With a foot firmly planted in both camps -- as the mayor overseeing the police department and as the iconic "Noooooooo gain" public address announcer for Cougar football and basketball -- has it been awkward for Johnson?
“You talk about a tense time – I was a WSU faculty member teaching a news class and my students did an investigative report on the basketball team back in the ‘80s,” said Johnson. “But I showed up to the football game after the (recent) arrest and we had very good communication, everyone was professional.”
In light of these incidents, Johnson -- a now-retired, and beloved, broadcasting professor at the Murrow College -- wanted to make one very particular point about Washington State.
“The thing I hope Cougfan.com conveys … the culture up here is a whole different thing than at those other universities. This is a family. And yes, there are times that family members don’t get along… When you have family issues like these, we can get through them. We’re a family, for heaven’s sake,” said Johnson.
Prior to coming to WSU in 1980, Johnson's broadcasting career included stops at Los Angeles and Sacramento. He earned his PhD at Iowa and received his master's at UCLA.
There have been three incidents since late July involving Cougar football players, with four arrests.
“The way the media keeps talking about it, people probably think it’s a lot more than that,” said Johnson, who has been Pullman's mayor since 2004. .
Agreed. But the vast majority of media reports -- and the resulting maelstrom -- have been driven by the public comments to the media made by Pullman police commander Chris Tennant. The Pullman police statements to media on the recent incidents -- and also those stretching back years -- have at times been incendiary, to put it mildly.
“I know police chief Gary Jenkins is working on that,” Johnson said. “And I believe there are some new protocols that have been established… We’ve come up with some different protocols that we might be using.”
Johnson wouldn't comment specifically on what those protocols are/will be because they are still being formalized. But he wanted to stress the level of cooperation between WSU and the city, including a “wonderful, positive” meeting between WSU President Kirk Schulz, Jenkins and athletic director Bill Moos. Another positive meeting, Johnson said, took place between Jenkins and Mike Leach.
Johnson also noted -- as his unique dual role attests -- that Pullman is a small college town. And as a result, media attention is different than a large city.
"We're a community of 32,650 (and) we’re very open, very transparent, and the media is every day looking for athletes' names on the police log. Does that happen all the time in Seattle? I don’t know. I don’t think so ... Over here, maybe (it's) a slow news day so they’re really looking for things… When you’re in a smaller community, things get elevated quicker in the press than they do in a large city," he said.
HERE'S A SAMPLING OF WHAT ELSE JOHNSON HAD TO SAY:
• “Gary Jenkins, anytime something comes up, there’s communication with the coaches. Even Bill Moos admitted that maybe someone dropped the ball on (the incident involving Logan Tago) that didn’t get communicated all the way."
• "This one never made the news media and I’m not going to give you any names but it did involve a football player: This summer, there was an interaction between a football player and a police officer. And the football player got a little lippy with the police officer. Everything was recorded on the police officer’s body camera. Our police department shared that with that player’s (position) coach. The coach said, ‘Let me tell you, that police officer conducted himself in a very professional manner… and we will handle this internally.’ That’s the kind of communication we’re having between the police and the athletic department, especially the football office."
• "Something at my suggestion to Gary (Jenkins) – Gary (wrote) some of the (recent) news releases, and he ran them by me. And I suggested he contact Bill Stevens who is the SID for the athletic department and talk it out with him, tell him what he was planning. And maybe if there would be an athletic presence and sure enough, Bill Moos was actually at that press conference. That’s the kind of cooperation I’m trying to point out."
• "From my standpoint, we have extremely good cooperation with the university, and especially with the hiring of president Kirk Schulz. He wants to make sure we have a good relationship. To be quite frank with you, I’m able to text message him, he texts me back... When he first came on board I had a meeting with him -- one-on-one, there were no handlers in there. It was just a good, candid conversation between both of us."
• "I’ve been pulled over before when I didn’t have my lights on or had a broken tail light. That’s the first thing police officers look for in ANY community, not just a college town… and especially after 2 a.m. I’ve been in Seattle after 2 a.m. and you see a lot of police presence there too after 2 a.m."
• "Bill Moos was a little different than what Mike Leach said about ‘targeting.' In this community, I go with what police chief Gary Jenkins has told me and what I’ve heard from so many different officers. We actually have less problems with football players under Leach’s leadership than we’ve had in previous years. "
• "I do not, in my heart, believe these police officers are targeting athletes… I have a very good police chief in Gary Jenkins and we’re getting positive reactions from coaches in terms of how they’re dealing with it."