Cherokee Trail hires ThunderRidge's Joe Johnson as new football coach

Fairview ThunderRidge football 5A playoffs

(Kai Casey/

Cherokee Trail made big waves on Tuesday, hiring ThunderRidge's Joe Johnson as the school's new football coach.

"We really do feel like we hit the jackpot," Cougars athletic director Steve Carpenter told on Tuesday evening.

Johnson is a prominent coach around the state, having won three state titles with the Grizzlies in his 17 seasons as head coach. He was also the head coach at Douglas County from 1994-98, and an assistant at ThunderRidge in 1999, meaning he's been at the school for 18 years.

"I love ThunderRidge High School," Johnson said. "I have some great memories there, and great friends there. It's very tough to go. My oldest son graduates this year, and my youngest son won't be in high school for another year, so it was kind of a good window of opportunity for me."

And the potential at Cherokee Trail was a big draw.

"They have a lot of advantages there," Johnson said. "I think their leaders do a great job running the school. I think they have great academic programs and great athletic programs already in the building, and activities programs.

"They've got some nice advantages, such as having a stadium right there on a school site. It's a very big school. I think Cherry Creek School District has made a commitment to education and athletics, which is helpful. When I see their athletes at track meets and football games, I'm impressed. There are several things, I think, that can be plusses."

Johnson is 205-86 in his 22 years as a head coach, including 152-48 at ThunderRidge. His Grizzlies won Class 4A championships in 2001, 2004 and 2005.

"We feel that Joe has been tested. He has been tried," Carpenter said. "He meets our success criteria of what we were looking for to fill this vacancy.

"Of course, our first criteria was, 'Man, it'd be nice to have an existing head coach with a successful history.' That's hard to do, especially locally. We're bringing in somebody who already understands Colorado football and has so many great connections."

Cherokee Trail's job unexpectedly came open for the second consecutive offseason when Dain Mangnall resigned in late January.

"This job, it attracted a lot of attention," Carpenter said.

But the early part of the search hit a snag, and Cherokee Trail reopened the process.

"We had a couple of candidates, and that just didn't get to where we needed to get, so we ended up going back to the committee and asked for their advice and what they would like to see the school do," Carpenter said. "They wanted to reopen the position, and so I did. Through that process, it got the attention of coach Johnson. We started the process of interviewing each other, if you will.

"We're talking about a guy who's been at a school for 18 years," Carpenter added. "We're talking about a guy who has got three state championships. On and on and on and on. We feel blessed, we really do. We're excited about the prospect of coach Johnson here."

Johnson is also a "high-level science teacher," Carpenter said, and the plan is to get him in the building. He has also served as a track coach for ThunderRidge.

"I think it's vital" for a coach to be in-building, Johnson said, "and I think it's just harder and harder to find people that want to do that. Especially for all of our athletes, but I think especially for our young men, it's important to communicate that athletics and academics go hand in hand and support each other."

Johnson will be Cherokee Trail's third coach in three seasons. The Cougars went 5-6 last season, losing in the first round of the 5A playoffs.

"It's been a long process," Carpenter said. "I know our kids are just waiting to hear and they need somebody to just quell the storm a little bit. It's been tough: three coaches, three years. But I believe that with Joe, we're going to see great consistency and great competitiveness.

"We're just really, really thrilled and excited for that."

Follow all of football's coaching changes this offseason in our tracker.