Chipola baseball is known throughout the United States for its winning ways, and instrumental with putting them on the map is head coach Jeff Johnson. This past weekend, the Indians traveled to Ft. Lauderdale to take on Broward Community College. The 9-2-win Friday evening brought that iconic smile to Jeff Johnson’s face but the even bigger smile was over yet another milestone Johnson achieved as the Indians head coach – 800 WINS! Johnson’s Indians brought home their second National Championship last year and are on track with talent, athleticism and leadership to repeat that feat this year. Johnson is a very humble man and puts his team’s health and personal agendas ahead of his own as he has for his 20 years at the helms for the Indians. But there was no denying the pride he had when he was acknowledged for his 800th win following Friday’s game.
Players who have played for him have the utmost respect for the man, the coach, and the father figure he was to them while they were on his teams. One who has returned to Chipola year after year is MLB standout Jose Bautista. Bautista says of Johnson, “He’s the best at running a baseball program. He knows how to scout, recruit and bring the best together to make a team that will succeed. He gets the most out of his players year in and year out and he doesn’t stop with the baseball field. He makes sure they are doing what they are supposed to be doing in the classroom, tells them constantly they have to get their education, that talent will fade. He is a great man that I can’t say enough about.”
Danny Mars, drafted out of Chipola in 2014 after playing two seasons under Johnson. Mars says, “Coach Johnson is one of the best coaches and men you could ever be around. Going to Chipola and playing under him not only makes you a better player, but a better person as well. I came to Chipola a boy and left a man. No one has deserved their wins and championships more than Coach!”
Nate Marks played under Johnson in his earlier years as head coach at Chipola. He is instrumental in organizing the Alumni Weekend even today due to his loyalty to Jeff Johnson. Marks says, “I’d like to congratulate Coach J on his 800th win. I was fortunate to play for him in 1999 and 2000. Over the years he has consistently demanded accountability and leadership from his players, and that has created a culture of winning at Chipola that is second to none. He is a great mentor to the young men that come through the program, and whether it’s baseball or another career path, they can always say they learned how to win from Coach J!”
Clayte Rooks played one year for Johnson but says he feels so fortunate for that year, “Coach J has a competitive edge to him and he hates losing. His win total reflects his demand for perfection. I was lucky to have gotten the opportunity to be around someone like him.”
Kevin Santa played two years under Johnson and gives him credit for developing him as a player and a person, “Thanks coach J for not only making me a better player, but to make me a better person off the field. Can’t find a word of how grateful I am for playing for him.”
Ian Rice played two years under Johnson, turning down the draft out of high school and doesn’t hesitate to say he’s the best coach he’s ever played for, “Best coach I’ve ever played for, truly cares about his players and their development not only as players but as human beings. One of a kind, will always be grateful for my two years with him as a player.”
Michael Mader played two years under Johnson but their relationship started ten years prior to his time on the field with Johnson. He was a constant figure during practice, joining Johnson’s team in the field, shagging balls and it was a given he was in the dugout at home games, running to retrieve foul balls and taking in all the baseball knowledge that abounded there. He says of Johnson, “Not only is coach J a great coach but he was a great mentor and father figure for two years I played for him and he still is to this day. I can’t thank him enough for the two years I got to spend with him as a player. He will always have a great deal of the credit for the success I achieve in the future whether it be baseball or anything else.”
Johnson is certain to produce more winning teams and accumulate more championships in the years to come. From this writer’s perspective, he is everything a parent or player could ask for in a coach, to be able to entrust your ‘child’ with him and know that he is in great hands.