In this week’s coaching conversation, University of Minnesota head coach Ben Johnson joins the podcast to discuss transitioning into a head coaching position.
Ben Johnson is the new head coach of the University of Minnesota. Johnson, who graduated from Minnesota in 2005, returns to his alma mater after spending three seasons at Xavier as an assistant coach. Johnson previously served as an assistant coach at Minnesota from 2013-18 and was a two-time captain during his playing career for the Gophers. Coach Johnson was also previously an assistant coach at Nebraska, Northern Iowa, Texas-Pan American and a Graduate Assistant at Dayton.
Johnson helped lead Xavier to consecutive top-30 recruiting classes in 2019 and 2020 and the Musketeers posted a collective record of 51-37 in three seasons with him on the bench. In his previous stint at Minnesota, Johnson helped recruit local standouts and current members of the Los Angeles Clippers organization Daniel Oturu and Amir Coffey to the Gophers.
Prior to returning to Minnesota in 2013, he spent one season as an assistant coach under Tim Miles at the University of Nebraska. While with the Huskers, Johnson assisted in all-day-to-day basketball-related duties while also serving as recruiting coordinator. Johnson also led the development of Nebraska’s backcourt players.
Johnson spent 2008-12 as an assistant coach at Northern Iowa. The Panthers went a combined 93-77 in that timeframe, winning at least 20 games in all four years. Northern Iowa reached postseason play in all four years and advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2009-10. Prior to his stay at Northern Iowa, Johnson served as an assistant coach for two seasons at the University of Texas-Pan American. He was heavily involved in recruiting, worked with the Broncos perimeter players and coordinated UTPA’s summer camps.
Johnson’s coaching career began at the University of Dayton, where he served as a graduate assistant during the 2005-06 season.
Ben Johnson Quotes:
“I’m into core values, that’s really, really important to me. I think that goes back to being a former athlete and a former player . . I know the value in that locker room of when you’re true to whatever it is that your core principles are.”
“Trust is one of the core values . . they’ve got to trust themselves as a player; they’ve got to trust the work that they put in, over time, is going to pan out; they’ve got to trust me . . they’ve got to trust our staff that we’re going to put them in the right position, athletically, socially and academically, to be successful.”
“You’ve got to make sure you get the foundation right to start. And so, you look at the analytics piece, you look at the numbers, you watch the film, that’s important . . I think it goes both ways. In order for me to coach guys . . I’ve got to kind of understand what I’m getting into . . and who they are. That’s important, as much as they understand who I am.”
“You have to make a lot of tough calls as a head coach. there’s a lot of honest conversations . . you’ve just got to hope that when you say ‘no,’ you don’t kill too many relationships or friendships and that they hopefully understand. But it’s hard, because there’s a lot of good coaches out there that can help programs.”
“I talk about . . the values and what I want our program to be about basically from a fan’s perspective. So, when a fan comes to a game, what are three things that I want them to walk away with that don’t have to do with details of X’s and O’s. It’s more of a broad scape of what Minnesota basketball needs to look like from the outside.”
“When we meet as a staff, it’s pretty clear . . here’s the type of kid we’re looking for. Here’s the type of style that I like and that I think will win here. Here are the areas geographically that I want to really at least touch base on and make sure we’re attacking.”
[On things to look for in recruiting] “Body language without a doubt. I watch that from the minute I walk in the gym. I will literally stare at a dude in layups, on the bench, and in timeouts. Just how they walk around on the court, their interaction with teammates.”
“You want guys that their game is going in an upward trajectory. That tells me they’re still developing, that tells me they’re putting time into their game. I love when you see a guy make a big jump. That excites me because it tells me that they’re living in the gym or there’s still room to grow . . we want guys that are trending the right way. A lot of times it is a leap of faith, because they’re not going to be that finished product.”
“If you’ve got guys that can shoot, especially one through five, that totally changes floor space, and totally changes the binds you put the defense in. It totally changes what you can run and how you can play. And I think it covers up for a lot of mistakes. Obviously, you’ve got to be good defensively. But on the offensive side of the ball, if you’ve got guys that can make an open shot, it changes everything.”
Ben Johnson Breakdown:
1:00 – Job as a Head Coach
5:00 – His Philosophy as a Coach
9:00 – Evaluation on His Current Players
12:00 – Part of Player’s Process
14:00 – Mid and High Major Interview
16:00 – Potential Jobs
19:00 – Looking for Jobs
23:00 – Philosophy Books
27:00 – Players Handling the Environment
30:30 – Competitive Culture and Frustration
36:00 – Style Play
39:00 – Developing Skill
41:00 – Coach Spoelstra
44:00 – Raising Profile of the Program
46:00 – Transition
49:00 – Relationship with Richard Pitino
51:00 – Conclusion
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