North Carolina A&T

Allen Johnson now in place at NC A&T

New NC A&T track & field coach Allen Johnson is literally in the beginning stages of taking over the Aggies’ program. Challenges are ahead, but the Olympic, World Champion and Hall of Fame hurdler, says he’ll tackle them one at a time, just as he did the hurdles.

To say that NC A&T’s new head of track & field programs Allen Johnson is hitting the ground running this week would be an understatement.

Johnson, 51, once the top hurdler in the world, is fresh off being in charge of male sprinters and hurdlers at the just completed World Track & Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon. If the performance of his athletes in Eugene is any indication, he’ll do fine at A&T.

He said his job at the Worlds was to make sure all the athletes and their coaches had everything they needed to be successful. They were.

Allen Johnson’s athletes at the Worlds

The U.S. men swept (first thru third) the 100 and 200 meters, brought home a gold medal in the 400 meters, won the 110 meter hurdles and won silver in the 400 meter 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.

Team USA totaled 33 medals, the highest total ever in the history of the world championships or the Olympics. 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 working the NCAA Outdoor Championships in June and the Worlds in July, Johnson is literally in his first week on the job at A&T. He was most previously an assistant coach handling sprints at NC State (2016-22) after serving stints as an assistant at Air Force (2010-14) and Kentucky (2014-16). This is his first head coaching job.

He is replacing the highly successful Duane Ross, who left the program in June to become the head track and field coach at the University of Tennessee.

Johnson says his first priorities at A&T are to fill out his staff and recruiting. Four of five assistants went with Ross to UT with only throwing coach Amber Monroe remaining.

As well, Johnson won’t have back-to-back 400 meter outdoor champion Randolph Ross Jr., the son of the former coach, 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 join Ross in Tennessee.

A Fan Forum on the NC A&T fan site entitled ‘Blue Death Valley’ reports that a few other of Ross’s former pupils at A&T are in the transfer portal or have settled at other schools.

Pounding the pavement

“I’m sure some athletes are no longer here in the program,” Johnson said, “but the bulk, the vast majority of the athletes are still here. We’re still going to do very well. We still have depth, we still have talent, and also we’re recruiting. So we’re looking good for now as well as into the future.”

Johnson arrives just as the AAU Junior Olympic Games’ track and field competition comes to NC A&T’s Truist Stadium and Marcus T. Johnson Track this week. Over 14,000 track athletes between the ages of 8 and 18 are registered to compete. It’s great to have events such as the Junior Olympics on A&T’s 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’s here is a benefit. 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 that doesn’t prevent the other schools from getting on a plane, flying 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 it however is getting on the other side of this wall (of his office at Truist Stadium), walking around, shaking hands and building those relationships.

“Anytime a national caliber meet like this is here, you’re going to see some of the best of the best,” he said while noting that the World Under 20 championships is also going on over the next week in Cali, Columbia. But there are just two U.S. athletes in each event there.

“There’s still an abundance of talent out here (at the Junior Olympics),” Johnson said. “There are definitely googobs of athletes from everywhere that are recruitable, that can help us.”

Continuing NC A&T’s winning tradition

Ross, a former world-class hurdler like Johnson, led NC A&T to top five finishes for both the men and women at the 2021 NCAA Div. I Outdoor Championships. His men finished as runners-up in the NCAA Div. I indoors championships this season. His athletes won ten national Div. I championships during his decade at A&T.

“First of all, what Duane did here is definitely unprecedented,” said Johnson. “He took an HBCU and said ‘we’re going to be one of the best track & field programs in the country, period.’ But I think that for me, a challenge is the challenge. Obviously, Duane has proven that it can be done.

“I’d like to think that, as hurdlers, that is just how we think. We’re used to obstacles in our way and going 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. Maybe it’s a little more assuring seeing that someone who’s come before me and done it. But for me it’s about going forward and trying to put my mark on this thing.

“I don’t’ feel any pressure. The outside pressure cannot exceed the pressure I put on myself. My expectation for myself, my staff and this program is to be No. 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 be inheriting a team competing this year in another new league, the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). He said he’s still evaluating the conference as well as his team.

‘There are about 45 to 50 athletes right now,” Johnson said. “Typically, for a (Div. I) track & field program that’s small. I can see us 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 event,” he said. “At no time do I want us to be in a position where there’s a good athlete, we go after him, and we say ‘oh, we don’t do that here.’ No, we do track & field, here.

“There are 21 events. I’m going to have staff in place. They’re going to be the best coaches. They are going to be able to take all 21 of those events. We’re going to be able to coach at a high level at any given time in any of those events.

“So, that’s a long way of saying, yes, we will have some distance runners.”

“What an Allen Johnson NC A&T track team will look like exactly is yet to be seen, honestly,” Johnson said. “It’s a work in process. 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 that we can compete and perform at a high level in any events on the track or in the field.” 

NC A&T facilities

One of the concerns that many have about the Aggies continuing to compete at a high level is their facilities. Johnson said that won’t be a problem.

“Facility-wise, we have everything here that we need,” said Johnson. “We have a track that’s right on the other side of this wall here (outside his office). It’s a Mondo, it’s a state-of-the art surface. We even have a stadium, that training wise, we can run 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.”

Allen Johnson’s track history

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 battled as professionals. Ross said his matches against Ross in college turned out about 50-50. “He won some, I won some,” he said.

As a professional, Johnson shined. He won the 110 hurdles and set an Olympic record at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. The Northern Virginia native also participated in six IAAF and world championship competitions. He brought home gold medals in 1995 (Gothenburg, Sweden), 1997 (Athens, Greece), 2001 (Edmonton, Alberta Canada), 2003 (Paris, France) and 2006 (Athens, Greece).

Before his retirement from competition in 2010, new NC A&T track coach Allen Johnson competed in six World Championships and three Olympics.

He also won indoor IAAF 60-meter world championships in 1995 (London, England), 2003 (Birmingham, England) and 2004 (Budapest, Hungary).

Johnson was inducted into the Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2015.

Allen Johnson now in place at NC A&T
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