After more than three decades guiding the Ponies and fostering the sport of soccer across the state and beyond, Phil Johnson announced this will be his final season as Stillwater boys’ soccer coach.
“I will enjoy this final season coaching at Stillwater High School,” Johnson said in a resignation letter submitted to Activities Director Ricky Michel earlier this week. “You have this great opportunity to capture someone much younger than I to carry on in this wonderful endeavor.”
Johnson, who ranks No. 4 on Minnesota’s all-time victories list with a 435-154-60 record, built the Ponies into one of the top programs in the state after an inauspicious start back in 1981. He began his career as the B-squad coach under John Riley in 1977.
The hall of fame coach, who was also a recipient of the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from the Sanneh Foundation in March, posted a 11-38-2 record in his first three seasons as head coach — but the Ponies improved to the tune of a 424-116-58 record over the past 28 seasons.
Michel said he was not completely surprised by the decision, but he also left the door open for Johnson.
“I’m still trying to talk him out of it,” Michel said. “I have given him whatever space and time he needs if he wants to take the whole season and reevaluate, but he hasn’t taken me up on it.”
Johnson’s contributions to the sport have always extended beyond the St. Croix Valley and stepping down as coach at the end of the season will not end his efforts in the sport.
“I continue my long commitment to coaching education in teaching adults in coaching license courses throughout the state with the Minnesota Youth Soccer Association,” Johnson said. “This may also give me time for my long-delayed efforts in soccer curriculum writing.
“For these past enjoyable 32 seasons as head coach, I have been rewarded with this great opportunity to build a program that has provided opportunity to an average of 80 players each year,” the coach continued. “What I have strived to embed in these student-athletes is the joy of playing this great team game.”
Johnson, who retired as an elementary school teacher in 2007, was named Minnesota State Coach of the Year in 1996 when Stillwater won its second state championship and was also named the National High School Large School Coach of the Year in 1997. His teams have captured 17 conference titles and 15 section championships. Only Apple Valley with 18 trips and St. Paul Academy with 16 have advanced to state more times than the Ponies.
The Stillwater boys’ soccer team, along with the majority of other fall sports, begin practice on Monday with its first game scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 23 against Spring Lake Park.
“He is absolutely one of the most respected coaches in the history of Minnesota high school soccer,” Michel said. “Not only is he a great coach, but he is great at building young men and instilling character, morale and morals. He is well respected in the soccer community and a national clinician. You will not find a better coach and a more respected man in the community of soccer.”