty of hiring an assistant principal to be a basketball coach again, but that’s a lot to ask. Billy came to mind right away when we talked about the special education position."
Johnson will take over a Tallmadge boys program that is in a much better position than when he took over the girls program. Tallmadge’s 2017-18 season ended in a Division II Canton district semifinal game, losing to eventual state champion Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.
The Blue Devils finished 14-10 last winter and lost four seniors to graduation.
"I’m a good friend of Mike Bluey. He put the program in a great place for me to be successful," Johnson said. "Mike’s done a great job. You can include that all the way down to the youth program. There are good kids that are coming up. There are some underclassmen that can really help us."
While he’s coached boys basketball at the freshman and junior varsity level, this will be Johnson’s first time as a boys head coach. He does not see any problems making the transition from coaching girls.
"I think coaching basketball is coaching basketball," Johnson said. "A lot of it is just working with different personalities. Are their differences? Of course. The speed of the game can be more for boys. Being able to coach basketball, that’s my passion."
Tallmage boys basketball will open the 2018-19 season by hosting Field Nov. 30. By the way, Johnson will match wits with his brother this winter, as Tallmadge travels to Cuyahoga Falls Jan. 15.
"It’s never fun to do that because I’ll root for him 21 other games," Johnson said. "For me, it’s another game on the schedule."
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_RPC