Photos from No. 16 Illinois' 21-12 victory over No. 8 Northwestern.
1995 NWCA National Coach of the Year
A former Olympic wrestler and NCAA All-American, Mark Johnson coached 17 seasons at the University of Illinois. During his tenure, Illinois finished in the top 10 at the NCAA championships on 10 occasions and in the top 15 in 13 of his last 15 seasons. Johnson led the Illinois program to more wins, NCAA champions, NCAA qualifiers and All-Americans than any coach in the school's history. He compiled a 203-44-3 record over his 17 years for an .818 winning percentage.
Johnson also has guided seven individual national champions in his last 15 seasons. In 2003, 165-pounder Matt Lackey joined Adam Tirapelle (149, 2001), John Lockhart (heavyweight, 2001), Carl Perry (141, 2000), Eric Siebert (150, 1998), Ernest Benion, Jr. (158, 1995) and Steve Marianetti (150, 1995) in earning NCAA titles under Johnson's tutelage.
For the third-straight season, Illinois had at least two true-freshmen starters in 2008-09, with B.J. Futrell (125), Eric Terrazas (149) and Jordan Blanton (184) becoming regulars in the Illini lineup. A year earlier, Ryan Prater (141) and Grant Paswall (149) turned in solid results throughout the season as rookies, and Jimmy Kennedy (133) and John Dergo (184) battled hard throughout their freshman season in 2006-07. Those seven youngsters accounted for 11 berths in the NCAA Championships over the past four seasons.
Johnson helped Illinois qualify nine wrestlers for the 2009 NCAA Championships, all by automatic berths in the first year of the individual RPI rankings, and garner three All-America finishes with Mike Poeta placing second at 157, Jimmy Kennedy taking fifth at 133 and heavyweight John Wise finishing seventh. Kennedy was one of the most impressive wrestlers as the tournament wore on, winning six straight matches after losing his pigtail bout to reach the consolation semifinals and eventually take fifth. Poeta won his second Big Ten title in 2009 and Kennedy had a career year, going 36-6. In addition, Illinois finished second at the Big Ten Championships, its best finish since 2005.
Poeta and Kennedy also starred for the Illini in 2008, finishing second and fourth, respectively, at the NCAA Championships. Poeta won his first Big Ten title after starting the season 22-0, while Kennedy put together an 11-match winning streak that included an undefeated Big Ten dual season.
In 2006-07, Johnson inserted two true-freshman into his starting lineup in Kennedy and John Dergo and got favorable results from both. Kennedy finished the season ranked No. 9 at 133 pounds and Dergo ended the year No. 11 at 184, marking the first time since Carl Perry in 1997 that at least one true-freshman ranked in the Top-20. They also were the first true-freshmen to be placed in the same lineup in the Mark Johnson era.
The Illini qualified eight for the NCAA Championships and were led by Mike Poeta, who notched a third-place finish at 157-pounds and garnered his first All-America honor.
In 2005-06, the Johnson tradition of excellence continued as the Illini took home their third-straight Midlands title, joining Iowa and Iowa State as the only three-peat champions. At Midlands, Alex Tirapelle (157) and Pete Freidl (184) took home individual titles, while Mike Poeta (165) and Tyrone Byrd (197) grappled to runner-up finishes. Rounding out the top-eight finishes for Illinois were Donny Reynolds (174) in fifth and Troy Tirapelle (149) in seventh.
At Big Tens, the Fighting Illini finished second, just behind then-No. 1 Minnesota. In all, five Orange and Blue grapplers (Byrd, Freidl, Kyle Ott, Alex Tirapelle and Troy Tirapelle) made conference finals appearances, each finishing second in their respective weight classes.
With the performance at the league tournament, the Illini became the only team in 2006 to qualify all 10 wrestlers for NCAAs in Oklahoma City, marking the third time in school history all 10 grapplers made the trip to NCAAs (1995, 2000, 2006). Freidl took home All-America honors with a third-place finish at the championships, finishing his career a three-time All-American, while Illinois finished 25th overall.
On the year, Illinois finished second during the regular season in the Big Ten with a 10-2-1 overall record and 5-2-1 ledger in conference action.
The 2005 squad brought home Johnson's first Big Ten Conference Tournament Championship, and the first for the program in 53 years. During that season, Johnson also garnered Big Ten Coach of the Year laurels, while Alex Tirapelle (157) and Friedl (174) took home individual league crowns out of five total finalists for the Illini. For the second season in a row, the Illini won the Big Ten regular-season dual meet title with a near-perfect 7-0-1 record. The team finished sixth at the national tournament after qualifying nine wrestlers, while 125-pounder Ott made a repeat appearance in the finals.
The team matched 2004's achievement of five All-Americans in Ott (2nd, 125), Mark Jayne (7th, 133), Cassio Pero (7th, 141), Friedl (4th, 174) and Brian Glynn (3rd, 184).
In what served as a benchmark for the Illini program, the 2004 season served as a year of firsts. Johnson led the team to a Big Ten regular-season dual meet title and a Midlands Tournament team title - the first in program history - and feats accomplished by no other coach in Illinois history. The squad concluded the season with a seventh-place finish at nationals, including a finals appearance by Ott at 125. The team brought home five All-America honors, a feat which tied 2004 national champion Oklahoma State, and was the most for Illinois since 1948.
