In Play with Tom Markowski

Beaverton's Roy Johnston closes in on Lofton Greene's record for career coaching victories

Basketball   | Tom Markowski

State Champs! Sports Network

Beaverton – Soon Beaverton coach Roy Johnston will almost certainly pass the legendary River Rouge coach Lofton Greene as the state’s all-time leader for career coaching victories in boys basketball.

As momentous as this occasion will be, Johnston said he’s humbled by the historical significance. Now in his 47th season as a head coach, the last 43 at Beaverton, Johnston said his pursuit of the record is a byproduct of his longevity, one inspired by his extended family.

He coached his son, Jeff, in the mid-80s and is coaching his third grandchild. The opportunity to coach Jeff’s three sons was a goal Johnston promised himself he would achieve.

“That’s something I wanted to do,” he said. “I didn’t want somebody else screwing them up.”     

Johnston, 74, began his coaching career at Yale High School in 1966. Located in the Thumb, Yale isn’t far from Croswell where he was raised.

Johnston spent two years at Yale before going to Howell for two seasons. He’s currently the head coach at Beaverton, a position he’s held since 1974. He was the school’s junior varsity coach for three seasons.

Beaverton is 8-1 this season leaving Johnston three victories away from passing Greene. Should Beaverton defeat Harrison on Wednesday and Houghton Lake on Friday Johnston will tie Greene with 728 career victories. If all goes well, a victory over Farwell on Feb. 1 is the one that will place Johnston on top.

(Note: Greene has 739 victories but 11 of those came while he was coaching in his home state of Kentucky.)

Like many who grew up in the Thumb, Johnston was raised on a farm. His father owned 80 acres and his grandfather also owned a farm nearby. Johnston played four sports at Croswell-Lexington and played basketball for one semester at Adrian College before transferring to Eastern Michigan where he earned his teaching certificate. He taught for one year at Montrose before going to Yale.

Unbeknownst to him, a deer-hunting camp in Farwell in 1970 would change his life forever.

“I got a tip from a school administrator from Beaverton,” he said. “He said there was an opening for a teaching position there. I started coaching the junior varsity and three years later I got the varsity job.”

Johnston taught I middle school for 30 years then become an assistant principal at Beaverton Middle School where he remained for another nine years.

He didn’t take him long to make the Beavers winners. The ’76 team reached the quarterfinals and in ’84, with his son at a guard spot, Beaverton reached the state semifinals (Class C) for the only time under Johnston. Jeff was a junior that season and he would later go on to play at Michigan Tech.

Johnston’s grandsons Grant, Spencer and Carter all started for Beaverton and this season, Carter, a 6-2 guard/forward is averaging 26 points per game in this, his senior year.

Beaverton is 6-0 in the Jack Pine Conference and is on track to capture what would be Johnston’s 21st conference title. Johnston’s teams have won 20 district and five regional titles.

Johnston said he’s patterned his team’s play after UCLA coach John Wooden among others.

“We do a lot of what (Wooden) did offensively,” Johnston said. “It’s a two-guard, triple post and we ended up calling it Louisville because (former Louisville coach) Denny Crum used to run it.”

Johnston’s normally run a half-court, man-to-man defense and rarely switch to a zone.

Becoming the state’s winningest coach never crossed his mind until recently when those in the community kept asking questions.

“You never think about it,” he said. “You try to survive when you’re young. And I get tired of people asking how long I’ll coach. I just tell them I’ll coach until I’m 80. That keeps them quiet.”