Allen Johnson now in place at NC A&T
To say that NC A&T’s new head of athletics programs, Allen Johnson, is starting this week would be an understatement.
Johnson, 51, once the best hurdler in the world, just took the lead in the men’s sprint and hurdles at the just-concluded World Championships in Athletics in Eugene, Oregon. If his athletes’ performance in Eugene is any indication, he’ll be fine at A&T.
He said his job at Worlds was to make sure all athletes and their coaches had everything they needed to be successful. They were.
Allen Johnson’s athletes at the Worlds
The American men swept (first through third) the 100 and 200 meters, won gold in the 400 meters, won the 110 meters hurdles and won silver in the 400 meters hurdles. They also won the 4×400 meter relay, finished second in the 4×100 meter relay and third in the 4×400 mixed relay.
The American team totaled 33 medals, the highest total ever recorded in the history of the world championships or the Olympic Games. The world championship record was 30 medals and the Olympic record was 32.
“We did very, very well,” Johnson said.
Finally in place at NC A&T
After competing at the NCAA outdoor championships in June and the world championships in July, Johnson is literally in his first week on the job at A&T. He was previously an assistant sprint coach at NC State (2016-22) after serving as an assistant at the Air Force (2010-14) and Kentucky (2014-16). This is his first position as head coach.
He replaces the very bright Duane Ross, who left the program in June to become head athletics coach at the University of Tennessee.
Johnson says his top priorities at A&T are rounding out his staff and recruiting. Four of the five assistants went with Ross to UT with only throwing coach Amber Monroe remaining.
Additionally, Johnson won’t have back-to-back outdoor 400-meter champion Randolph Ross Jr., the former coach’s son, or his sister, Jonah, from last year’s team. Sophomore Javonte Harding, a 2022 NCAA outdoor 100 and 200-meter runner-up, also announced he will be joining Ross in Tennessee.
A fan forum on the NC A&T fan site titled “Blue Death Valley” reports that a few other Ross alumni at A&T are in the transfer portal or have moved to other schools.
Hit the pavement
“I’m sure some athletes are no longer here in the program,” Johnson said, “but the bulk, the vast majority of athletes are still here. We’re still going to do very well. We still have depth, we We still have talent, and we’re also recruiting, so we’re looking good for now as well as for the future.
Johnson arrives just as AAU Junior Olympics track and field competition takes place this week at NC A&T’s Truist Stadium and Marcus T. Johnson Track. More than 14,000 track and field athletes between the ages of 8 and 18 are registered to compete. It’s great to have events like the Junior Olympics on the A&T campus, Johnson said, but that’s just the beginning.
“I think one of the main things in the recruiting process is getting out there and pounding the pavement,” Johnson said. “The fact that it is here is an advantage. But you still have to go out there and build relationships. You still have to talk to the parents, you have to talk to the coaches, you have to talk to the athletes.
“Just because it’s here doesn’t mean other schools can fly, fly here, get a hotel room and do the same thing. So it’s just about building those relationships. Being here helps. Ninety to ninety-five percent of them, however, find themselves on the other side of that wall (from his office in Truist Stadium), walking around, shaking hands, and building those relationships.
“Whenever a national caliber encounter like this is here, you are going to see some of the best of the best,” he said while noting that the Under-20 World Championships will also take place on the next week in Cali, Colombia. But there are only two American athletes in each event there.
“There’s still an abundance of talent here (at the Junior Olympics),” Johnson said. “There are definitely googobs of athletes everywhere who are recruitable, who can help us.”
Continuing the winning tradition of NC A&T
Ross, a former world-class hurdler like Johnson, led NC A&T to the top-five finishes for both men and women at the 2021 NCAA Division I Outdoor Championships. His men finished second in the NCAA Div. I have indoor championships this season. Its athletes have won ten national divisions. I won championships during his decade at A&T.
“First of all, what Duane has done here is definitely unprecedented,” Johnson said. “He took an HBCU and said ‘we’re going to be one of the best track and field programs in the country, period. But I think for me, a challenge is the challenge. Clearly, Duane has proven that it can be done.
“I like to think that as hurdlers, that’s how we think. We are used to the obstacles in our path and we go through these obstacles, one at a time. For me, the challenge is no different. Being here now, after Duane, is no different than the challenge if he had never been here. It is perhaps a little more reassuring to see that someone who came before me did. But for me, it’s about moving forward and trying to put my mark on this stuff.
“I don’t feel any pressure. The outside pressure cannot exceed the pressure I impose on myself. My expectation for myself, my staff and this program is to be #1 regardless of who was here before.
New conference digs
After just one season in the Big South Conference after leaving the MEAC, Johnson will inherit a team that will compete this year in another new league, the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). He said he always assesses the conference as well as his team.
“There are about 45 to 50 athletes right now,” Johnson said. “Typically, for a track and field program (Div. I), it’s small. I can see us adding another 15-20 athletes.
“For me and my vision for this program, I want A&T to be able to attract the best athletes, whatever the event,” he said. “At no point do I want us to be in a position where there’s a good athlete, we go after him, and we’re like ‘oh, we don’t do that here.’ No, we do athletics here.
“There are 21 events. I will have staff in place. They will be the best coaches. They’re going to be able to take all 21 of those events. We are going to be able to train at a high level at any time in any of these events.
“So that’s a long way of saying, yes, we’ll have distance runners.”
“Exactly what an Allen Johnson NC A&T track team will look like remains to be seen, honestly,” Johnson said. ” It is a work in progress. Everything is fluid. Like I said, I want to be in a position where we don’t put ourselves in a box and nobody puts us in a box and where we can compete and perform at a high level in any track event or on the ground. ”
NC A&T facilities
One of the concerns many have about the Aggies continuing to compete at a high level concerns their facilities. Johnson said that wouldn’t be a problem.
“In terms of facilities, we have everything we need here,” Johnson said. “We have a track that’s just across this wall here (outside his office). It’s a Mondo, it’s a state-of-the-art surface. We even have a stadium, this training wise, we can handle stadiums.
The weight room is more than adequate. We have all the little toys and equipment, boxes for plyometrics. We have all the tools to train at the highest level.
The History of Allen Johnson’s Track
Johnson, like Ross, is a former world-class hurdler. While Johnson was at UNC (1989-92) and Ross was at Clemson 1991-95), they competed in the ACC. They also fought as professionals. Ross said his games against Ross in college ended up being roughly 50-50. “He won some, I won some others,” he said.
As a professional, Johnson shone. He won the 110 hurdles and set an Olympic record at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. The Northern Virginia native has also competed in six IAAF competitions and world championships. He won gold medals in 1995 (Gothenburg, Sweden), 1997 (Athens, Greece), 2001 (Edmonton, Alberta Canada), 2003 (Paris, France) and 2006 (Athens, Greece).
He also won the IAAF World Indoor 60m Championships in 1995 (London, England), 2003 (Birmingham, England) and 2004 (Budapest, Hungary).
Johnson was inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame in 2015.