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Lebanon’s Johnstone Assuming Soccer Mentor Role at Windsor High

  • Rob Johnstone is stepping down as the Raiders’ coach. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright © Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lebanon varsity soccer coach Rob Johnstone breaks down the first half of the game during halftime of the Manchester West at Lebanon boys soccer game in Lebanon, N.H., on September 8, 2015. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Copyright © Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Sports Editor
Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Lebanon — Some schools hire a coach to get a teacher. Turns out Windsor High School got the former when it asked Rob Johnstone to be the latter three years ago.

The longtime Lebanon High boys soccer coach resigned on Wednesday after a 25-year career coaching Raiders on the pitch. Lebanon athletic director Mike Stone confirmed Johnstone’s decision in an email.

Now in his third year teaching at Windsor, Johnstone will become something of a director of soccer operations with the Yellowjackets next fall. Windsor already has Jeff Bachey in charge of the girls, team and Steve Mulloy will take over for longtime coach Andy Tufts with the boys in August.

Johnstone will stay in the background for both, mentoring the young coaches and the players they oversee, keeping a toe or two in soccer’s waters.

Johnstone expressed gratitude for Windsor hiring him to teach and feels adding a soccer component to his life there as a case of paying the school back.

“Three years ago, I was a 48-year-old man with no teaching experience, and Windsor High School took a chance on me, based on my reputation and the community and the soccer program we had built in Lebanon,” said Johnstone, who turns 52 next month. “They took a leap of faith on my behalf. … It’s a different level from where we’ve been able to evolve at Lebanon, but I really think, bottom line, they’re 15- to 18-year-old boys and girls who want to be good.”

Johnstone has stepped into other soccer roles the past few years, changes that opened his mind to a Windsor possibility.

He and Hanover High coach Rob Grabill have teamed up to coach a regional all-star team at the summer Granite State Games, a job Johnstone will continue. His son, Owen, a Lebanon senior, is playing high-level club soccer this spring at Ludlow, Mass.-based Western United; Devin O’Neill, one of Johnstone’s former Middlebury College teammates, is the coach, and the elder Johnstone has been working as an assistant.

“There are so many different tiers to this game,” Johnstone said. “From (Western United), 15 out of the 18 have committed to schools to play soccer next year. The Granite State Games, maybe a handful of those guys have college soccer aspirations. Windsor, we’ve got athletes and kids eager to get better. For me, it’s great to be able to be a part of it on different levels.”

Leaving Lebanon to a be a soccer mentor at Windsor will also free Johnstone and his wife, Andrea, to follow the path of Owen’s college career. The younger Johnstone has committed to play soccer at NCAA Division III Ithaca (N.Y.) College; not having a concrete sideline commitment will make it easier to see his son play in the same way Johnstone’s father, Bruce, was at nearly all of his own son’s Lebanon matches.

The relatively round number 25 never seriously factored into any of it.

“I had dismissed it so readily because people would say, ‘Hey, 25 years, that’s a really nice number; Owen’s a senior, that’s a logical stepping-off point,” he said. “I hadn’t really thought about it until, I guess, maybe when I started getting involved with this club team. Being an assistant is a very different thing for me, too.”

A former Middlebury standout, Johnstone took up coaching at Lebanon shortly after giving up a sportswriting job with the Rutland Herald in 1993, replacing the retiring Denis Reisch. Working for his father’s Lebanon appliance company, Central Supply, made sideline instruction possible. Johnstone continued with the Raiders even as his work transitioned from moving refrigerators to motivating students at Windsor.

Johnstone produced a 280-135-38 mark at Lebanon, making four NHIAA championship games without a victory. The last, in 2016, may have been the cruelest, a scoreless tie against underdog Goffstown at Southern New Hampshire University that the Grizzlies ultimately claimed on a 4-2 penalty-kick tiebreaker. Lebanon went 12-5-1 last fall, with Goffstown again serving as spoiler in a 2-1 double-overtime quarterfinal upset in what proved to be Johnstone’s final game in charge.

He was planning for 2018 within minutes of getting home, Johnstone said. He just didn’t realize that plan would include a different address.

“Let’s see how it plays out,” Johnstone said of the Windsor opportunity.

“It’s exciting and intriguing, but we have to see.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.