When longtime Arkansas pitching coach Dave Jorn announced his retirement last month, Razorbacks head coach Dave Van Horn said he would hire an SEC-level assistant to replace him.
Van Horn followed through on that pledge Wednesday when he hired Wes Johnson away from Mississippi State. In a statement, Van Horn called Johnson "one of the nation's premier pitching coaches."
Johnson, 45, is an Arkansas native who spent the past season at Mississippi State and the four seasons before that at Dallas Baptist. He was hired by the Bulldogs when Auburn hired former MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson as head coach last October.
“He is an experienced college baseball coach and has played an instrumental role in the recent successes of Mississippi State and Dallas Baptist," Van Horn said in a statement. "Wes has developed a stellar reputation throughout the country, based on his ability to develop his players, both individually, and his pitching staffs, collectively, into some of the most successful performers in college baseball."
Johnson is a graduate of Sylvan Hills High School and UA-Monticello. He has had coaching jobs at three high schools and two colleges in the state, most recently at Central Arkansas in 2011.
He was head coach at Abundant Life in his hometown of Sherwood from 2004-07, leading the Owls to a 102-25 record and two state championships.
“I am humbled to return home and represent the University of Arkansas baseball program,” Johnson said in a statement. “It is a program steeped in tradition and I am excited to work with Coach Van Horn, his staff and the talented group of young men I am inheriting."
At Mississippi State, Johnson helped lead one of college baseball's best turnarounds this season. After finishing last in the SEC last year, the Bulldogs won the SEC regular season championship and advanced to the NCAA super regionals.
Under Johnson, Mississippi State had a 2.51 team ERA, which was the seventh-lowest nationally. The Bulldogs' staff included Dakota Hudson, who transformed from a reliever into a 9-win starter and was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round of the MLB Draft.
"I noticed their velocities were better than they were last year," said former Arkansas pitcher Zach Jackson of Mississippi State pitchers this season. "On top of that, they just pitched better. They weren't the best pitch-ability guys (in 2015) and this year they didn't seem to have any problem with it."
Johnson came to Mississippi State after a successful stint at Dallas Baptist, where he helped the Patriots to four straight NCAA regional appearances and coached three pitchers who were named all-American by at least one publication.
With Johnson's departure, Mississippi State will be forced to replace both of its full-time assistant coaches this off-season. Bulldogs hitting coach Nick Mingione was hired as Kentucky's head coach Monday.