Johnston plans for future as head coach

Brian Kimmes

Brian Kimmes

After being gone for less than 24 hours, Aaron Johnston walked back into his office on April 27 to begin his second tenure as head coach of women’s basketball at South Dakota State University.

“The first few days on the job, I guess, is the way to think about it,” Johnston said. “It was different. It really was, and I think just because it was so emotional from the days before. It felt really good and I felt very settled and very at peace with my decision.”

Even though Johnston returned to the same job he has occupied for the past seven years, it was not just another day at the office.

“You also feel a little bit uncertain about how everybody else is going to react, our players, our staff,” he said. “That first day or two was still a little bit of uncertainty from how people were going to respond, but again, I’m very happy with the decision and the opportunity to come back.”

Now that he is back, Johnston is working on restoring the relationships that may have been damaged by his initial decision to leave.

“This week I’m spending most of my time visiting with players,” he said. “We had some individual meetings, (I) talked to the team and a bunch of just area coaches and AAU coaches, high school coaches … just to make sure they understand what my thoughts were too. (From) the players … (the reaction has) been really good. I don’t think there’s any issue there. And I think from other people, coaches and people from across the state and the Midwest I’ve talked to, I don’t think there’s going to be any issues there.”

Johnston attributes the warm reception he is receiving from AAU, area and high school coaches to the good working relationships he had before and the fact the coaches know he is a sincere person who works hard.

“I think if we would have burned bridges or had some poor relationships, this would be a chance for them to say, ‘Listen, this is the final straw,'” Johnston said.

The uncertainty Johnston was concerned with has been minimal. The public has supported Johnston in his return. Pizza Ranch displayed on their sign, “We love you AJ.” Johnston said he has received notes and letters from people he knows and people he doesn’t know.

“I think the reception has been really good,” Johnston said. “It’s been really helpful to me to know that people are excited.”

Although the reception has been positive, Johnston knows he needs to show everybody how much he appreciates the opportunity to continue coaching the Jacks.

“I still feel I owe the community, I owe the state, I owe our program, I just owe them a lot,” Johnston said.

A look ahead for Johnston

After going through the process of interviewing with another school for the first time, SDSU women’s basketball head coach Aaron Johnston remembered a few things he had forgotten.

“It has reminded me that everybody on the basketball team, whether it’s coaches or players, makes a choice to be here all the time,” Johnston said. “I think we all probably go through times as players and coaches where we wonder if there is a better perspective or a place that’s going to be more fitting to what we want … I took that for granted in a sense that you forget it really is a choice to be here.” “It just kind of reminded me of how committed our players are to making this work, and they make that choice to be here continually, and as a coach to be able to tell them I’m making that same choice to be here, I’m just as committed, I think is really going to be good.”

Johnston said that after being at a place for a number of years, it becomes easier to let the negative aspects become your focus, but this process has helped him refocus.

Now that he is back, Johnston said his biggest task for the rest of the year will be “just trying to reconnect with a lot of the coaches out there [and] recruiting contacts. I want to touch base with our players and certainly with their families. That’s something I’ve got to do, just make sure that everyone understands the process that I was going through.”

In addition to reconnecting with coaches, Johnston wants to address some of the negative aspects of SDSU that wore him down.

“I think we need to move forward in terms of facility. Our facilities here need some upgrades. Not so much in the competition facility, although that could use some minor improvements, but in the support facilities that would include locker rooms, training rooms, taping room,” Johnston said. “I think we really need to move forward in terms of our staff still … Those things right there are huge priorities if we want to move forward with women’s basketball.”

The basketball team is adding a second full-time assistant coach, but NCAA rules allow for three.

“It makes a big difference,” he said. “It makes a big difference for coaches in our quality of life. It makes a big difference for student athletes in their quality of life.”

#1.883431:93421853.jpg:aj.jn.jpg:Aaron Johnston speaks to his players during a timeout in the WNIT tournament.: