Being somewhat cynical, when Jermain Johnson talked to me a while back about the possibility of being Belleville High’s next head football coach, my reaction was pretty much ‘JJ, are you nuts?’
But Jermain was serious, and as of last week, it’s now official. Johnson is the new head coach of the Bucs.
I’ve said it for a while, and I’ll stand by it. I don’t think Belleville High should have a football program anymore. That shipped long sailed, again in my opinion.
The record speaks for itself. After those football wizards who made up the Board of Education in Belleville, back in 1996, decided that John Senesky wasn’t the answer any more, there’s been a whirlwind of coaches trying to turn this program around. Johnson will be the eighth different head coach at BHS in the last 22 seasons. Do the math. Twenty two in eight years? That’s not good.
Again, the record speaks for itself. Since Senesky left following the ’96 season, Belleville’s overall record is 42-167. That’s an average mark of 2-8, per year, with seven different head coaches. That mark includes three winless seasons and one losing streak that extended three years, from the middle of the 2002 season until late in the 2005 campaign. There was one bright spot, in 2007 and 2008, when the program put together back-to-back winning regular seasons (5-4) and qualified for the NJSIAA playoffs for the first time in 23 years, in ’07.
I often question the commitment of the players to the weight room, or to what it takes, in general to be good at this game. Coaches come, coaches go, and nothing really changes.
So now, it’s Jermain Johnson’s turn. Is he qualified? Absolutely. I first met him when he played high school football for one of my closest friends in this game, Chet Parlavecchio, at Bloomfield High from 1988-1990. He went on to play at Montclair State, and later was a member of the New Jersey Red Dogs, of the Arena Football League.
Ironically, Jermain and Senesky have a history, as the two coached together at Montclair State, after Senesky left Belleville’s sidelines, in the late 1990’s.
“I always liked John,” Johnson often said. “Talk about someone who knows the game? He’s incredible.”
After Montclair State, Johnson would eventually get his first head coaching job, at Paterson Eastside, where he worked from 2009-2012 and had success. He then moved on to Wayne Hills, as the defensive coordinator, holding that job for five years (2013-2017). During that tenure, Hills was 38-17 and appeared in two state championship games, and won a title, in 2016.
Getting back to a head coaching job was something he coveted, and when Belleville came calling, Jermain was ready for the challenge.
It will be a challenge, for sure. The recreation football program is in need of a major overhaul, but the recreation director, Tom Agosta, is as hard working as they come and Tom should welcome Johnson’s help. There’s a new weight room at the high school, but who knows if anyone is using it? Again, Johnson, a big advocate of weight training, a la Senesky, will be completely on board.
I still say Belleville is a soccer town, and shouldn’t play football anymore.
But I also think Jermain Johnson is as good as they get. And if he thinks he can do something with this program, the more power to him.
“JJ, are you nuts?” Maybe he is, but he could be the long-term answer for the Blue and Gold.
I’ll be rooting for him, and hopefully, everyone in town will, too.