During the 2003 season, Johnson took eight qualifiers to the NCAA Championships from a squad that had five freshmen competing most of the year. The 2003 team finished ninth overall with two national finalists.
Matt Lackey finished his climb up the ladder with his win in the finals over Troy Letters for his first national title. Freshman Adam Tirapelle became the first Illinois freshman to make the finals as he ensured All-America honors with his second-place finish.
In 2002, during a rebuilding year, Johnson led a reshaped starting lineup to a 12-4 record and 10th-place finish at nationals. With seven new starters, the Illini still managed to qualify nine wrestlers for NCAAs after a fifth-place finish at Big Tens, equaling the 2001 squad's NCAA representation. That year, the Illini crowned three All-Americans, following two straight seasons of awarding four All-Americans.
The Illinois wrestling team has progressively made school history year after year. In 2000, the team's sixth-place national finish was the best since 1958, only to be topped by the 2001 finish of fifth place, which was the highest since 1948. The 2001 team also took second at the Big Ten Championships, sending nine athletes to the NCAA Championships and placing ahead of national power Iowa for the first time in Johnson's career. For his coaching efforts in 2001, Johnson garnered Big Ten Coach of the Year honors. The team posted a 12-2 dual meet record and Johnson became the school's all-time winningest coach during that season.
In 1996-97, Johnson led his team to a 14-1 dual meet record, a third-place finish at the Big Ten Championships and a ninth-place effort at the NCAA Championships. At the time, his third-place outing became the best in school history in 39 years.
Johnson has guided 111 wrestlers to the NCAA championships over his tenure, an average of seven qualifiers each year. During the past 14 seasons, the Illini have crowned 40 All-Americans and produced seven national champions (out of 16 finalists).
Johnson earned National Coach of the Year honors from both the National Wrestling Coaches Association and W.I.N. Magazine in 1995 after posting a 13-2 dual record and a ninth-place finish at NCAAs.
On the recruiting front, Johnson has brought in nine classes ranked among the top 20 in the nation, including the second-ranked class in the nation in 1993 and the sixth-ranked group in 2004.
Johnson came to Urbana-Champaign from Oregon State University, where he served as the head coach from 1990-1992. The Rock Island, Ill., native led the Beavers to the Pac-10 Championship in 1992, earning conference Coach of the Year honors.
An alumnus of Alleman High School, Johnson grappled to a high school national championship his senior year. He went on to the University of Michigan, where he became a two-time All-American and two-time NCAA runner-up at 177 pounds. Johnson captained the Wolverines and finished his college career with a 103-18-3 record. He earned a B.S. in education in 1977 and was a dean's list student. Internationally, Johnson competed on the 1980 Olympic team and in 15 U.S.A. Wrestling teams that competed throughout the world, winning two U.S.A. Wrestling national championships.
Before moving to Oregon State, Johnson coached at the University of Iowa as the top assistant coach under Dan Gable for eight years. While at Iowa, he helped groom four NCAA championship teams, 17 national champions, 55 All-Americans and eight Big Ten championship squads. In 1986, he garnered NWCA Assistant Coach of the Year accolades.
Prior to accepting his position at Iowa, Johnson worked as a physical fitness director and wrestling coach at the Boys Club of Sarasota (Fla.) for two years. Johnson began his coaching career at the University of Iowa as a graduate assistant coach from 1978-80. Internationally, Johnson's coaching experience includes stints as assistant coach for the 1988 Olympic freestyle team and head coach at the 1986 and 1991 Olympic Sports Festivals. He also is a USA Wrestling National Coaching Staff member and a member of the Illinois Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Johnson and his wife, Linda, have two daughters, Tricia and Mackey, and reside in Champaign.
College Coaching Experience
- Illinois, head coach (1992-2009)
- Oregon State, head coach (1990-92)
- Iowa, assistant coach (1982-90)
- Iowa, graduate assistant (1978-80)
- Big Ten Coach of the Year (2005, 2001)
- NWCA All-Star Meet Head Coach (2002)
- Quad City Sports Hall of Fame (2000)
- IWCOA Man of the Year (1999)
- NWCA National Coach of the Year (1995)
- W.I.N. Magazine National Coach of the Year (1995)
- Pac-10 Coach of the Year (1992)
- Illinois Wrestling Hall of Fame (1987)
- NWCA National Assistant Coach of the Year (1986)
- Olympic Team, 1980
- USA Wrestling Team
- National Wrestling Champion (Twice)
- Two-time All-American (1976-77)
- B.S. in education, University of Michigan `77
International Coaching Experience
- USA National Coaching Staff member
- Olympic Sports Festival, head coach (1991 & 1996)
- USA Olympic Team, assistant coach (1988)
- World Espoir Team, head coach (1987)
It is impossible to ignore the success that Mark Johnson has had during his 17 years at Illinois. In 1993, he took over a program that had posted two winning seasons in 10 years and has since transformed Illinois into a national power, having posted 17 straight winning seasons and 13 Top-15 finishes.
NCAA Individual Champions
(During the Mark Johnson Era)
1. Iowa 26 2. Oklahoma State 20 3. Iowa State 11 4. Minnesota 8 5. Illinois 7NCAA Top-10 Team Finishes
1. Iowa 16 2. Oklahoma State 14 3. Iowa State 14 4. Minnesota 12 5. Illinois 10 Oklahoma 10