Brand new Johnson High boys basketball coach Chris Guthrie has been coaching the sport in some capacity for over 30 years, and in that time, he’s seen a little bit of everything.
Through primarily assistant coaching roles at Lumpkin County and Chestatee, Guthrie feels like he’s figured out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to leading kids and turning individuals into teams. Now that he’s signed on with the Knights, he hopes to implement some of what he’s learned.
“As an assistant, what I would try to do is put in the philosophy of the head coach,” Guthrie said. “You have to put what you want to do on the back burner sometimes. But as a head coach, it’s your philosophy.”
So what does that entail?
For Guthrie, it all starts with relationships. In his early days as a coach, he often found himself relying on his position to maintain control over his athletes. But over the years, he came to find that investing in the players’ personal lives was a much more effective method of building team cohesion and loyalty.
“With relationships, not only do you get a chance to know kids and hopefully help them become who they can become, but kids are much more likely to do what you ask them to do if they know that you are invested in them with that relationship,” he said. “That means spending time asking about their home life, asking about their classes, asking about what they did the past weekend, just really getting to know them and developing relationships.
“To me, that’s the first thing, is having a relationship with the kids.”
Johnson has had a different head basketball coach in each of the past three seasons, making it difficult for members of the rising senior class to ever fully trust a coach’s investment in them. Guthrie acknowledged this potential barrier, making sure to emphasize his intentions of sticking with the Knights for the long haul.
After more than 30 years of coaching at the high school level, Guthrie is comfortable with the fact that he’s “not expecting Georgia Tech to call me and say hey, we need a new basketball coach” anytime soon.
“I’m not looking to get this job so I can get another job,” he said. “I want to invest in the kids. I want to be somewhere where I can clean up an office, organize stuff, get kids to understand what it takes to become good, develop a program, kind of put that in place. I’m not just here to make myself look good and hopefully go somewhere else.”
When it comes to developing a program, Guthrie plans on establishing a culture based on the Johnson creed that he refers to as “the Knight’s way.” He hopes to emphasize the importance of honesty, respect and personal responsibility, along with toughness on the court.
He’s even been looking upon the past for some inspiration.
“I’ve been researching medieval knights and what they meant, the fact they had commitment, character, those kinds of things, to try to emphasize that and play off the theme of who we are,” Guthrie said. “Because we’re the knights.”
With Johnson coming off four consecutive losing seasons, Guthrie knows he has his work cut out for him, but for now, he’s staying focused on the little things. He plans to teach sound fundamentals and defensive toughness, with a focus on not being outworked on the court.
Further down the road, he hopes to bring Johnson back to the winning ways of its past, no matter how long that process may take.
“I would like to see us get back to a place where we’re having winning seasons, where we’re consistently getting into the state tournament, where we have a chance to make a run in the state tournament, however far that is,” Guthrie said. “I want the kids and parents and the community to be proud of who they have here, not me, but what the program is as far as being able to compete and coming to the games on Friday nights and seeing good basketball.”