Johnson Retires After 17 Seasons at Illinois

Mark Johnson announced his retirement after 17 years as head coach at Illinois on Monday.
Mark Johnson announced his retirement after 17 years as head coach at Illinois on Monday.

March 30, 2009

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - After 17 seasons at the helm of Illinois Wrestling and 19 as a collegiate head coach, Mark Johnson announced his retirement from coaching Monday. Johnson finishes his career as the most successful wrestling coach in Illinois history and one of the best nationally.

"I would like to thank Ron Guenther and the entire athletic department for giving me the great opportunity to fulfill my dream of leading the Fighting Illini," Johnson said. "I couldn't have asked for a better athletic director than Ron. I want to thank him for how he treated my program and me over my 17 years here. I really enjoyed the relationships with my athletes and staff, and I think this program is in great shape for the future."

Johnson led the Fighting Illini to an eighth-place finish at the 2009 NCAA Championships, which finished on March 21, with Mike Poeta, Jimmy Kennedy and John Wise bringing Johnson's total of All-Americans at Illinois to 45. He finishes his coaching career with seven individual national champions, 10 Top-10 finishes at the NCAA Championships in the last 15 years and took a total of 120 wrestlers to 17 NCAA Championships during his time at Illinois.

"Mark's decision to resign as head wrestling coach did not necessarily come as a surprise to me," Guenther said. "Mark has done an exceptional job in leading our wrestling program, however, over the past few years, he has expressed a desire to explore other opportunities. I am pleased for Mark that an opportunity came up to hold him in our community and I wish him much success."

Johnson's career is unmatched at Illinois, as he finishes with the most wins, NCAA Champions, All-Americans and NCAA qualifiers of any coach in Illini history. He was named the National Coach of the Year in 1995 and 30 of his 45 All-Americans have come in the last 10 years. He led the Orange and Blue to a team title at the 2005 Big Ten Championships, Illinois' first Big Ten crown in 53 years, and a pair of Big Ten dual titles in 2005 and 2006. He also guided the Illini to a No. 1 national ranking in 2004.

The Rock Island, Ill., native won his 200th career dual meet earlier this season at Wisconsin when the Illini took down the Badgers, 24-16, and finished the season with the second-best winning percentage among active college wrestling coaches. He also ranked 12th in career wins among active coaches. Johnson finishes his career with more than twice as many wins as any other coach in Illinois history.

Illinois' highest finish at the NCAA Championships under Johnson came in 2001, when the Illini placed fifth on the backs of NCAA Champions Adam Tirapelle and John Lockhart and All-Americans Matt Lackey and Pat Quirk. Johnson-led teams hold the Illinois records for most dual wins, pins, dual winning percentage and points scored at both the NCAA and Big Ten Championships.

Johnson also guided Illinois wrestlers to success off the mat, as four of his student-athletes earned the Big Ten Medal of Honor and 18 were named Academic All-Americans. Illinois also has 77 Academic All-Big Ten selections under Johnson.

A member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, Johnson was a two-time All-American in 1976-77. He was a two-time National Wrestling Champion and was a member of the USA Wrestling team. He was an assistant coach for the 1988 USA Olympic team and was the head coach for the Olympic Sports Festival in 1991 and 1996.

Johnson and his wife, Linda, reside in Champaign. They have two grown daughters, Tricia and Mackey.

The Mark Johnson File

B.S. in education, University of Michigan, 1977

Coaching Experience
1992-2009 Head Coach - University of Illinois
1990-92 Head Coach - Oregon State University
1982-90 Assistant Coach - University of Iowa
1978-80 Graduate Assistant - University of Iowa
Record At Illinois (17 seasons): 203-44-3 (.818)
Career record (19 seasons): 223-48-5 (.817)

Coaching Honors
2005 Big Ten Coach of the Year
2002 NWCA All-Star Meet Head Coach
2001 Big Ten Coach of the Year
2000 Quad City Sports Hall of Fame
1999 IWCOA Man of the Year
1995 NWCA National Coach of the Year
1995 W.I.N. Magazine National Coach of the Year
1992 Pac-10 Coach of the Year
1987 Illinois Wrestling Hall of Fame
1986 NWCA National Assistant Coach of the Year

Coaching Accomplishments
• Won 2005 Big Ten Championships
• Ranked No. 1 in 2004
• Won Midlands team title 2003-05, only the third team to win three consecutive team titles
• Led Illinois to 10 Top-10 finishes at the NCAA Championships and 13 Top-15 finishes in the last 15 years
• Coached seven NCAA Champions
• Coached 45 All-Americans
• Coached 120 NCAA qualifiers at Illinois

Wrestling Experience
• Olympic Team, 1980
• USA Wrestling Team
• National Wrestling Champion (Twice)
• Two-time All-American (1976-77)

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)