Lakers lose piece of their history as Phil Johnsrud steps down

Phil Johnsrud racked up 308 wins over 21 seasons as head coach for the Minnewaska boys basketball team before calling it a career after this winter season.

Minnewaska head coach Phil Johnsrud smiles as he makes the final cut on the net at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall after the Lakers won the Section 3-AA boys basketball championship on March 15, 2018. Johnsrud retired from his position as head coach for the Lakers after this season with a 308-231 record in 21 seasons. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

Phil Johnsrud has been as big a part of basketball in the Minnewaska area as anyone over the last few decades.

Johnsrud, 53, started coaching at Minnewaska as a junior high and 9th-grade coach during the 1992-93 season before getting hired as the boys head coach for 1997-98. That’s after his playing days in Starbuck growing up.

The head coaching job for Minnewaska is a position that stuck with him for 21 years between two different stints. With his two oldest of five sons, Peyton and Connor, both graduating this spring, Johnsrud announced his retirement from coaching after this winter season.

“My wife, (Jennifer), and I are both teachers and head coaches in our district and have been for quite some time,” Johnsrud said. “Our schedules get to be very hectic...We are expecting our second grandson in May. I've known for the past couple years that I would do this at least until my boys were done. I'm ready for the next part of life with my wife and family at a little slower pace. I'm ready for some quality time with grandchildren, as well. As a coach at a school our size, it's a K-12 commitment and at this point for me I'm ready for a change.”

Johnsrud took a three-year break from coaching varsity from 2013-2015 after his oldest children started college. He coached junior high and junior varsity basketball during that time before moving back in as the head coach of the Lakers in 2016.
Johnsrud leaves with a career record of 308-231. He led Minnewaska to two state tournaments, the first coming in 2001. His 2018 section championship carried special meaning to him as it came not long after his father, John Johnsrud, died on March 8. That was the same day the Lakers won a thrilling second-round playoff game in overtime against Morris Area-Chokio-Alberta in a 58-51 game.


“Those were great teams with quality individuals,” Johnsrud said of his two state tournament teams. “I was lucky enough to win five (West Central Conference) championships, which was tough to come by with so many good WCC opponents.”

Johnsrud said he had other teams that might have had less talent but exceeded expectations through hard work that he feels equally as proud of as he looks back on his career.

“I coached some players with developmental disabilities that were outstanding examples of inspiration to our school, community, and our teams,” Johnsrud said. “Very proud to have taken over for my head coach at Starbuck, Greg Starns, so I coached where I grew up and did my best to keep up with the tradition of Coach Starns and (former Glenwood coach) John Holsten as part of the consolidation of Minnewaska. They are great coaches and men.”

Johnsrud coached with a lot of passion on the sidelines. He wanted to win, but the 308 wins are not what he reflects back on the most.

“(I’m most proud of) working with so many great young men and families,” he said. “Watching former players become adults, have families, and be successful in life are the biggest wins for me. Coaching my five sons was awesome and challenging, but nonetheless very special.”

Johnsrud said he does not see a situation that would get him back into being a head or assistant coach at the varsity level, but leading a team at the lower age levels might still appeal to him someday. He’s ready to let somebody else take the reins of this Lakers program and enjoy watching how Minnewaska does from a different seat.

“(I’m going to) attend sporting events relaxed and enjoy other coaches being stressed out and coaching hard,” Johnsrud said. “Maybe take my wife on a vacation without kids! I still want to be connected to our youth somehow. Relationships with kids are the best, and I will have to find a way to fill that void because watching kids experience success with joy on their faces is a true addiction.”


Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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