By Kyle LoJacono
James Johnson was recently named the new athletic director for Pasco-Hernando Community College, and his first order of business was to name himself as the Conquistadors new men’s basketball coach.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for me,” Johnson said. “My life has been about athletics and I’m very excited for the chance to be the athletic director and basketball coach here. I will work hard to help keep PHCC known for athletics.”
Johnson has more than 23 years of experience in athletics. He was most recently the men’s basketball coach and athletic director at Philander Smith College in his hometown of Little Rock, Ark. the last four years after serving as a basketball assistant for two seasons. He helped take the Panthers from a program competing in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association to the NAIA.
Johnson guided the Philander basketball team to the Independent Institutions Conference championship game last season, finishing as the runner-up. Two of his players earned all-conference honors.
He has experience as an NCAA Division I, semi-professional and high school coach as well. Johnson led the men’s basketball program at his alma mater Western Washington University from 1989-98. He was also a graduate assistant at the University of Arizona from 1994-96 under coach Lute Olsen.
Additionally, Johnson spent four years on the coaching staff of the semi-pro Yakima Sunkings in Yakima, Washington from 1989-93.
Johnson’s first head coaching job came in 1998 at Tucson High in Arizona. He then became the athletic director/physical education (PE) director and boys basketball coach at Tucson Urban League Charter School.
Johnson posted a pair of winning seasons in his first two seasons at Tuscon and added three new sports, boys and girls basketball and boys soccer. He also developed the school’s first PE program.
Johnson returned to the college ranks in 2002 as a men’s basketball assistant and PE instructor at Pima Community College.
The Conquistadors’ leader replaces Bobby Bowman as both men’s basketball coach and athletic director. Bowman is retiring after 20 years at PHCC, the only coach of the basketball program’s history. The team went 15-15 last season.
“I read about the opening and it felt like the perfect place for me,” Johnson said. “Mr. Bowman has done a great job with these programs, and I’m hoping to continue what he’s started and take PHCC to the next level. We have great coaches in place, great student athletes and great facilities to work with. I’m hoping we can bring a little more notoriety here.”
Philander has only four official sports, women’s volleyball, women’s track and field and women’s and men’s basketball. PHCC has five programs — baseball, men’s basketball, women’s cross country, softball and women’s volleyball. Johnson said his biggest goal is keeping those Conquistadors programs winning while bringing increased attention.
“We had every program participate in postseason play last year and every program was at lease .500,” Johnson said. “With that kind of year I’d expect everyone to know about PHCC, but there isn’t that notoriety for the coaches and the student-athletes. I want to change that.”
Johnson earned his bachelor’s degree from Western Washington in 1989 and completed his master’s degree in education in 1996 from Arizona. He has four children, Timothy, Thomas, Tiffany and Trent.
Johnson has already assembled his coaching staff, which includes assistants Larry Behm and Michael Jones.
Behm is a native of central New York and was a high school coach in Syracuse before coming to PHCC. His teams won 327 games and advanced to the state final four in 2009. He graduated from Eastern New Mexico University.
Jones has coached at the middle and high school levels the last five years. He played for two years at PHCC under Bowman, earning all-conference honors in 2001. Jones is also a certified specialist in sports conditioning through International Sports Sciences Association.
“Fans can rest assured we’re already working to improve here in the summer,” Johnson said. “We’re committed to having a quality program out there the community can get excited about and come support. I’m hoping we have a full house every night.”
All PHCC home basketball games are played at the fitness center at the west campus, 10230 Ridge Road in New Port Richey.