The “whirlwind,” as Johnson called the last couple of months, hasn’t stopped since he was hired. Last month his office, just down the hall from the cramped digs he once inhabited, was strewn with information on recruits, plans for Johnson’s future offense and motivational quotes he hopes to plaster on the walls of the team’s headquarters.
“I don’t act any different. I feel like I’m pulled in a lot of different directions, though,” Johnson, a 19-year assistant coach, said in his folksy Virginia accent. “People want James Johnson right now, which is good.”
An unusual journey
Whenever Johnson is asked about his years climbing the college basketball ladder – including stints at Old Dominion, College of Charleston, Penn State and George Mason under Jim Larranaga during the 2006 Final Four run — eventually he’ll tell a story about his father.
For 20 years, Johnnie Johnson was a team leader in the housekeeping department at University of Richmond’s Robins Center, the school’s basketball arena and home of the athletic department offices. Johnson took pride in his job, working until 11 most nights and taking on extra shifts if the men’s and women’s basketball teams had a doubleheader.
And so throughout James Johnson’s nomadic trek through the assistant coaching ranks, Johnnie would ask his son the same sort of question every time he called with news from the latest game, win or lose: “How are the arena floors? They look as good as the Robins Center?”
It was this upbringing that prompted James Johnson to meet with Weaver before leaving for Clemson.
He wanted to thank Weaver for the opportunity, something he had done at his six other stops as a college assistant. But this time, he also informed Weaver that he would be moving on even though Virginia Tech planned to match the Tigers’ annual salary offer of $190,000.
That, as it turned, was the final straw for Weaver, who soon decided to terminate Greenberg’s contract, in part because of the lack of a “family environment” within the program.
Johnson insists he didn’t say anything negative about Greenberg in that exit meeting. He simply liked how Clemson Coach Brad Brownell groomed his assistants for bigger things. Rick Ray, for instance, was on Brownell’s staff for only two years before being named the head coach at Mississippi State.
Johnson called insinuations that Greenberg was difficult to work for “overrated,” especially now that he has experience in Greenberg’s shoes.
“We had a great working relationship. Being the head coach now and seeing it’s demanding . . . you’ve got to have guys in those offices that’s gonna get things done, and know how to do it without you holding their hand,” Johnson said.