Clarksville, Ark.-University of the Ozarks men's basketball coach Johnny Johnson has been named athletics director of the Little Rock School District after Superintendent Dr. Ken James' recommendation was unanimously accepted at Thursday night's Little Rock school board meeting.
Johnson, who was at Ozarks for 11 seasons, was one of three finalists interviewed two weeks ago by Dr. James. Johnson will begin his appointment in July. "The biggest interest for me was to move into the administration part of athletics," said Johnson. "I’m looking forward to the challenge of improving the image of the Little Rock School District. The position appealed to me because I’ve had a connection with the Little Rock area for years. I’ll also be able to be home with my family more." Johnson, who grew up in Little Rock and graduated from Cabot High School, will oversee eight high schools and five junior high schools. Johnson will enter a LRSD that has been plagued by numerous setbacks in recent years, including this year’s much publicized forfeit of Central High’s state basketball title. "Our campaign will be to eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive," said Johnson. "We have got to make sure we have good coaches and coaches that are happy coaching. I want the athletes to have positive experiences while participating in athletics. We also want to implement new programs and get the parents involved." Johnson arrived at Ozarks in 1990 after a three-year stint as an assistant coach at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock. During his stay at UALR, the Trojans went 67-25 and made two NCAA Tournament appearances. After just three seasons as head coach, Johnson led the Eagles to the 1993 Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference (AIC) championship and was named AIC Coach of the Year. The Eagles also made the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Sweet 16 that season in Kansas City. The following season the Eagles were ranked #13 in the nation and earned another birth in the NAIA National Tournament. Johnson went on the lead the Eagles to their third consecutive 20 win season in 1995. While in the AIC, Johnson was twice named District 17 Coach of the Year. In 2000 he was named American Southwest Conference East Division Coach of the Year. Last season, the Eagles posted a 17-8 record and reached the ASC postseason tournament for the second consecutive year. Johnson leaves Ozarks as the school’s all-time leader in victories, amassing a record of 173-126. "Johnny has done a great job here," said Jack Jones, Athletics Director and Head Women’s Basketball Coach. "He has been very successful in his coaching career, but he has also been successful in bringing recognition to the institution. He placed a high priority with his athletes to graduate and has accomplished that. Little Rock is getting a good person." While reflecting on his stay at Ozarks, Johnson has found great satisfaction coaching in Clarksville. "I will always be grateful for Dr. Fritz Ehren for giving me the chance to be a head coach at the age of 26," Johnson says. "When I came to Clarksville I only knew one person. The community has really embraced us and we’ve made some great friends here. Everyone from those that attend our church to those in the Road Dog Running Club have made us feel at home during our time here and whoever is hired is very fortunate because the fan support is wonderful. Coach (Jack) Jones has been a big factor in me staying for eleven years. He is the type of Athletic Director who will let you run your program." "I’m really pleased for Johnny," said U of O President Dr. Rick Niece. "His new position will be a tremendous challenge and I don’t know if anyone is up to that challenge more than Johnny. I’ll miss his competitive spirit and his sense of fair play. I know he’ll be very successful at his new job." Aside from winning four Coach of the Year awards and two conference titles, Johnson also stressed the importance of academics to his players. "I’m most proud of graduating my players," Johnson said. "The faculty and staff here have really taken an interest in our athletes. If it were not for them, we could not have been successful. It’s very flattering to be out recruiting in the state and a coach comes up to me and talks about the basketball program here and how we take care of our players. It’s also the ultimate compliment when I hear a player tell me they’ve enjoyed their experience at Ozarks. " The search for Johnson’s successor is underway and a new coach is expected to be named by August 1. Johnson and his wife Robin have two sons, Drake (5) and Bryce (3).