As Jonathan Coachman made his way into the McPherson High Auxiliary Gym on Wednesday, eyes widened and jaws dropped on the group of young basketball campers who had assembled for their end-of the-day surprise as promised by MHS coach Kurt Kinnamon.
Coachman is 6-3 and relatively close to his McPherson College basketball playing weight, though he’s far more sculpted now. But to the campers he seemed larger than life. No doubt many have seen him on ESPN Sport Center or some of the older campers might remember him from his WWE announcing days.
But one thing I’ll always say about Jonathan. Success hasn’t changed him one iota.
He’s still the same Johnny I’ve known from the day he transferred to McPherson High for his junior year. Once I met him, I knew he would someday leave his mark. His ever-present smile and magnetic personality make him impossible to dislike and people gravitate to him naturally.
Coachman was just a junior varsity player that first year. As he told the campers, he wasn’t a great player, but tried to be a great teammate.
But his senior year, Coachman was an integral part of what I still consider the greatest team in MHS history, though it did lose an early season game to Hutchinson (that still burns in his mind as he remembered the exact score) before going on to throttle the rest of the teams in its path.
If memory serves me correctly, Coachman started his senior year by making 29 of 34 shots. Given that his range at that time was 2 feet, he probably wondered how he missed five shots.
Coachman would go on to make 121 of 185 shots for 65 percent. He also shot 71 percent of his free throws and averaged 12.3 points and 6.9 rebounds, not to mention 2 assists.
Any of the five starters on that team could have been an All-Stater. You had Brian Henson (who averaged 20.3 points and later played at Kansas State and Washburn), future Tabor star Bryan Vincent (14.9, 67 percent shooting from the field), a blooming junior in future Wichita Stater Ryan Herrs (12.3, 61 percent shooting) and Jason Totman (9.4 points, 54.5 percent from the field and he later played in the San Diego Padres organization) joining Coachman in the lineup.
Oh by the way off the bench was Chad Alexander, who would later play in the Final Four for Oklahoma State. And getting into a smattering of games was David Pyle, who two years later would combine with Alexander to average more than 35 points a game.
Coachman reflected on that ’91 team to the campers, best remembering a game in the McPherson Invitational against Garden City in which the Bullpups played the greatest half of basketball I’ve ever seen. With the Roundhouse deafening with noise, the Bullpups took apart a good 6A team for 63 points — in the first half. They went on to win 97-55 and then destroyed a quality Emporia team 85-57 in the Invite title game.
Coachman wasn’t highly recruited after his Bullpup career. He wound up staying in town and playing at McPherson College for the Father of Dog Ball, Roger Trimmell, who probably wasn’t quite sure what he had with Coachman.
Though undersized, not blessed with skywalking ability and a history of being a role player, Coachman used cunning and guile to become a force, earning KCAC Player of the Year honors and becoming the all-time leading scorer in school history at the time of his graduation. That later earned him a deserved spot in the McPherson College Hall of Fame and fittingly he was inducted with Trimmell, as the two were like peanut butter and jelly as they were of similar personality types, kind of like the Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin in short pants.
As a student, Coachman earned a little pocket change working at Sirloin Stockade, where he was a hit with the customers. He would take a spoon and use it as a mic and interviewed the patrons.
Coachman, a master thespian at Mac, knew most of his life that sports and announcing would go hand-in-hand. He worked at TV stations at Wichita and Kansas City, when a tragedy at a wrestling match actually was his big break. He reported on the tragedy of Owen Hart at Kemper Arena when he fell to his death when a stunt went terribly wrong.
He was noticed by WWE owner Vince McMahon and the rest is history. He spent about a decade with the company and was even bounced around the ring a few times, before ESPN came calling. He’s been a fixture on TV and one of the real workhorses of the company as he’s handled about every sport imaginable.
Through it all, he remains humble. We had a blast playing golf Wednesday afternoon and even though he struggled on his front nine with a set of clubs perhaps too short for him that he had to borrow, plus one of my old putters that never worked for me, he rallied on his back nine for a respectable score. I could listen to his stories for days and weeks. I can see why he’s in demand for public speaking because he’s so entertaining and engaging.
With his parents now living in Salina, he hopes to get back to the area more often. He never forgets where his life turned around and has even mentioned McPherson on Sport Center, the last time when the boys won the state championship in 2015.
He’s “The Coach” to millions and millions around the world, but he’s still just Johnny to me.