PARDEEVILLE – After playing four seasons of college football at the University of Minnesota Duluth and then serving two seasons as a graduate assistant coach at his alma mater, Tyler Johnson has acquired quite a collection of football shirts and hats with a Bulldog logo on them. All that gear in Johnson’s closet should come in quite handy, as he gets ready to lead a new group of Bulldogs.
On Monday evening, as Johnson was leading Pardeeville High School’s football summer camp on the practice fields on the south side of the school, the Pardeeville board of education officially approved Johnson’s hiring as the school’s new head varsity football coach during its meeting inside the school’s library.
Just two weeks before the prep football season begins with the first day of pracitce, Johnson was on a football field as the head coach of a program for the first time in his life. Appropriately, he was wearing a Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs cap, and a Pardeeville football t-shirt that said “I AM A BULLDOG.”
Johnson is excited for the opportunity to coach a program that has had some success in recent seasons. The Bulldogs have made the playoffs in each of the last 17 seasons, but haven’t won a playoff game since 2010.
“They have the pieces, I just have kind of a few different ideas, a different philosophy, a different way we’re going to do things,” Johnson said. “I want to expect a lot out of them and see what you can get out of them. Kids are so malleable, you can push them and see what you can get out of them. I’m excited to see what kind of team we have here.”
Johnson comes to Pardeeville from Poynette, where he spent one year as an assistant football coach with the Pumas. Prior to that, he was a graduate assistant coach at UMD for two seasons, and before that he was an assistant coach for three seasons at Rhinelander High School, where he graduated in 2005. In his third season coaching at Rhinelander, his first as the varsity defensive coordinator, he helped the Hodags reach the playoffs for the first time in 23 years.
During his college playing days, Johnson played on the defensive line for a Minnesota Duluth team that was one of the best in the country. In 2008, Johnson was a member of Minnesota Duluth Division II National Championship squad.
Johnson replaces Ron Hulberg, who resigned as Pardeeville head coach back in March so he could spend more time with his family. Hulberg was 25-24 in his five seasons as Pardeeville’s head coach.
Johnson said he learned about the job opening from his cousin Mollie Burkhardt, who lives in Pardeeville. He decided to apply for the job since he was already working as a middle school teacher in Poynette.
“Teaching at Poynette, 15 miles down the road, and I figured I would have a chance at it, I knew it was a no-brainer (to apply),” Johnson said. “Then I realized they were the Bulldogs, and I’ve been a Bulldog since ’05.”
Johnson was offered the job last Wednesday, when he received a call from Pardeeville District Administrator Gus Knitt. Then on Thursday, he called the assistant coaches on the Pardeeville staff, and was able to meet them on Friday. Since then, they have been working together to prepare for the season, which is quickly approaching.
“There were some sleepless nights, kind of everything is going in your brain, trying to figure out what can I do, what’s missing, what’s the next thing,” Johnson said. “The staff and everyone I have met has been awesome. They’ve made it easy.”
Knitt said Johnson’s experiences from his previous coaching jobs stood out in his interview.
“He has been in programs that have had some success,” Knitt said. “He certainly has a passion for football, but more importantly, he has passion for the football scholar. He certainly believes that academics is an important part it, and the football field is an extension of the classroom.”
And while this will be Johnson’s first head coaching job, Knitt is confident he is ready for it.
“Obviously we understand there will be a learning curve for that, but he brings excitement and enthusasim,” Knitt said. “We talked to some of his references and they said he is a solid character … and he would work hard to get his team prepared each week.”
Johnson said he hopes to run a pro-style offense that will feature the talented backs the Bulldogs expect to have on the roster this fall.
“We’ll run a little play action, try to be as balanced as we can, but obviously sticking to what kind of athletes we have,” Johnson said, “Give the guys that can run fast the ball. It’s kind of similar to what it’s been, but with different terminology, different vocab, but relatively similar stuff.”
On defense, Johnson said they will be versatile, running a 3-5-3 defense that will allow the linebackers to play back, or up on the line. He also wants to be able to pressure opposing quarterbacks.
“I want to blitz, I want to pressure the quarterback,” Johnson said. “I want to get after them, put them in uncomfortable situations and hopefully do well on first and second downs so we can get after them on third down.”
Johnson said he is a high-energy guy.
“You’re going to see me on Friday nights, probably on the field a little too much, hooting and hollering,” Johnson said. “But I’m here to instill a little bit of education in the kids on football and in life.”