Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, Dec. 11, 2009 | 11:03 p.m.
- Smatresk: AD decision should come Tuesday (12-9-2009)
- Former chancellor backs Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood (12-8-2009)
- UNLV president denies reports of Livengood as new athletic director (12-4-2009)
- Search committee to narrow UNLV athletic director list (12-1-2009)
- Franchione emerges as potential early candidate for UNLV football post (11-19-2008)
In an unusual event of sorts, Washington State senior associate athletic director John Johnson — one of three finalists for UNLV's AD post — passed with flying colors Friday afternoon.
The first finalist to visit campus for a final interview was available to the media and anyone else who wanted to attend and inquire in a public forum at the UNLV Student Union.
Two things won Johnson brownie points in the eyes of those in attendance.
First was his casual, friendly demeanor while striking up a conversation with anyone who wanted to engage. He stayed for nearly 40 minutes after an open Q&A session to mingle.
Second — and seemingly most pressing in the minds of many on hand — was the candid nature he displayed when discussing strategies for filling the Rebels' vacancy atop the football program.
When asked who he would call right off the bat if he were to get the AD job, Johnson rattled off some names.
"How about some coaches that I think are pretty good coaches who might be available?" he started. "Certainly coach (Dennis) Franchione, there's been some interest about him, I like him. Robb Akey at Idaho has done a nice job. (Montana coach) Bobby Hauck in (Football Championship Series competition) has done a nice job. There's various coordinators out there who have also done a nice job. (Offensive coordinator) Jim McElwain at Alabama is being thought of highly, as well. I have some others, also."
Johnson clearly put some thought into what would be the first order of business for whoever gets the position.
"I think you should be able to move relatively quickly," he said. "I think you could get a coach hired within seven days."
He didn't exactly say that previous head coaching experience would be a requirement, but he knows it has its advantages.
"Certainly, when you hire a head coach or someone who's had head coaching experience, regardless of the level, I think the black box or what you don't know about a coach is smaller," he said. "And that would be a preference."
Following stints as the athletic director at Eastern Washington (1993-97) and Weber State (1997-2004), Johnson has handled external affairs and fundraising efforts at Washington State ever since.
He's known for his tireless work ethic and incredible energy, which he said makes UNLV an ideal fit for him.
After hiring a football coach, Johnson said his second and third tasks would include an extensive evaluation of the athletic department and beginning to extend UNLV's brand as far as possible into the community.
He pointed out the more than 15,000 community service hours logged by his student-athletes at Washington State since his arrival, spearheaded by a reading program that sends Cougar football players to local elementary schools.
Johnson said he sees, on the surface, pieces in place which could make his missions more than realistic to accomplish.
"It's a young university, a very virile university, and I really look forward to moving the university into it's second 50 years of existence," he said. "Athletics is the window to the institution, to a university. That window provides a look into the program. My job as an AD would be to expand the brand of UNLV, and at the same time, expand the degree value of those who are current students and those who graduated from UNLV."
The other two finalists for the job — former Oregon AD Bill Moos and Arizona AD Jim Livengood — will hold their public forums at the Student Union early next week. Moos will appear at 3 p.m. Monday in the second-floor ballroom, while Livengood's session takes place at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in the first-floor theater.
The school's new AD is expected to be announced either Tuesday evening or early Wednesday morning by university President Neal Smatresk.