Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 11/22/12
Vern Friedli chuckles when he thinks back on Matt Johnsons dueling passions. Johnson, the Oro Valley Ironwood Ridge football coach, got his start playing for Friedlis Tucson Amphitheater Panthers. He was the left tackle on Amphi's 1990 team that reached the state title game before falling to Mesa 21-7. A year later, Amphi lost in the state semifinals. But football wasnt Johnsons only teenage passion. He also played the tuba in the school band. It was kind of hard for away games, Friedli quipped. We couldnt really pack the tuba on the team bus. Playing for the states all-time winningest coach (331 victories) might have given Johnson the false impression that more success was just around the corner. But its taken the 1992 Amphi graduate more than two decades to return to prep footballs ultimate stage. Following two straight seasons of semifinal losses, No. 3 seed Ironwood Ridge will face No. 4 seed Peoria Centennial in the Division II state championship game Saturday at 7:07 p.m. at Sun Devil Stadium. Id like to think that getting to this game is a sort of redemption for the core values of coach Friedli and my father, Johnson said. If you work hard, believe in family and discipline and team, Id like to think the fact that were in this game is validation for those values. Johnsons dad, John Johnson, worked as a manager for Coca-Cola. Despite being stuck inside a cubicle for long hours, Matt Johnson said his dad never displayed a dissatisfaction with life. My father was probably the most optimistic, positive person Ive ever met, Johnson said. He had a heart attack when I was a sophomore in high school, so every day he was alive was a blessing because we had been told he wouldnt live as long as he did. John Johnson died while his son was a junior at Northern Arizona University. But his guidance and Friedlis teachings gave Matt a singular focus when he left NAU. I wanted to be a high school football coach probably from the time I was a sophomore playing for coach Friedli, Johnson said. My dad was obviously a huge influence, but I cannot overstate coach Friedlis impact on me in terms of who I am as a man and a coach. Its in everything I do in terms of determination and discipline and always trying to play with class. He cared about the integrity of the game and he respected the game. But he also believed in competing. Johnson took those values and embarked on a coaching odyssey that is not uncommon in the prep ranks. He returned to Amphi and assisted Friedli from 1997 to 2000, then moved back to Flagstaff to get his master's degree while coaching at Flagstaff Coconino in 2001. After spending the 2002 season back at Amphi, Johnson took a year off when he and his wife, Yvonne, had their first daughter, Myra. He got back into coaching the following year at Tucson Rincon, which hadn't posted a winning season since 1989. Johnson went 22-21 in three seasons at Rincon seasons before taking another sabbatical to help Yvonne with their growing family, which now included daughter Olivia. In 2006, Johnson went back to Amphi, and in 2008, he spent a season coaching Catalina Foothills to a 6-5 season before leaving for his current post. Why the switch after just one season? Johnson called it a philosophical divide. Like many schools facing budgetary constraints, Catalina Foothills has a pay-to-play program for athletes. But the school, which rests in an affluent district, chose to raise its rates to a level Johnson deemed unacceptable. I grew up in a mobile home in south Tucson, so this idea of sports costing 450 or 500 per kid -- I just couldnt stomach it, Johnson said. I understand the budget and all of those issues, but I started thinking about kids who might have a hard time paying that and I just didnt think it was fair. As luck would have it, Ironwood Ridge was looking to replace successful coach, Gary Minor, and the school was in the same district as Amphi, where Johnson had attended school. Ironwood Ridge athletic director Will Kreamer interviewed applicants from all over the U.S -- even Canada but Johnson landed the job, and the Nighthawks have gone 37-13 since. Matt had a plan and a philosophy, and he wanted to find a school that was in line with those ideals, Friedli said. It doesnt surprise me at all the kind of success hes had. As far as growth goes, he achieved more in four years with me than most kids. He started off being this roly-poly young boy that people teased for being overweight, and look whats hes accomplished with discipline and fundamentals and hard work. Johnson deflects all the credit for the Nighthawks success to the schools administration and, most of all, the kids. My lifes a dream come true. There are a lot of coaches who are working as hard as us that didnt get to this game, Johnson said. We work hard, we believe in discipline and all of those values I learned from coach Friedli. But were also blessed with talent and good kids. Weve got 11 seniors with a GPA over 3.6. Footballs a big deal at this school, but its not because of me. Im just part of it. Im not the cause of it. Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Bryce Harper has great response to $400 million contract question

Cavs discussed three-team deal that would net them Melo

Celtics reportedly discussing Kevin Love trade

New York Giants to pursue Matt Forte?

Joe Mauer to try wearing sunglasses to improve pitch tracking

Charles Woodson joining ESPN's 'Sunday NFL Countdown' team

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

A’s land Khris Davis from Brewers for prospects

Family of deceased Kyle Field construction worker awarded $53 million by jury

Chris Bosh to miss All-Star Game with calf injury, Al Horford to replace

NBA commissioner Adam Silver supports bringing sports betting in to the light

Mets pitcher Jenrry Mejia becomes first player ever banned by MLB for PEDs

Eight bold predictions for NBA All-Star Weekend

Why the Virginia Cavaliers are a National Championship contender

Cardiff City owner tells team to shoot more, because ugly men can marry beautiful women

Report: American Pharoah will make $35 million as stud in 2016

City hosts Tottenham in Valentine’s Day clash

Ranking the ten best free agent pitcher signings

Is there a place for Aaron Hill with the Brewers?

The market for forwards may shape the NHL trade deadline

Who had the best NBA All-Star Game of the last 40 years?

The winners and losers of the 2016 MLB offseason

The most intriguing NBA story lines for the rest of the season

Report: Timberwolves ‘lament’ Andrew Wiggins missing weight-lifting sessions

Kevin Durant to the Warriors makes little sense

City of Atlanta, Braves fighting over iconic Hank Aaron statue

College Basketball News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Ranking the ten best free agent pitcher signings

Who had the best NBA All-Star Game of the last 40 years?

The winners and losers of the 2016 MLB offseason

On Kobe Bryant and taking greatness for granted

Bucks need to choose between wins, development

Fantasy booking WrestleMania 32

Unrestricted free agents each team must consider re-signing

QUIZ: Name the winners of the NBA Slam Dunk Contest

Thank you Daniel Bryan

The timeless greatness of Jaromir Jagr

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker