If you leave Birmingham and head for northeast Alabama and the Appalachian foothills, you will probably stop for gas or something to eat. And chances are if you do, you will run into someone who played for Bobby Joe Johnson. For 26 years he was football at Cherokee County High School. He led the Warriors to unprecedented success over four different decades.
A graduate of Cherokee County High School where he was a 4 sport athlete, he lettered 3 years at Jacksonville State University where he was all conference and team captain his senior year. After graduation he spent 1 year as an assistant at Jacksonville High School before he returned to the community of Centre as the head coach at Cherokee County. Before his arrival, the warriors had only 2 winning seasons in the past 13 years. But by his second season Cherokee County made the playoffs in a day when only 4 teams qualified. Coach Johnson became the most recognizable figure in Centre. He was a fixture at the Little League park. He made football important in his community and he convinced every boy in Centre that he should wear the black and gold jersey one day. In 1973, The Warriors had a 10-0 regular season and made the 8 team playoff before losing to Andalusia in the semi finals.
In 1984 Cherokee County made a playoff run. After a 6-3 regular season, The warriors beat Alexandria, Munford, Shelby County and Wilson in close games behind the running of Cash Covington and tough defense led by his son Brad. On Friday December 7th, 1984 Cherokee County met T.R. Miller for the 4A State championship in Centre. . On a frigid night with temperatures in the 20’s, TR Miller defeated Cherokee County 20-18 in one of the greatest championship games in AHSAA history. His ’87 team went 10-1 and gave up only 39 points in the regular season. From 1984 through 1991 Cherokee County made the playoffs each year.
In 1993 Coach Johnson took over as head coach at Saks High School, a program that had won only 5 games in 3 years. By 1996 the turn around was complete. He led Saks to the 5A State Championship game vs a great Blount team before losing 29-0. He retired in Alabama and went to Georgia for 5 years, ending his career with a record of 247 wins-109 losses. He had 53 players sign college scholarships including 1 to Florida, 3 to Georgia, 4 to Alabama and 6 to Auburn, including his sons Brad and Marc. He was State Coach of the year in 1996 and is a member of the AHSAA Coaches hall of fame and the Cherokee County Sports Hall of Fame.
Former player Steve Smith, the head coach at Piedmont High School, said, “As I have progressed through the coaching ranks, I have copied many of the things I have learned from Coach Johnson. His demeanor and how he handled young people are two things that quickly come to mind when I am asked about my philosophy of coaching.”
This man was truly one of the greatest coaches of his era in North Alabama. Today, the ALFCA is proud to bestow its Lifetime achievement award upon Coach Bobby Joe Johnson.