Alex Johnson is a St. Louis native and is Athletic Director at Socorro High School. He currently teaches physical education and coaches football and track for the Warriors.
Alex. You ended up in Mountainair. Why did you decide to go to Eastern?
So actually, I'm from St. Louis, Missouri. But I ended up at Mountainair because it was the one interview I got, and it was the one phone call I got and it was when the one job I got. So, my wife and I moved out from … well, I was in Springfield for my undergraduate at the time because it was the job I got, and I chose Eastern for two things. Number one, I knew that I wanted to be an athletic director someday. And I really wanted to pursue that route affordably. And so Eastern's program, you know, in-state tuition, being in New Mexico, but then also just the allure of like being able to set my own schedule going online. I was still full-time teaching and coaching. And then it was also putting in what I wanted to do long-term into practice.
I was very young in my career. It was my first three years of teaching and coaching. I felt blessed just to be doing that. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was actually making money, which is crazy looking back at it now that like that $36,000 salary. But yeah, it judst felt where I was called to like to do it. And then the timing was perfect because my wife and I both knew it was before we decided we're going to have kids within the next couple years, so let's get this thing started or we'll never do it. And I finished, I believe, and Jack was about a year old, and it was December of 2017 when I finished. So, because I started when I did the first year, it was kind of like a crazy whirlwind, but the way my wife and I looked at it was like, wow, like if we can do this, we can do anything.
You got married young. I think you were what? 22? 23?
Yeah, 2013. September 21st, 2013.
Congratulations. That's right about when I was graduating college, it was, I don't want to get too personal, but why the decision to get married so early, it was just something you knew you wanted to do?
So Kelsey and I met my sophomore year of college. I was in a fraternity, she was in a sorority. And I thought I joined for other reasons. And then I met her and realized that was it.
So, I mean it's funny. You know, they say frats are for like buying your friends, and I was super offended by that when I was in it at the start, and then looking back on it, I'm like, Oh, it's totally true.
I was in a frat too, just so you know.
And at the time I was like brotherhood. I lived in the house and it was great. But then when we were basically one night going around and part of our rushing, we actually, I can legitimately say this, did not haze. Like our fraternity Theta Chi was very moral, high character.
Well, they're all supposed to be Judeo Christian based. I mean, there should be no hazing.
Correct. But ours wasn’t like that. When I say that, I'm not like winking at you right now through the phone. We didn't. And one of the things that we did was when we were rushing our new pledges, we would take them around to all the sororities and we would serenade and sing to them like our fraternity song and stuff. And I kid you not, I didn't even want to go that night. And I looked up in the crowd, and you’ve got to believe this, but up to the parliamentary room at Missouri state like dead center. There she is. And I saw her, and I literally like Facebook stalked like 85 pictures just to find one that I thought might be her. I sent her a message on Facebook and the rest is history. And so it was one of those thing.
I knew at that time that if I was going to go somewhere else, she was coming with me. And I knew that she was who I wanted to do life with. It's very rare that you find somebody who you're like you know what? You're really cool. You're super hot. And you also share the same life goals and values as I do. And she's just a beautiful person inside and out. I say that hot thing facetiously. I still think that about her after three kids. So we kind of looked at it as well, if I don't know by now, then why are we doing what we're doing? And both of us were like, no, I know. Okay, cool.
So normally that would be a getting to know you question, but that is such a wonderful story. That's going in the Q and A that's awesome.
Good. Well, I have to share it man, because it's a thousand percent true and every single time it gets a great response because it's true.
Awesome. Let's talk about you coming here. And again, you know me understanding your background and you knowing Ron Hendrix from Mountainair, why did you feel like Socorro was a good fit for you?
So really what it comes down to was I chased money to Texas, to be completely frank. I kind of thought when you're in the coaching profession, especially in football, Texas is the end all and be all, and you've arrived, “if you will.” And so I got a job in Plano. I was moving up the ladder there. I was actually serving as quality control coach on the special team staff. I was getting told left and right, we can't wait to have you up here because I was a coach at the middle school at the time. And then quite honestly, God just shut the door on Texas. And I was kind of sitting there going like, okay, like what's next? And Ron called me and he was like, come on man.
He said you know you want to be back here. And I joke because my wife and I, we both said, New Mexico? And once we left New Mexico, we didn't think we were ever going to come back. We kind of said okay, that was what got us started outside and going to do something else.
But that was a nice stop, and so you said I'm out now.
Exactly. But then, I joke because my old principal, she calls it the land of entrapment.
That’s what we all call it Alex.
We all have something that you look at and you go man, I don't know what it is about this place, but it's just intoxicating, you know? And coach Ocampo’s reputation … from one conversation on the phone with him, I knew I wanted to work with him.
And then as far as the teaching thing, I was teaching social studies, Texas history and U.S. history and in Texas my undergraduate was kinesiology, and my master's was sports administration. So I really wanted to get back to using my major. I wanted to get in the weight room. I had seen both sides. Mountainair was 24 kids and 24 was their largest graduating class in years.
And then Plano senior high’s graduating class was like 1750 and they had three high schools.
So this was kind of for me like, this is not my timing. It's God's. I don't really know why we're doing this, except for the fact that it feels like this is exactly where we're supposed to be.
You know what I mean? And then also the opportunities, as far as my career was concerned, I kind of knew that you could do things here at a younger age that you're not going to reach until you're late forties, and fifties anywhere else.
And so I looked at it as you know what, this is going to be great experience. No matter how it turns out, I get to work for a man who kind of gave me my start and who I know, there's some familiarity there. And then also just looking at the athletic program coming up, like obviously, the opportunity to become athletic director popped up very quick. I had only been here like four months when that happened. And I don’t know … it was just kinda what, like, boom, boom, boom.
You know, like it felt like the doors were just flying open. And so it was kind of undeniable to me that this was where my family was supposed to be. And I'm so glad. I'm so glad I took that chance. Just like me and you have talked about it a lot, like, you don't know what it is, but you just love this place. And and I love these kids. I got asked a couple of weeks ago, what's the difference between your coach and Texas 6A football and New Mexico, 3A. And I can tell you this: I've never hosted a state championship game at Texas stadium. We did it here. And it was the most surreal moment of my entire life. I can't even explain the buildup to that weekend, even with the loss, you know? And it just … it's just like breeds this hunger in you that you want to go and do it again. And then getting to know the kids on such a personal level too, and I know I'm giving you probably more than you need, but I could go on and on and on. And what got us here has been completely reinforced since we've been here, just by the experience.
You're a very young athletic director at a place that has a very rich historical history, and a very rich history in general. Socorro has been here as long as places like Jamestown had been here. There are families that have been here for hundreds of years. You being a young man, how do you think you were received being in a position that you're in right now?
That’s a loaded question.
That is a very loaded question. That's why I asked it.
You're good. You're good at your job. So I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts called Olin sports hour. He actually had me on in January. Probably for the same reasons me and you were talking they, the way that what I keep hearing is if you're doing what's best for kids and keep doing it and if you're not excited to take a look in the mirror and evaluate like your job, essentially. And I feel like, and I don't mean this harshly, but I feel like if I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, I can, if I can put my head on the pillow at the end of the day, I know I've done what's best for our kids; all the noise and the opinions. You know, they matter to me because I have come into someone else's community. You don't walk into somebody else's house and sit down and open their fridge.
You have to have a longstanding relationship with people to be at that level of comfort. You know what I mean?
You didn't really have that.
No, I didn't have that at all. I think what it mostly was like, well, number one, getting in with the football staff here. I genuinely think that those are 16 of the best dudes. I've told you this. I think we have, we have four paid coaches and 12 volunteer guys. It’s not about money. They look at these kids and they're like, you know what? They deserve better. And so I think getting on the football staff, because when I came here I thought I was going to be coaching basketball and doing these other things.
And I thought that was my passion. And then I met coach Damien Ocampo. And again, the rest is history. I think getting the trust of those most revered men in this community, it was almost like affirming with them, the moms of the community, the booster club, the dad's like Oh, this young guy who really has no affiliation to this place, except for, you know, his job has done it. This job with our kids, it was building that trust with people who do genuinely want what's best for this community. And so I don't think I was jumping in the pool and saying look, everyone loves coach Johnson. It definitely did not go that way. I had to prove myself.
Isn't that what you want though, as an administrator and as a coach?
Yes. A thousand percent. If like you like me and you were talking about if it's not hard, in my opinion, you're doing something wrong because you know, if you're not seeing a little bit of resistance then I feel like you're probably just coasting, you know? And I've learned way more in my two plus years here than I had in my career before that. I mean, people skills, life skills … you know how the bureaucracy of public education works you know, but like I said when you asked me what brought me here, it was almost intoxicating. This is not going to be easy. Let's do it. And I can tell you this, the success speaks for itself. Last year has nothing to do with me.
