Logansport football coach Mike Johnson has had a Hall of Fame career by running the wing-T offense — a classic high school offense that is utilized by some college teams.
But Johnson might be changing with the times of sorts as he has hired a passing guru — Dan Robinson — as offensive coordinator. Robinson will call the Berries’ offensive plays this season and will also serve as their quarterbacks coach.
Johnson is 225-97 entering his 29th season as a head coach and has always called the offensive plays. But he’s giving Robinson, a veteran offensive coordinator, the duties this season.
As head coach, of course, Johnson will still have plenty of input.
“I’ve always wanted someone else to call or at least help. I have that now with him,” Johnson said.
Robinson has no shortage of coaching experience, as the 68-year-old is entering his 46th season as a coach at various levels.
“He’s really an Indiana legend,” Johnson said. “He has just a great resume. He spent years at Northwestern High School. He’s written books on the passing game. He’s recognized in the state and around country as one of the premier guys in terms of the passing game.”
Robinson started coaching the spread offense back in 1973 at East Central High School, which is located in the southeast part of the state near Cincinnati.
“In ’73 the spread was novel and was new and people thought you were crazy for being in the spread. Now the spread is the norm,” Robinson said. “Mike is a wing-T guy. He’s got that blue ring and he’s got a whole lot more wins than I’ll ever dream of having, OK, but he’s interesting in mixing the wing-T philosophy with the passing philosophy, and I’ve done that several places that I’ve been is come in and look at their running game and try to find ways to blend passing concepts and still keep their running game.”
Johnson wasn’t necessarily looking for an offensive coordinator when he happened to run into Robinson.
“I’ve kind of known him for years, didn’t know him real well. Then what I call the old guys, the old coaches made the trip to Clemson during Spring Break to their coaches clinic and coach Robinson happened to be one of them along with coach [Bud] Wright from Sheridan and Bob Bridge from North Miami and Dave Gregorich went with us and Terry Siddall who is a former Logansport player, we made the trip to Clemson. We had some time to talk,” Johnson said. “[Robinson] had just left Hamilton Heights and was available. I said ‘Hey, come and coach our quarterbacks.’ It’s kind of progressed and evolved a little bit, so it’s kind of nice I can give him a lot of offensive responsibility, it allows me to kind of check out some other things.
“It’s always something we wanted to do is learn a passing attack, we just haven’t focused on that throughout the years. I’ve been a wing-T guy. But you never know. We’re not abandoning the wing-T. There’s no way that’s going to happen. But we’re hoping that you throw the ball around a little bit more, maybe you can attract some other kids to play the game too.”
The wing-T will still be the Berries’ staple. But they will run some shotgun wing-T, which Johnson has done in the past, as well as some spread offense from the shotgun formation and under center.
“The whole idea is that they’ve been facing 10- and 11-man fronts, and now with what we’re doing maybe we can get down to seven-man boxes and even six-man boxes, which the wing-T running principles would maybe be a little more effective now for us,” Robinson said. “So we’re hoping to maybe help some of the wing-T running game at the same time we’ve got a lot of young players, so this will get them interested pitching and catching and hopefully we’ll get athletic young men out of the hallways and get them out here and get them in open space and let them be athletes.
“We had a passing school during the summer where they got a little bit acclimated to throwing it and catching it. Now we’re beginning to integrate into the wing-T offense some of those principles.”
The Berries are coming off a 4-6 campaign when they had 12 seniors who all saw significant time on the field.
They’ve had difficult circumstances being one of the smaller schools in the North Central Conference. Lafayette Jeff has been a top 10 team in Class 6A in recent years. Marion was one of the best teams in Class 4A last season. Kokomo, Harrison and McCutcheon have been a force in Class 5A in recent years as well. A 22-15 loss in the final minute at McCutcheon in Week 5 ended up costing the Berries a second-straight five-win season.
Junior Garrett Barron returns as the Berries’ starting quarterback. Senior Evan Vizcarra also rotated in at quarterback last season but will likely help more at halfback and tight end this season, Johnson said.
“Because of our lack of depth really [Vizcarra is] going to have to play some of those other positions,” Johnson said. “Jeremiah Miller, our freshman, is coming along. We think he is going to be outstanding and so does coach Robinson in the future.”
The Berries will also return senior standout running backs Josh Manfred and Drake McLochlin in the backfield.
“We’re really young. We’ve got a nice young group of players," Robinson said. "Of course they haven’t had a lot of experience in the passing game, but they’re excited about getting involved and pitching around and catching it and doing those things.
“We’ve got good runners and we’ve got linemen who understand how to run block. The passing game is new to them, so it’s going to take some time. We’ve got an awful lot of juniors and sophomores and a really good freshman class. So that’s good. You start the project. We’ll get as good as we can get at it this year. But every step we take will be with the idea in mind that we’re preparing the kids for the future.”
Robinson has had a storied career. Following his stop at East Central as an offensive coordinator, he was the head coach at Northwestern from 1982-94 and led the Tigers to a state runner-up finish in 1992, when they lost in the Class 3A title game to Indianapolis Cathedral 33-14.
Robinson was then the offensive coordinator at Taylor University before being hired for the same role at Indianapolis North Central. He was hired for his second stint as the head coach at Northwestern from 1999-2006. He went 114-108 in his 21 seasons overall at Northwestern and is the school’s all-time winningest coach in football.
During his second stint at Northwestern, he also coached the Swedish national team for two springs competing in the IFAF World Cup of American Football.
He coached the Kokomo Mustangs semi-pro team for a year in the post-Jason Spear era before being the offensive coordinator at Hamilton Heights the past 10 seasons. The Huskies were the Class 3A state runners-up in 2012, losing to Indianapolis Chatard 30-13 in the state title game.
Robinson still resides in Kokomo and has a 35-minute daily drive to Logansport Memorial Hospital Stadium. He plans to continue coaching beyond this season.
“I figure if the good Lord is willing and I stay healthy, yeah I always thought I’d coach well past 70,” he said. “I’m retired from teaching at the moment and I love the kids, they keep you young.”
Logan opens the season on Friday, Aug. 23 at home against Peru.