Johnson, a highly popular and well-respected senior associate athletic director at WSU since 2004, is one of four finalists for the AD job at Montana. Johnson may be walking out the door at WSU, but he plans to join Cougar fans Saturday when they walk into the new-look Martin Stadium that truly has been Johnson's baby from the start.
"John Johnson has done a tremendous job in representing me and our vision," Cougars AD Bill Moos said.
Moos, who once left his assistant AD position at Washington State to become Montana's AD, said he "would hate to lose" Johnson to the Grizzlies. Still, Moos and former WSU athletic director Jim Sterk (who hired Johnson) are two of Johnson's references for the job, and Moos says the Martin Stadium renovation project would be a fitting send-off for Johnson.
"He, by his very nature, is an extremely detailed person," Moos said. "He knows how particular I am, and he's every bit as particular. That made him the perfect person, in my opinion, to head up the project."
The unassuming Johnson is quick to credit Moos, Hoffman Construction and the AECOM and ALSC architecture companies for their work. However, the press box and premium seats were designed and built in just 17 months, and Johnson had to make any number of quick decisions on his own to have the project completed in time for Saturday's season opener with Eastern Washington.
"AECOM, which is a world-renowned architecture firm, thought we needed 10 to 11 months to design the project," Johnson said. "We did it in 5 1-2 months. It was really a credit to AECOM and ALSC, and then we had our contractor (Hoffman) involved in the design as well to help us to design it where we could built it in a short period of time.
Johnson came to Washington State in 2004 after serving as Athletic Director at Weber State and Eastern Washington
"AECOM, being in Kansas City; there was a lot of 4 or 5 in the morning phone calls. They also worked late at night, as all of us did. Basically, you were on the clock 18 hours a day for a period of time until we got the design done."
CONSTRUCTION ON THE south-side project began right after last season's final home game Nov. 12. The Cougars budgeted $65 million for the project, and Johnson estimates the final price tag will be "63 million or under."
But corners weren't cut. The suites and club room in particular are downright swanky. The press box is huge and equipped with all the modern technology necessary for a football team that is now on television every game.
"The feedback I get when people tour – alums and fans – is, ‘Wow! I didn't realize how nice it is!'" Johnson said proudly. We paid attention to detail, attention to quality. Higher-end finishes, I think, than you might see in most (stadiums). That really differentiates this building. And we made it user-friendly as much as we could."
Johnson, 52, was also in charge of a major football stadium improvement project when he was athletic director at Weber State. Johnson is a former Eastern Washington football player and athletic director, and Johnson and Moos believe his background in the Big Sky Conference – Montana's league – makes him a perfect fit as the Grizzlies' AD.
"He's a tremendously qualified candidate," Moos said.
"Missoula is a good team and the University of Montana has a good brand," Johnson said. "It's a national, if not worldwide brand. The state of Montana is a great state and it would be a great state for our family to live, and close to our roots – Lisa (Johnson's wife) and I are both Northwest people.
"I grew up with the Big Sky and played in the Big Sky and worked in the Big Sky. It seems familiar. Opportunities don't come very often."
Johnson was referring to the Montana job, but he could just as easily have been referring to the Martin Stadium project. He took full advantage of one opportunity; he hopes the Grizzlies provide him with another.