I like to think I'm the figurehead that puts the pieces of the puzzle in place for the people, for the people of the puzzle to do their jobs. I'm not a micromanager. I think coaches and administrators are just excellent feeds. We look at what someone else has done way better before us. And then we put a little spin on it and then we do it again, because why would you reinvent the wheel if someone else has already done it so great. I call coach Ocampo before pretty much every decision I make, because he knows the people of this community. He knows what makes it tick and what doesn't. And he also just loves and cares about it. So long story short, when you know your why, your what is way more impactful.
I like that.
My why is undeniable. And so my, what my job, no matter how draining a day might be, my why is more important than that, so it pushes the what. And so that's how I've been received. That's a very long-winded way to say I earned it. I had to prove myself, but I'm glad I did because easy is not fun. Easy is not fun.
So easy is nice, but you're right. It's boring sometimes.
Right. Boring, very boring. And if there's no evidence of fruit, you know, like, and again, you and I have talked about whether you agree or not, but you know, the Judeo-Christian values will come out with whatever I say. The fruit has to be there or else it's just lip service.
Yeah. You're just climbing a tree.
Exactly. 100 percent. There you go, shut me up.
You know, we just talked a lot about what's challenging being here, but on a day to day basis, like today, what's going to be challenging for you today.
Well, so we're on our second day of school. Honestly, it's this whole coronavirus thing. It's tough because there's so much unknown to the athletic side of things. You know, I'm staying hopeful and positive to, volleyball's going to start in October as well as cross country and golf, but at the same time there's also, for me, this is a small community and I wear a lot of hats. I'm not just the full time athletic director. It's part of my job. So I have six periods that I teach of classes. And then I'm hopeful that if we get back to sports in the spring, I'm on the football staff and then I'm the head boys track coach. So I think because of that level of investment, you'd be crazy to do all those things if he didn't genuinely care.
So because I'm not just teaching my six classes and going home, or AD-ing and going to watch our kids, I think because of that, the diversity of the job, so to speak my worries throughout the day I don't even have time to think about it. I've just got to do it. It's like okay, there's a schedule that needs to be made. There's a phone call that needs to happen. There's an upset parent that I need to have a conversation with to find out how I can fix it. There's sometimes a happy parent that's like, Hey, you know, thank you for what you're doing. Sometimes something as small as that keeps you going. But yesterday was awesome because everyone in the district was like, what is this virtual thing going to look like? And then my attendance was amazing. And it was just a bunch of smiling faces that I missed so much. I'm not trying to get emotional, but I could've just sat there for 30 minutes and talked to these kids about their summers. That's how much we miss each other.
Maybe that would be a good first period.
But man, it was awesome. These little 30 minute back to backs, I think I only had six kids total not show up. And there's a lot of stuff going on with technology right now. And so I think that it's, once it gets all worked out and going to get old, and eventually the kids are going to get sick of it. We need to get them back here the right way, obviously. But right now, I am going to take full advantage of the fact that I think a lot of people took in-face instruction for granted, including myself. And now it's like you know what, again, my why is so much bigger than my what, but the what feels a lot better just popping on a Google meet session.
You're playing the card you're dealt and you're playing the hand you're dealt. Isn't that what the Socorro feels like in general?
Damien and I talk about it all time. It's like how much cooler would it be for us to take home a state title? Like look at our locker roomy. Our field's beautiful, but then you look back at the press box and it's like, Hey, if we want that to look nice, the coaches need to put a coat of paint on it. I don't even complain anymore because this is who we are. We have to do this.
Yeah. We're not in South Carroll, Texas.
We're not handed anything. We got to work for it. And I genuinely almost laugh when I think about everything we had in Plano and how much we underachieved, because things were just handed to those kids. It wasn't about if you were going to college, it was, what do you want?
It's almost like, do you want to go to Texas or Alabama?
And here it's like, you know what? These kids play because they love it. And they play for each other and they play for their coaches. And I wouldn't have it any other way, to be completely frank. So it it doesn't mean that it's better because the community and the relationships or the relationships because of the size of the community.
And then also how hard it is to gain people's trust, in my opinion, in a place like this, that's so tight knit and has, like you said, the rich history it just makes it in my opinion, so much more worthwhile. It makes the job matter that much more because the people here including myself care so much about the outcome.