When Calvin Johnson retired from the Detroit Lions in 2016, he was 30 years old. That’s a pretty long retirement.
The Georgia Tech great has filled the time with purpose, lending more time to his foundation, starting a consultancy for former athletes, working with receivers from the pro to high-school levels and spending more time with family.
Johnson has a 4-year-old son, Caleb, and married Brittney McNorton, a former Lions staff member, in 2016, months after his retirement. He spoke on those topics, as well as a few thoughts about Georgia Tech, in an interview with the AJC this past Saturday before a gala dinner at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center which served as a fundraiser for his Calvin Johnson Jr. Foundation.
Questions and answers were edited for clarity and brevity.
Q: Is your private coaching what you consider your primary occupation right now?
A: No. Real estate, that kind of takes up (my time). Me and two friends of mine – one is actually an old teammate, Rob Sims – we started Locker Room Consulting, which is basically a platform for players, but it’s by players, too. You hear the statistics about guys that lose their money shortly after their careers (end), they’re going bankrupt and stuff like that. We want to be able to provide advice for these guys and provide opportunities as well, whether we source them ourselves or we create them. That’s what we’re doing right now.
Q: Is it fulfilling?
A: It’s fun. It’s a lot of opportunity. It’s real estate, but with that comes other ventures. Like I said, being able to do commercial real estate, having those opportunities, just to see and learn from the pros on this side of the business, so that one day, we can be those pros, too.
Q: Are there Tech grads from whom you’ve sought out for advice?
A: I actually have. I’ve been able to sit down with Beau King of Kim King Associates (Beau King is the son of the late Kim King, the Tech quarterback legend) and meet with those guys and let them know that we’re here to try to learn ourselves.
Q: What are your plans for graduation (from Tech)?
A: One thing I’ve found out, you’ve got to take a lot of the classes at Tech. I’m still in Michigan, so it’s tough. I heard they’re getting better with their transfer programs as far as taking classes from other schools. We’ve just got to see where they’re at now. Things could have changed in the last year and a half since I’ve tried.
Q: Have you started preparing your induction speech (for the College Football Hall of Fame)?
A: No. (Laughs) I don’t even think about it, honestly. When the time comes, it comes. I’ve got a lot of other things to worry about.
Q: Do you watch Tech play much during the season?
A: Whenever I can catch ’em on TV. You know what’s crazy? Since I’ve been done playing, I haven’t watched as much football. I really don’t. I find other things to do with my time, especially now that I’ve got a little man. I do try to keep in touch, see where they’re at, follow along, see if they’re going to make a bowl game. I keep tabs on ’em, no doubt.
Q: If you were a high-school kid coming out, do you think Georgia Tech is the place you’d end up again?
A: Right now, they don’t really throw the ball. So if you’re trying to make plays in the receiving game, 10 throws a game, that’s not going to really (do it). Unless they’re throwing all 10 to you, like they did “Bay Bay” (former All-American receiver Demaryius Thomas).
Q: Looking back at your career at Tech, if you had one game you could re-live again, what would it be?
A: That’s a good question. Clemson, probably. (Johnson caught the game-winning touchdown pass with 11 seconds ago at Clemson in 2004.) That was just my second game. That was so early, but that environment, what we did that night, the feelings we had.
Q: And if you had one game to replay to change the outcome?
A: I had the North Carolina State game where the thing touched my fingertips. (A home loss in 2005 to N.C. State in which a would-be touchdown pass to him in the final minute was intercepted after deflecting off his hands.) We should have had that one.
Q: What is Caleb like?
A: He’s 4 years old. He’s getting to that point where he’s starting to break through. You feel like he’s a genius because he’s just picking up so much, so fast. He’s listening when you don’t think he’s listening. He’s a bright kid, and I’m very proud.
Q: What is he good at, or what does he like to do?
A: He’s good at running his mouth. He’s good at sweet-talking anybody into anything he wants. That is what he is good at.
Q: Do you fall prey?
A: No, it doesn’t work with me. It works with all the ladies, though.
Q: With all the talk about concussions and the health risks of football, how do you feel about Caleb playing if that’s something he wants to do?
A: Eventually, if he wants to play, I wouldn’t mind, but he’ll have to be at a certain age. My mom wouldn’t let me play when I was young. It wasn’t until I got to middle school – seventh grade, I think. If he wants to play, I want him to play.
Q: Being a father, being married and having more time with family, I imagine that’s the biggest joy in your life.
A: Being able to be around my family, being down here, spending more time down here in Georgia until I move back down. Being around the family – that’s time you can’t replace.
Q: Do you have a plan to move back down here?
A: This is home. We’re just looking for a home.
Q: Do you know where you’d want to live?
A: We’ve narrowed it down, but it just all depends on what we find, what works out, the school system. So many things that play into it.
Q: It’s funny, having a kid, you’re thinking not just for yourself.
A: Exactly. You’ve got to think about those things.
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