East Side’s Johnson picked as VHS coach

Published 11:35 am Friday, December 16, 2011

Cleveland East Side’s Tavares Johnson was approved Thursday night as the new head football coach for Vicksburg High School, replacing Alonzo Stevens, who retired after 11 years of leading the Gators.

“We did a thorough background check, and I’ve been impressed with his ability to handle situations involving young people,” Vicksburg Warren School District Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Duran Swinford said after Johnson’s hiring was approved unanimously by the Board of Trustees during a regular meeting Thursday night.

Johnson, who declined to comment on his new position when reached by phone, has spent six years at East Side, where the Trojans finished 14-1 in 2011 and reached the Class 3A semifinals before falling to eventual state champion Charleston, 44-34.

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Johnson compiled a 43-21 record at East Side. His teams have steadily improved since 2008, going from 5-6 to 8-4 in 2009, 10-3 in 2010 and 14-1 last season.

Vicksburg High principal Derrick Reed said Johnson was the top selection of a seven-person search committee. The panel included Reed, Vicksburg Warren athletic director Lum Wright, two parents, two teachers and one person from the community.

“We were impressed by coach Johnson’s organizational skills,” Reed said. “We saw a film of him coaching and we also saw game film. He was the consensus pick of our panel.”

Reed said the panel interviewed 11 of the 40 applicants.

“I am extremely pleased with the process. I believe we have found the right fit,” Reed said.

When asked to expound, Reed answered, “I feel he will bring a more disciplined style to our football team.”

Two of Johnson’s mentors, former East Side coaches Leroy Byars and James “Bo” Cox, said the Gators are getting a quality coach.

“He’s an outstanding coach,” said Byars, whose name adorns the Trojans’ home field in Cleveland. Byars won 124 games at East Side from 1972 to 1986. “He works hard and is very knowledgeable about football. I sat in on several of his scouting breakdowns and was impressed with his preparation.”

For Byars, Johnson’s work ethic goes beyond the football field.

“Tavares stresses education. He motivates kids to stay in school and be outstanding in the classroom,” Byars said.

Cox was Johnson’s high school coach at East Side from 1990 until 1992.

“Y’all are getting a good one,” Cox said. “He did everything I asked of him when he played for me. He was my linebacker, a guard and my long snapper. When he came to coach at East Side, he built the program back to what it was under coach Byars and me. He’s a one-in-a-million type of man. He never stops working. If it takes 16-hour days, he’s going to do it. It took him two years to get the program competitive at East Side, and then they just kept moving up, winning 10 games his fifth year and 14 this past season.”

Johnson will face a rebuilding challenge at Vicksburg. The Gators have won just seven games in three years. They were 4-7 in 2011 and missed the Class 6A playoffs for the third straight season. In addition to his coaching, Johnson is bringing someone who might help end that drought.

Johnson’s son, Tavares Jr., has started at quarterback for the past two seasons at East Side and will be a junior next fall. In two seasons, the younger Johnson has completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 4,479 yards and 47 touchdowns. In 2011, he passed for 2,836 yards and 28 touchdowns, and ran for 11 more scores.