Lance Johnson has been named Portland High’s new athletic director. Johnson is a 1985 PHS graduate and has been a longtime teacher at the school, where he also once served as an assistant football coach. File photo.

Portland High School has a new man at the helm of its athletic department and it’s safe to say that it’s someone very well known to Bulldogs Nation and someone who has long bled blue and white.

Lance Johnson, a PHS graduate, Class of 1985, and later teacher and coach at his alma mater, has been chosen as Rob O’Leary’s successor for the position of athletic/co-curricular director.

O’Leary stepped down last month to become the Director of Physical Education, Health and Athletics at Weymouth High School in South Weymouth, Massachusetts.

Johnson, 53, has spent the past decade as the head football coach at Scarborough High, compiling a 67-34 record and winning the 2017 Class A state title, but even during that span, he still worked in the alternative education and math departments at Portland High and now, Johnson will be the face of the athletic department.

“I’ve been waiting to be in this position,” said Johnson, a Buxton resident. “I have a passion for what co-curricular activities and sports can do to change kids’ lives. Sports are an extension of the classroom and can change lives for the better. It would be great to get every kid involved in some kind of activity.

“I know how committed the people are who work at Portland High. It’s exciting to go back where I played and coached and watched so many great athletes. I’ve learned a lot over the years that I can now pass on to other coaches by being an AD. It’s not an opportunity I could pass up.”

Sheila Jepson, the principal at Portland High, said in a press release that Johnson brings many attributes to the position.

“Lance is a well respected member of our school community,” said Jepson. “He is going to lead our co-curricular program with integrity, passion and a laser focus on all of our students. He is coming into a program that is well situated within the SMAA (Soutwhestern Maine Activities Association) and under his leadership, our programs will continue to grow. Lance is a devoted Bulldog, a strong advocate for students and a loyal and trusted educator. I am thrilled to have him as a member of our administrative team.”

Johnson has been working for several years to get in position to become an athletic director and was a right-hand man to Scarborough AD Mike LeGage, frequently serving as an event manager.

“Lance is more than ready,” LeGage said. “He’s got the right personality to be an athletic director. He’s calm, compassionate and thoughtful. Very even-keeled and intelligent. He’s passionate. He’s perfectly positioned at Portland. He’s very familiar with the school. His experience here in Scarborough will serve him well. He’s been an important part of our athletic department beyond football. He’s added a great deal. We’ll miss him here for a lot of reasons. Not just for his coaching.”

Johnson praised LeGage for helping him prepare to make this move.

“Mike’s a professional,” Johnson said. “He’s on top of the details. He’s pro-active. He does what’s best for kids and programs. I learned a lot in conversations with him.”

Johnson is one of six siblings to graduate from Portland High, where he played football, hockey and baseball. Johnson then went on to play football at Bates College in Lewiston. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Sports Management from the University of Southern New Hampshire and was a highly respected assistant football coach for the Bulldogs for 21 seasons before taking over the Scarborough head job in 2010. At the time, the Red Storm weren’t competitive at the Class A level, but Johnson got them to the Western A semifinals his first season and by 2017, Scarborough had no peer, as it rolled to the state championship, dominating Windham from start to finish in a 57-0 state final victory.

Last fall, the Red Storm went 8-3, losing in overtime to eventual state champion Bonny Eagle in the Class A state semifinals.

Johnson said that parting with football was the most difficult thing about this transition.

“I’d be lying if I said it was an easy decision,” said Johnson. “I love football and what I think it can do for kids.”

What will also prove difficult is becoming a first-time AD during a global pandemic. The status of the fall sports season is still up in the air and it’s safe to surmise that year one will be a learning experience with many curve-balls thrown his way.

“It’s a unique time for everybody,” said Johnson. “Whether you’ve been an AD for one year or 30, we’re all in the same boat. We’re having a lot of meetings. We just need to make decisions for the present the best that we can and we have to be prepared to adapt if things change.”

New Scarborough football coach

With the start of the 2020 high school football season scheduled to begin in a couple of weeks, LeGage said that he’s replacing Johnson with longtime assistant “Packy” Malia on an interim basis. Malia was the offensive coordinator for Portland High from 2003 through 2011, then spent the past eight seasons as Scarborough’s defensive coordinator. Malia was named the 2014 SMAA Assistant Coach of the Year.

“‘Packy’ is certainly the right person for the job,” LeGage said. “He was a big part of our state championship in 2017. I’m glad to have him on board. He’ll bring consistency and continuity.”

Johnson echoed that theme.

“‘Packy’ has one of the brightest football minds I’ve been around in 30 years,” Johnson said. “He’s been an offensive and defensive coordinator and can design game plans. He’s called plays in big games. I think he’ll do a great job.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

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