Mitch Johnson still should be coaching the Fountain-Fort Carson football team he loves so much.
He's no youngster, but he's never lost his gift for persuading teens to play beyond their limits. He has not - and I will say this emphatically - lost his touch. He led F-FC to the 5A quarterfinals in 2014, and after early-season struggles Johnson and his Trojans outscored opponents 252-109 in the final six regular-season games of 2015.
Those were, astoundingly, his final six games. Johnson retired Thursday, the result of bureaucratic bumbling by District 8 administrators. His retirement ends a 29-season head-coaching run.
Johnson is F-FC, through and through. He's a proud 1974 graduate, and the F-FC stadium was named after him in 2012. Johnson led the Trojans to 207 wins, the 18th highest total in state history.
But Johnson offered more than numbers. Yes, he wanted to win, but Johnson always had more on his mind than victory. He was deeply involved with his players. He cared about them in a way that can't be faked, and they returned the devotion. He was a true football gentleman, a title that is sadly rare.
I watched Johnson's final game. The Trojans took a seven-game winning streak into the state playoffs against ThunderRidge, but never found their beat in a 35-14 home loss.
Many coaches would have started yelling at their players after such a frustrating loss. I've witnessed dozens of football coaches shouting at the limits of their lung power after defeats.
Johnson, as usual, walked a better path. He stood in the middle of a circle of Trojans on a cold November night. He spoke quietly and calmly. He talked about mistakes, but mostly he talked about a once-confused team that started with two losses before transforming into a focused, powerful team that stampeded to seven straight wins.
"I've never been around a better group of young men," Johnson said at the conclusion of his season-ending and, alas, career-ending speech. "Guys, you did a hell of a job this season. Gentlemen, it's been an honor."
He hugged many of the seniors, thanking them for their years of hard labor. A few minutes later, he talked a few minutes with hope about the 2016 season. He was, even after all the decades, excited to craft yet another team.
We shook hands, and said we would see each other again next season. For years, Mitch Johnson coaching his alma mater was one of the things you could count on. One of the good things. I'm saddened, along with a legion of others, to see the Johnson era end.
We can blame District 8 administrators for Johnson's exit. Led by Superintendent Keith Owen, District 8 made a ridiculous but far too-common move. The administrators demanded all F-FC coaches re-apply for their jobs.
This re-application maneuver has become a fad in high school athletics. Wasson, of District 11, went through the same process in 2011. Owen stumbled into the mistake of overseeing an imitation of the cruel and pointless process in District 8.
Johnson learned of the re-application demand on Friday. Less than a week later, he retired.
"I was shocked to say the least with feelings of disappointment and frustration," Johnson wrote in an open letter to the F-FC community. "The district sent the direct message to all current Head Coaches that they believe they can do much better in the way of athletics. So, given my current situation why would a man of my Integrity, Honor, and Success rationally consider reapplying for a job that I started building twenty nine years ago for our community and School District?"
Good question, Mitch.
The re-application demand was an insult to Johnson's dignity and accomplishment. He deserved better. Much better.
Owen declined to answer questions about Johnson's departure. The superintendent is left with a troubling pile of needless debris. F-FC’s 2016 football season is looking shaky. Players who were devoted to Johnson will be asked to play with equal fire for a new coach who was installed after an absurd process.
As Johnson heads to retirement, Owen must explain the inexplicable.
He must explain why his district pushed Johnson away from the program the coach loved so much and led with so much success.
Good luck with that, Mr. Owen.