Allen Johnson now at NC A&T
To say that NC A&T’s new director of athletics and field programs, Allen Johnson, will hit the ground running this week would be an understatement.
Once the world’s best hurdler, 51-year-old Johnson recently took charge of the male sprinters and hurdlers at the just-concluded World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon. If his athletes’ performance at Eugene is any indication, he will do well at A&T.
He said his job at the World Championships is to make sure all athletes and their coaches have everything they need to be successful. They are.
Allen Johnson’s athletes at the World Championships
The US men swept (first through third place) in the 100 and 200 meters, brought home a gold medal 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 meter relay.
“We did that very, very well,” Johnson said.
Finally at NC A&T
After working at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in June and the Worlds in July, Johnson is literally in his first week at A&T. He was previously an assistant sprint coach at NC State (2016-22) after serving as an assistant at Air Force (2010-14) and Kentucky (2014-16). This is his first job as a head coach.
He replaces the highly successful Duane Ross, who left the program in June to become a senior track and field coach at the University of Tennessee.
Johnson says his first priorities at A&T are filling and recruiting his staff. Four of five assistants went to UT with Ross, leaving only throwing coach Amber Monroe.
Also, Johnson won’t have 400-meter outside world 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 finalist, has also announced that he will be joining Ross in Tennessee.
A fan forum on the NC A&T fansite titled ‘Blue Death Valley’ reports that several other former A&T students of Ross are on the transfer portal or have settled at other schools.
Stomping on the sidewalk
“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 will still do very well. We still have depth, we still have talent, and we still recruit. So we are looking good for now and for the future.”
Johnson comes just as this week’s AAU Junior Olympic Games track and field competition comes to NC A&T’s Truist Stadium and Marcus T. Johnson Track. Over 14,000 track and field athletes between the ages of 8 and 18 are registered for the competition. It’s great to host events like the Junior Olympics on A&T’s campus, Johnson said, but that’s just the beginning.
“I think one of the most important things in the recruiting process is to get out there and hit the sidewalk,” Johnson said. “The fact that it’s here is an advantage. But you still have to go out there and build the relationships. You still have to talk to the parents, you have to talk to coaches, you have to talk to the athletes.
“Just because it’s here doesn’t stop the other schools from getting on a plane, flying here, getting a hotel room and doing the same. So it’s all about building those relationships. Being here helps. However, ninety to ninety-five percent of them go to the other side of that wall (his office at Truist Stadium) and walk around, shake hands, and build those relationships.
“Anytime a gathering of national caliber like this happens, you’re going to see some of the best of the best,” he said while noting the World Under 20 Championships will also be held in Cali, Colombia next week. But there are only two US athletes in each event.
“There’s still a wealth of talent out here (at the Junior Olympiads),” Johnson said. “There are definitely googobs of athletes from all over the world that can be recruited that can help us.”
Continuing NC A&T’s tradition of success
A former world-class hurdler like Johnson, Ross led NC A&T to top-five finishes for men and women at the 2021 NCAA Div. I Outdoor Championships. His men finished runners-up in the NCAA Div. I indoor championships this season. His athletes won ten national Div. I 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 a challenge. Obviously, Duane has proven it’s possible.
“I would like to think that as hurdlers we just think like that. We are used to obstacles in our path and to going through those obstacles one by one. For me the challenge is no different. Being here now, after Duane, is no different than the challenge if he had never been here. Maybe it’s a little more comforting to see that someone came before me and did it. But for me it’s about moving forward and trying to put my stamp on this thing.
“I don’t feel any pressure. The pressure from outside cannot exceed the pressure I put on myself. My expectation for myself, my staff and this program is to be number 1 regardless of who has been here before.”
New conference excavations
After just one season in the Big South Conference after leaving the MEAC, this year Johnson will take charge of a team competing in another new league, the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). He said he still rates the conference and his team.
“There are about 45 to 50 athletes right now,” Johnson said. “Typically for a (Div. I) athletics program, that’s small. I can imagine adding another 15 to 20 athletes.
“For me and my vision for this program, I want A&T to be able to attract the best athletes regardless of the event,” he said. “I don’t want at any point to be in a position where there’s a good athlete and we run after him and say, ‘Oh, we’re not doing that here.’ No, we do athletics here.
“There are 21 events. I will have staff on site. You will be the best coach. You will be able to take on all 21 of these events. We will be able to train at a high level at any of these events at any time.
“So, that’s a long way of saying, yeah, we’re going to have some long-distance runners.”
“To be honest, exactly what an Allen Johnson NC A&T track team will look like is yet to be seen,” Johnson said. “It’s still a work in progress. Everything is liquid. Like I said, I want to be in a position where we don’t pigeonhole us and no one pigeonholes us and that we can compete at a high level in any event on the track or on the field. ”
NC A&T facilities
One of the concerns many have as the Aggies continue to compete at a high level is their facilities. Johnson said that was not a problem.
“In terms of equipment, we have everything we need here,” said Johnson. “We have a lead right on the other side of this wall here (in front of his office). It’s a Mondo, it’s a state-of-the-art interface. We even have a stadium, which we can run in terms of training.
The weight room is more than adequate. We have all the little toys and gadgets, boxes for plyometrics. We have all the tools to train at the highest level.”
Allen Johnson’s track history
Like Ross, Johnson is a former world-class hurdler. While Johnson was with UNC (1989-92) and Ross was with Clemson 1991-95, they competed in the ACC. They also fought as professionals. Ross said his matches against Ross in college went about 50-50. “He won some, I won some,” he said.
As a professional, Johnson shone. He won the 110 hurdles and set an Olympic record at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. A native of Northern Virginia, he also competed in six IAAF and World Championship competitions. 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 60m World Indoor Championships in 1995 (London, England), 2003 (Birmingham, England) and 2004 (Budapest, Hungary).