Like old friends meeting several years after their relationship collapsed, Davis High and Len Johnston came together again Friday when Johnston was named the school's head football coach.
Johnston had coached the Spartans for nine seasons in the 1990s, leading them to six Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berths and a 72-29-1 record.
In March 2000, however, the Modesto City Schools told Johnston he would not return as coach. Johnston said at the time that he was given no reason for his dismissal, but did note "philosophical differences" among coaches in Davis' football program.
Rumors of problems in the program had surfaced after the 1999 season, when the junior varsity coach and three varsity assistants resigned.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Merced Sun-Star
Davis was 11-2 and reached the section semifinals in Johnston's final year. He was only the third coach in school history and ran the city's dominant program, reaching three D-I section semifinals.
Off-field issues also had a role in Johnston's departure.
In the fall of 1999 Johnston's son, Kyle, was seriously injured in an on-campus incident that left the Davis sophomore with a broken neck and bruised spinal cord. Kyle spent much of the 1999 season in Shriners' Hospital in Sacramento and his father said the stress over his son's health became overwhelming at times.
A week after being fired as football coach, the Johnston family sued Modesto City Schools over Kyle's injury — contending the district's negligence had led to the injuries.
The lawsuit claimed the district created a dangerous situation by allowing students to roughhouse in the wrestling room without supervision.
Though Johnston remained at Davis as an English teacher, he worked as an assistant football coach at Downey under Frank Bispo and at Modesto under Rod Long.
Johnston had a short stint as head coach at Downey in 2004, when Bispo was hospitalized with chron's disease. Johnston, defensive coordinator at the time, led the Knights to two wins in three games.
Johnston could not be reached for comment Friday.
Davis principal Jeff Albritton, said the past is just that — the past. The 2000 breakup, he said, is all but forgotten.
"I can't imagine any problems," he said. "Len had past success at Davis and he has remained a coach, including last year at Modesto High."
Johnston will work under a new principal next season.
Albritton has been named principal at Gregori High, the city's seventh public high school, which will open in August 2010, and leaves Davis at the end of this school year.
Albritton said there were several applicants for the job — the district limited the applications to employees working in the district — and that Johnston's impressive coaching resume was a key factor.
Because of the district's declining enrollment, Albritton said, the district had decided to stay in-house unless it had no takers for the Davis job.
Modesto City Schools disclosed in early March that it needed to slash $11.3 million from its $270 million budget, cutbacks that would affect 50 to 100 employees in layoffs, reductions in hours and less paid time for certain duties.
The coaching void was created when Brad Goudeau resigned in February after seven years and a 36-37-1 record. He led the Spartans to four section playoff appearances.
Bee staff writer Rich Estrada can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.