Winning is great, but winning with the right people around you makes it special.
Mission Viejo Football Head Coach Bob Johnson is a high school football legend. During his career, he has won 330 games, multiple league championships, and has become a consistent visitor to the California Interscholastic Federation section championship game.
Johnson has been coaching at Mission Viejo High School since 1999. During his tenure, he has helped a number of athletes get football scholarships at Division I universities. Some of his players like Jordan Palmer, Jed Collins, and Mark Sanchez, even made it to the NFL.
Although Johnson has accomplished a lot with a number of talented players during his 45 years of coaching, his greatest joy was coaching his sons and grandson.
Earlier this season, Johnson was elated when the clock hit 0:00. Not only did his team complete an undefeated 16-0 season, it also dominated the San Jose Bellarmine Bells, 24-0, to capture its first CIF Division I-AA State Championship in 2016.
It was a long time coming for the grizzled football coach. He had captured many section championships, but never a state title. As he took in the entire scene, Johnson was surrounded by something more than a team. He was there with family.
It was not the metaphorical and often clichéd family comprised of the players, but his real family. His sons, Rob and Bret, were his assistant coaches. His right-hand man leading the team on the field was his grandson, Brock.
Johnson still has pictures of Brock in office as a ball boy for the team when he was in elementary school. The pride that he beamed with as they celebrated a state championship was obvious.
Before coming to Mission Viejo, Johnson coached his son, Bret, at El Toro High. Bret would perform well under the tough direction of his father, getting recruited to play at UCLA. He also played in the Canadian Football League with the Toronto Argonauts and ended his career in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons.
Bret’s brother, Rob, would follow in his footsteps. Rob was a freshman when Bret was a senior in high school, and wasn’t able to break the starting lineup until his senior year.
“We had Steve Stenstrom, who actually played in the pros for four years, and broke [Hall of Famer John] Elway’s records at Stanford,” said Johnson. “I didn’t try and let Rob beat Steve his junior year.
“Truthfully, Rob would have because he was better. I told Steve to relax. I don’t think that made Rob very happy. I did the fair thing. Probably to this day, Rob doesn’t like that,” said Johnson.
Rob played wide receiver, where he made All-CIF, and then was given the opportunity to play quarterback. He thrived and was recruited to play quarterback at USC, where he was a starter from 1992-1994. He would go on to play in the NFL, where he won a Super Bowl ring with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
After retiring from football, Bret and Rob returned to Southern California, where they helped coach with their father at Mission Viejo. Both coached the quarterback position, while Johnson took more an overseer role as head coach.
When Brock, Bret’s son, took the field at Mission Viejo, the family had come full circle. Bret and Rob took the lead on molding Brock to become the best quarterback he could be.
“Bret is more bulldog and Rob is more of a golden retriever,” Johnson said. “I was a tough guy [coaching my sons], but so are they, especially Bret. The apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.”
Johnson helped guide Rob and Bret to be great quarterbacks, but it was ultimately his two sons that were in control of their own destinies – especially at home.
“I never brought football home,” Johnson said. “Never went home and said, ‘let’s throw more.’ Never. They’d have to come and ask me.”
As the cheers rang throughout the stadium signaling the completion of another season, Johnson looked around to see his two sons and grandson celebrating with him.
To him, family was the best part of football.