Lew Johnston has seen a lot of football in his 41 years of coaching, including 27 seasons as the head man at Western Branch and more recently Nansemond-Suffolk Academy.
He remembers turning around a struggling Western Branch program in 1985 and leading the Bruins to at least a share of five Southeastern District titles and a 2002 Division 6 Eastern Region title.
But Johnston, who led Nansemond-Suffolk to the Tidewater Conference title this season, said he’s ready to call it a career – again.
Johnston will retire at the end of this season. He hopes it lasts two more weeks and ends with a VISAA Division III state title. The Saints (7-3) are a No. 2 seed and host No. 3 North Cross on Friday in a state semifinal.
Johnston retired as Western Branch’s coach after the 2006 season and returned to coach Nansemond-Suffolk in 2011.
“The Lord really spoke to my heart a few weeks ago and said it’s time to give Nancy the first fruits of my time,” Johnston said, referring to his wife of more than 40 years.
She has been such a wonderful coach’s wife for 41 years. Now she wants to travel ... I’m looking forward to it.”
Johnston, 66, said the decision was difficult because he’s loved shaping young boys into men and giving them a sound foundation. He’s also going to miss roaming the sidelines and camaraderie of the team. But he knows it’s time.
“I was really torn but I knew I wanted to do it,” Johnston said. “I know the Lord has something planned for me. I’m excited and nervous about it at the same time.” Johnston told his team last week.
“Like I told everybody the other night, I’m not dying,” said Johnston, whose overall record is 197-85. “I will still be around but I’m just not going to be your head coach anymore.”
He thought about waiting until after the season to reveal his decision.
“I was going to wait until after the state championship but then thought against it because all of the kids would be excited after the state championship and then you announced that you’re retiring,” he said. “Then if you don’t win the state title and you retire, it sounds like sour grapes.”
Johnston said winning a state title would be a perfect ending.
“Maybe it will be a little bit of extra motivation to win one for the old man,” he said with a chuckle. “That would be pretty cool.”
Larry Rubama, 757-446-2273,