East Central University Director of Athletics Dr. Jeff Williams has announced the hiring of Al Johnson as the 19th head coach for the Tiger football program and just the fourth in the NCAA era, since 1997.
“I am excited to present Al Johnson to Tiger Nation as our next head football coach,” said Williams. “Al has been uniquely prepared for this opportunity and he made an immediate and unforgettable impression that never faded. I anticipate that will be the same for our players, campus, community and alumni. He brings an infectious passion for leading and developing student-athletes, which becomes evident to everyone he meets.”
"I am very excited and honored to be the next East Central University head football coach,” Johnson stated. “I want to thank ECU President Dr. Pierson, Director of Athletics Dr. Williams and the entire search committee for this amazing opportunity.”
Tiger fans will have to wait until 2018 to meet the newest addition to the ECU Athletics staff, as Johnson still has to complete his current duties as the assistant offensive line coach at the University of Wisconsin. The Badgers will be competing in the Orange Bowl, Dec. 30 against Miami at 7 p.m.
“Al Johnson brings a unique mix of professional experience and different levels of coaching,” ECU President Dr. Katricia Pierson commented. “He brings a great deal of enthusiasm and knowledge of football that will help lead the Tigers to success both on and off the field by believing his players should be equally committed to academics and athletics.”
Johnson has had a wide variety of experience as both a player and coach, working at NCAA Division I, NCAA Division III, in high school and operating his own camp. He has also experienced greatness as a player on the field, playing for Wisconsin for four seasons and spending seven years as a member of the National Football League.
He started his NFL career after being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second round in 2003. The offensive lineman spent three seasons at center for the Cowboys and helped build them back to a playoff caliber team, making two playoff appearances.
While in Dallas, Johnson met his wife, Brandy, and gained ties to Oklahoma through friends. The pair decided right after having to move, when he was traded to the Arizona Cardinals in 2007, that they would love to return to the state to raise their family.
“I want to make sure the ECU faculty and staff, alumni, fans and supporters know that I am committed to building ECU into one of the premier NCAA Division II programs in the country,” added Johnson. “My family and I are looking forward to making Ada, Okla., our home and immersing ourselves into the community."
Johnson spent the 2007 season with the Cardinals as a starting center before being injured in 2008. After recovering, he signed with the Miami Dolphins for the remainder of the 2008 season and made a playoff appearance. He ended his professional career in 2009 with the New England Patriots.
Johnson earned his time in the NFL after being a standout at Wisconsin from 1998 to 2002. The three-time All-Big Ten selection was a Rimington Award finalist in 2000 and 2001, which is presented to the premier centers in the FCS, Division II, Division III, and NAIA division. The Badgers also earned two consecutive Rose Bowl championships (1999-00) during his tenure.
After his time in the NFL, Johnson started his coaching career in 2013 as a co-owner and lead offensive coach of the Al Johnson Line Camp and as the offensive coordinator at Southern Door High School. The camp was designed to develop youth and high school linemen through mentoring and overall character building and serving over 1,000 kids in three years.
At Southern Door High School, he helped the team double their total offensive yards, coached five all-conference players and laid the foundation for three-straight conference championships.
Johnson then moved on to the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisc. In two seasons he helped the team to a 10-1 record, coached nine all-conference offensive players and the conference lineman of the year.
Johnson then returned to his alma mater in 2016 as an assistant coach and helped to develop the offensive line into one of the best in the nation. In 2016, the Badgers claimed the Big Ten West and Cotton Bowl championships. He has coached three All-Big Ten selections and all-American and first round NFL pick Ryan Ramczyk.
This season Wisconsin, ranked No. 6 in the nation, currently has a 12-1 overall record and finished with a 9-0 mark in the Big Ten, with the only loss coming in the Big Ten Football Championship Game. The Badgers will have one more chance to play in 2017, at they will participate in the 2017 Capital One Orange Bowl (Dec. 30), in Miami Gardens, Fla.
Johnson earned a bachelor’s degree from Southern New Hampshire University in Sports Management in 2014 and is working on his master’s degree at Wisconsin in Education and Leadership.
Johnson married his wife Brandy while with the Cowboys and has four children: Skylar Burleson (18), Makayla (9), Cyrus (7), and Chloe (6).
“I want to thank the members of the search committee who served our university diligently throughout the search process,” Williams stated. “The rich heritage of ECU and Tiger Football made our position attractive to many highly-qualified football coaches and provided an extremely talented pool of applicants. The process confirmed that Al Johnson was the complete package we were seeking in our next head football coach.”
Johnson will officially start Jan. 3, 2018 and the ECU Athletic Department will announce dates and times for meet and greet events at a later date.
“I can’t wait for the Tiger Family to meet Al, Brandy and their wonderful family as they join us in moving ECU toward future success,” added Williams.