During his four years wearing the red and black, Reggie helped build the program to a level never reached before. As a senior Louisville accepted an invitation to play in the Fiesta Bowl, where they soundly defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide 34-7 and finished the season ranked 12th and 14th in the Coaches and AP polls respectively.
Reggie has once again returned to the U of L football program, this time as the Cardinals defensive line coach. He has joined Coach Bobby Petrino's staff after spending three seasons at Alabama A&M and the last two years coaching at UTEP.
I visited with Coach Johnson on Tuesday to discuss how it feels to be back at Louisville, the changes in the facilities since his playing days and more.
ITV: How does it feel to be back in Louisville?
Coach Reggie Johnson: It's a great feeling. This is where my college career started at and everything that relates to college football. Coach Schnellenberger and his staff recruited me here back in '87, so it's basically home.
ITV: How was the transition from being a player to becoming a coach?
Coach Johnson: The transition has been fairly easy, just in terms that it is football and that you are doing something that you enjoy doing.
ITV: When you played here the facilities were at Old Cardinal Stadium. Talk about how things have improved since your days on the field for U of L.
Coach Johnson: I was telling someone the other day that when I pull up in the morning to work, I'm like, 'WOW!' There is really no comparison. We are doing our winter drills over there and it's almost unbelievable that is where we were a few years ago. To have this facility now is amazing. I'm in awe everytime I pull up in the morning.
ITV: What does facilities like this do for a program like UofL's?
Coach Johnson: It gives you a chance to compete with some of the other schools. I think we have the best facilities in the conference so sometimes it gives you a leg up. You'd like to say that facilities don't matter and that kids like to go to a school just because of their academics, but the reality is that young people want to go play and practice in nice places. So if it matters to those you are recruiting, then it should be important to the people that are associated with your program, so that you can get your program competitive on a national level.
ITV: What about being a linebacker when you played has helped you in becoming a defensive line coach?
Coach Johnson: A coach that I worked with pointed it out to me...you coach like you play. I think that from being a linebacker it is the mental approach to the game and how you prepared yourself. Also from being a competitive person as a player, which may be the biggest part. You can go and be competitive in recruiting. You can be competitive in how you prepare your players. So that aspect of being a player is really what is the biggest thing for me that has carried over.
ITV: Do you seem some of your former coach, Coach Schnellenberger, in the way that you work with the players?
Coach Johnson: You understand him a little bit better and understand that there was a method to his madness. As a player you didn't always understand and thought that he was on the crazy side, but now you understand why he did things and what made him a successful coach. I respect the man ultimately. I think that at looking at how he prepared us for the four years that I played for him that some of those approaches are things that I carry over into how I prepare my guys.
ITV: I know you are limited on what you can and can't do with players right now, but from what you have seen so far, how do you feel about next years group of defensive linemen?
Coach Johnson: They look pretty good. Any time you lose guys like Dewayne White and other quality guys like that you take a hit, but I think that we have some good enough young guys that we'll be okay. You have guys like Bobby Leffew, Tyrone Satterfield, Montavious Stanley, Scott Lopez, who played a bunch of snaps last year. Marcus Jones played some and Elvis Dumervil played some as well, so the cupboard is not totally bare. So I feel good about those guys. They can move and they can run. Then you have big guys like Tyrone and Montavious who are 300-pounders, who can motor. Scott Lopez has a good motor and then you have Marcus and Chad Rimpsey, who can really run and have some toughness, so we'll be okay.
ITV: Is everyone healthy right now?
Coach Johnson: Everybody seems to be healthy, expect for Bobby [Leffew]. I've seen him lift, but I haven't had a chance to see him do a lot of running because he had ankle surgery a few weeks back. I think his rehab is going fairly well and he should be ready to roll when they get back from spring break.
ITV: What type of players to like to recruit?
Coach Johnson: You'd like them to big, but you don't always get those guys. The guys that have both the size and that can run. You also have to be able to do a fairly decent job of projecting guys. Maybe a big linebacker can go play d-line and do things like that to help yourself out, but when you're out we look for the big guys and then take the next best athlete.
ITV: Do you foresee Louisville going against some of the so-called traditional programs in upcoming recruiting battles?
Coach Johnson: That is our goal. To be first in our conference and then see how things pan out on a national scale. In order for us to elevate our program we got to go out and recruit the best possible players, so that does mean that we need to go and compete with SEC schools, Big 10 and ACC schools. We have very comparable facilities and I think we play very good competition in this conference. If you look at it, TCU is a very good football team and Southern Miss can go out and compete with anyone on any given day, so there are teams in this league that are going to be Top 25 teams or have the ability to be, as do we. So our goal is to out do those guys, which is going to help us win our conference and then position to do some bigger and better things.
ITV: Since you coached at UTEP with Gary Nord the past two years, what is it going to be like coaching against him and some of the players you worked with when they come here this fall?
Coach Johnson: [laughing] I want to win. You still love them, but you just want to whip up on them a little bit. It's like fighting your little brother, or your big brother, and when you fight you want to win. We'll play the game, we'll come out on top and then we'll go have a cold coke afterwards.
ITV: How much are you looking forward to spring practice?
Coach Johnson: Very much so. You like to get an opportunity to see what guys can do. Right now you are just going off of film from last year, but you want to see it first hand. I'm excited about having an opportunity to coach those guys. I'm excited about coaching the group, but there are a couple guys there that I am really excited about working with.