Brooks Johnson born 28 February 1934 is a former sprinter now one of America’s most famous track coaches.
Early coaching career
After graduating from Tufts University, Johnson earned a law degree from the University of Chicago. He never practised as a lawyer, instead working for the Governmental Affairs Institute in the United States Department of State in Washington D.C. Johnson thought of being a corporate lawyer but when told by the lawyer father of a school friend that “Regardless of what I think personally, my partners will say there is no room for blacks in corporate law”, he realised that this colour bar would mean that the law was not for him.
Whilst in Washington, Johnson started coaching. This included high school athletes at the prestigious St. Albans School which he had joined in 1965 as coach, athletic director and teacher of cultural anthropology and history. One of his pupils there was the promising young discus thrower, and future vice-president, Al Gore. His school lessons were also famed for their quirkiness. At St. Albans in 1970 he also founded the Skip Grant program for students from traditionally under-represented backgrounds.
Johnson got the job at St. Albans when, as a community organiser, he confronted the headmaster, the late Charles S. Martin, and objected that he was running “an all-white school in a black town.” To the retort “What was his solution?”, Johnson replied, “I am the solution.”.
Later coaching career
Johnson spent 12 years at St. Albans before moving on to the University of Florida (1975–79) as assistant track coach, then head coach at Stanford University (1979–92), following on from the legendary coach Payton Jordan, and California Polytechnic State University (1993–96).
Johnson has coached Olympians since 1960. His first was 1960 110-meter hurdles silver medalist Willie May. Since then, notable Olympians he has coached include Esther Stroy (a 15-year-old girl he trained through a neighborhood track club to get to the 1968 Olympics), Evelyn Ashford and Chandra Cheesborough. He is still an active coach with a small select group of athletes that includes Justin Gatlin and David Oliver. His band of athletes are ones who have achieved success and want more, or as Johnson himself said “It is actually quite easy because a lot of the problems have already been resolved; these people were outstanding with Olympic credentials before they ever came here, so they know their way to the podium. Our job is to retrace the steps back to the podium.”
Johnson is currently based at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World, usually to be found in his ‘signature beige straw hat’. Johnson was hired by the Disney Corporation in 1996 ‘to jump-start a fledging sports program’, a program he has succeeded in transforming into a financial and sporting success.
At the national level, Johnson was part of the U.S. Track and Field Olympic coaching staff in 1976, 1984, 2004, and 2008. In 1984 he was women’s team coach for track and field at the Summer Games in Los Angeles and relay coach in 2008.
Johnson was elected to the USA Track Coaches Hall of Fame in 1997.
Johnson also is a former director of the ARCO Olympic Training Center for the United States Olympic Team (there at its opening in 2003-04) and acted as High Performance Division Chair for USA Track & Field.
On the future, Johnson does not plan to retire, as he said, “I like kicking (butt).I like to win, my whole life has been competitive,” and he will continue “until they throw dirt in my face”.