Meet the Director of Athletics candidates :: John Johnson

Aug. 29, 2012

The four finalists for the Director of Athletics position at Montana will be on campus this week, and will be providing an inside look at each candidate the same day he is on campus. Today we feature John Johnson, now a senior associate director of athletics at Washington State under former Montana AD Bill Moos.

Johnson is well-known to Montana fans, with two decades of athletics administration experience at Eastern Washington and Weber State.

A graduate of Eastern Washington, Johnson's career began at EWU as the promotions and marketing director in the mid-80s. He ultimately worked his way up to director of athletics for the Eagles. He held that job from 1993 to 1997, when he moved to Weber State.

He spent less than one year at WSU before taking over as AD in November 1997. He served in that role until 2004, when he moved to his current position at Washington State.

Why did you apply to be the next Director of Athletics at Montana?

Montana is a nationally recognized program that has a brand that reaches across the United States, and the Grizzlies play in a terrific conference. I grew up in the Big Sky Conference and played (football) in it.

I've always loved the state of Montana and what the university stands for, particularly the athletics program. Clearly it is one of the most successful FCS schools in the U.S., with great fan support from a great community, and with great recognition outside this region. And there is a great staff already in place.

What makes you a one of the four finalists for the position?

First, I have experience as an athletic director in the Big Sky Conference, and at those schools during my tenures, they improved. We won more championships than they had previously, we improved the facilities, we improved the funding. So I have that experience.

I also have some 1-A experience. Since I had already been an athletic director, I think I've learned more at Washington State than if I had done it the other way around. With that experience I've been able to look at my position at Washington State from a different perspective.

(My time at Washington State) has provided me the experience of high-end Division I football and the ideas and opportunities you might have to expand and improve the student-athlete experience for all your sports.

Montana has been without a Director of Athletics since March. What would be your top priorities in your first month on the job?

First, I would meet with every staff member within the department and talk to them about the program. What they like and what things they think need to be improved to help us be more successful on the fields and courts and in the classroom.

Second, I would immerse myself in the university in order to get to know campus and the campus leadership and then move on to the community of Missoula.

That would be my first month, and it would be a busy one.

What are the challenges you see in the decade ahead for Montana?

The challenge in athletics is always about financing what you're doing. Something that won't necessarily a challenge but an opportunity is the changing landscape of college athletics with all the league movement. You need to make sure Montana is positioned in such a fashion where you will be able to take advantage of opportunities if they were to come along.

However, I personally believe the Big Sky Conference is the second-most stable football-playing conference in the western United States, and I see it as one of the leaders who will determine what that second tier of Division I football is going to be.

What is your favorite part of being an athletics administrator?

The student-athletes, because that's why we're all here. And the fans and the donors. And I enjoy when you're able to build something. I don't necessarily mean a building, but improving. My goal will always be to get better every day and make the program better every day in some fashion. I get great satisfaction out of that.

What is the most memorable moment of your career?

I think what we accomplished at Weber State, both in facilities, some of which hadn't been touched since 1975, and improving all our sports programs to a higher level. To change the culture and change the image of the program was very satisfying.

From an athletics standpoint, clearly it was when we beat North Carolina (in the first round of the 1999 NCAA tournament, a No. 14 beating a No. 3) in Seattle. That was a great moment. It was very exciting for me to be at a level where we could win a game in the tournament.

And I'm proud of what I've been able to accomplish at Washington State. We're just completing a ($60 million) renovation of our football stadium, the largest renovation in the history of the school. And just being able to make our programs better.

And I'll always remember those kids you give a second chance and they end up getting their degrees, and they come back and thank you. And really to see any of the kids grow, from when they come in as true freshmen and throughout their years on campus.

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