"We talked for a while, then Coach said, 'Can you be here by Friday?' " Johnson recalled. "This was a Tuesday, so I told him yes. Then I drove 28 hours for a face-to-face interview. That right there showed him my dedication, and he offered me the job that weekend."
Johnson, 34, has been with Pearl ever since. He assisted him for two seasons at Southern Indiana and the past four at Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Their record during that six-year span was 137-48 with five conference titles (regular season or tournament) and five postseason bids. They reached one NCAA Div. II Sweet 16 and one Div. I Sweet 16. Now Johnson has followed his boss to Knoxville, even though his new gig won't involve on-the-floor coaching.
"Having done on-the-floor coaching in the CBA and college, giving it up will be tough," Johnson conceded. "But I'll still be able to talk with the players ... just not on the practice floor."
You're probably wondering: What exactly does a director of basketball operations do?
"Take care of the behind-the-scenes stuff," Johnson said. "I'll be making sure players are taking the right courses and on track to graduate. I'll be helping with scheduling and all of that. There's a lot more to basketball than what happens on the court."
Termed "a terrific role model for our student-athletes" by Pearl, Johnson considers that to be high praise.
"I'm able to adapt to the players," he said. "Seeing the work I do with youngsters, they know I'm somebody they can come talk to. Sometimes players don't want to go to the head coach, so it's important they know they can come to me."
(NOTE: The above is an excerpt from Rocky Top News. The full story can be found in the June issue of RTN.)