Longtime Western Oregon Coach Mike Johnson Set To Retire
Mike Johnson's tenure at Western Oregon include 15 GNAC team championships in both indoor and outdoor track and field.
Mike Johnson's tenure at Western Oregon include 15 GNAC team championships in both indoor and outdoor track and field.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020
by Western Oregon Athletic Communications

MONMOUTH, Ore. – Currently in his 17th year with the Western Oregon University cross country and track and field programs, head coach Mike Johnson will retire at the end of the 2019-20 academic year term. Associate Head Coach Octavious Gillespie-Bennett, who has been with the Wolves the previous four seasons, will move to head coach on June 1.

"Part of my pride in being at WOU was John Knight and Don Spinas who came before me and what they meant to the University and the programs. They're great coaches and you have to be a good coach, it's upon you. They both changed people's lives," Johnson said.

It's been quite the ride for Johnson and the Wolves, compiling 15 Great Northwest Athletic Conference indoor and outdoor track & field championships, along with leading the cross country team to numerous NCAA Cross Country Championship appearances.

"Regardless of your funding, you're expected to still have champions and win championships. For me, the privilege is to follow people that change people's lives. What I will miss is the connections to the people and all of the relationships," he added.

Many have earned All-American honors under his watch, most recently coaching Derek Holdsworth, the USTFCCA West Region Indoor Athlete of the Year, holds one of the fastest times around in the 800 meters. He also added GNAC Indoor Male Athlete and Newcomer of the Year. Maya Hopwood, who set the new school record in the 60 meters and is second in the 200 meters, took home Freshman of the Year.

Johnson has helped WOU become one of the top distance medley relay teams having won back-to-back national titles in the men's DMR in 2017 and 2018. Leading the way in both of those teams were All-Americans David Ribich and Dustin Nading. Ribich, the most decorated student-athlete in school history, won consecutive outdoor national titles in the 1,500 (2017-18) and he reached all-time Division II marks in the indoor mile (3:58.88), indoor 1,000 (2:21.38) and indoor 3,000 (7:50.81).

Nading became a three-time national champion by defeating the field in the mile at the 2018 National Championships and has continued his career as a graduate transfer at the University of Washington.

Olivia Woods recently completed her WOU career as a six-time All-American, as Johnson has helped coach Amanda Schumaker (four-time All-American), Chris Olsen (2013), Seabre Church (2014), Monica Barnhart (three-time All-American) and Badane Sultessa (2015) all collected All-American accolades over the years.

Since joining the collegiate coaching ranks, Johnson has coached five U.S. Track & Field Olympic Trial qualifiers and three World Cross Country Championship participants. In addition, he coached Deaflympic gold medalist Gary Namba (100 and 200-meters) and multi-time Deaflympic medalist Janna Vander Meulen, a WOU graduate who set new American deaf records in the 100-meter and 400-meter hurdles. He also coached Canadian Para-Olympic Competitor Tom Normandeau (400).

Prior to joining the Wolves, Johnson's career includes tenures as the head coach at Highline Community College (1972-74), Eastern Washington University (1974-76), University of Portland (1976-86), University of Washington (1986-98), and Boise State (1998-2000). He was also an assistant coach at WOU for three seasons prior to becoming the program's leader in 2004.

Johnson's teams at Washington won two Pac-10 cross country championships and his Portland squads captured seven-consecutive West Coast Conference cross country titles. He founded the Pilots women's program as the women's NAIA championship team he coached was inducted into the Portland Hall of Fame.

Western Oregon University's cross country program, with the aid of the physical plant, has hosted three NCAA Regionals, hosted numerous GNAC Championships, the Pac-12 Championships, as well as the middle school and high school meets on the Ash Creek Preserve that started out on 39 acres as a grass seed field to a national-caliber course capable of hosting any meet. Tens of thousands of visitors have come to campus and the community to witness these events.

Johnson has served the USATF in multiple facets including as a Level 2 Certified for all events, registered coach, he was one of the first to serve on both the Division I and Division II USTFCCCA committees, an official and as a Level 1 Instructor. He also served as an OSAA Rules Interpreter for 10 years and has hosted and served as Meet Director for 17 GNAC Cross Country and Track and Field Championships. Championships Director or Manager for various NCAA Division 1 and Division 2 Championship events. Johnson has also served as a Speaker at many clinics and conferences over the years.

The Seattle native has won numerous honors during his career as he is a three-time Pac-10 Coach of the Year, four-time NCAA West Regional Cross Country Coach of the Year and has earned NAIA National Coach of the Year honors.

"It's nice to be able to work at a school where you know the President on a first-name basis," Johnson concluded.