Johnston comes back for success

Ariy-El Boynton

Ariy-El Boynton

Editor’s note: UW-Green Bay Sports Information assisted with this story.

Between April 25 and 26, 2007, SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston went through many changes and experienced a wide variety of emotions.

On April 25, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Director of Athletes Ken Bothof announced the hiring of Johnston as the third head coach in the Phoenix’s 34-year women’s basketball history.

UW-Green Bay was excited for the opportunity to have the Division II National Championship coach, who was successful in the D-I transition, to be a part of their program.

?”We are delighted that Coach Johnston is joining the UW-Green Bay family,” said UW-Green Bay Chancellor Bruce Shepard. “Our ability to attract a coach of his caliber is firm evidence of the stature and maturity of our women’s basketball program. Coach Johnston’s teams have experienced high levels of success – on the court and in the classroom. He is an excellent fit not only for our women’s basketball program, but for our university and community.”

On the flight, 26,220 miles away from Brookings and 279 miles away from Green Bay, Wisc., UW-Green Bay head coach Johnston alerted SDSU officials that he did not want to end what he had going at State.

He made a phone call to SDSU’s Athletic Director Fred Oien from the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport and asked if SDSU still had an opening for head coach and if he could fill it.

Oien was dumbfounded and he indicated that he struggled to find the right words as he was caught up in an emotional moment. After meeting with David Chicoine and other athletic officials, Oien called Johnston to indicate that he would be announced as the next head women’s basketball coach for the second time in nine years.

The same day, Johnston held a press conference in the HPER Ginn Trophy Room. He was greeted by a packed house and many of his new and old players, who were fresh off an intramural softball game.

Johnston was filled with strong words in his press conference. He started out his four-minutes-plus opening statement indicating that his wish was that this would be the last time he was announced as the women’s head coach at SDSU.

“I am truly glad to be back, even though I left this morning,” said Johnston.

His speech to friends and families also included a hearty apology to UW-Green Bay. He told the folks at UW-Green Bay, “I didn’t realize until today the strong emotional ties I had to South Dakota State University and the community of Brookings.”

The eighth year coach indicated that he went through many emotions in the experience.

He gave a big thank you to Oien and Chicoine for hiring him back, and Oien recognized the severity of the situation.

“A.J. has been a strong and valued colleague in this program; he has been an asset in the transition but also prior to that,” said Oien. “He made a personal decision to make a change in his life. It is really easy in the public to judge in athletics what decisions we in our business make.

“It takes a really strong person to understand and evaluate a decision we make for ourselves and to say, hey, maybe it wasn’t the best decision. ? A.J. doing that in such a public, public arena; that is not easy to do, but it tells you a lot about his character he has,” said Oien.

On April 26, Johnston said, “this gives me a chance to bring more to the table than I did a month ago and having gone through this experience is really going to help me with that.”

Johnston and his crew did not disappoint in the 2007-08 year (his first year back) as in his first year in the Division I League. The Jackrabbits not only won the league but crushed the competition, winning the Summit League by four games, the third largest in Summit/ Mid-Continent League history. SDSU has won 12 regular season games in a row to end the regular season two years straight and have won 22 home games in a row, the third largest in the nation.

Johnston was set to replace Kevin Borseth who is now the head coach of the University of Michigan women’s basketball team.