All Good Things Must Come To An End
by Cheval John
The weekend series between Sam Houston State University Bearkats and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders at Don Sanders Stadium marks the last home game for head coach Mark Johnson as he will be retiring at the end of the 2011 season.
The Bearkats clinched a spot in the 2011 Southland Conference Baseball Tournament that will be held at Bobcat Stadium on the campus of Texas State University-San Marcos from May 25-28. It will be their fourth appearance in the last five years under Johnson’s tenure.
Johnson’s career as a head coach is 1,042-559-3 and is among active head coaches with 1,000 or more career wins. He got his 1,000 career win on March 28, 2010 when the Bearkats rallied to beat the University of Texas at San Antonio Roadrunners 8-6. To appreciate his contribution to the game of baseball, a person needs to understand his journey.
Johnson played for the University of New Mexico from 1965-1967, receiving All-Conference honors and was an NCAA All-Region in 1967. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Science and Physical Education and a Master’s Degree in Recreation and Physical Education in 1967 and 1971, respectively.
He played for the New York Mets organization from 1967 to 1969. After the stint with the Mets, he was an assistant coach at the University of New Mexico from 1969-1971 while he was a graduate student, then served as an assistant coach at the University of Arizona (UA) from 1971-1976, where they won the national championship in 1976. He continued as an assistant coach at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) from 1976 to 1982 before joining Texas A&M in 1982 as an assistant coach to Tom Chandler.
“I left a pretty good job at Ole’ Miss and took a chance at A&M,” Johnson said. “There was no guarantee that I was going to get the head coaching position once Chandler retired, but I felt at peace with the decision.”
After Chandler retired in 1984, Johnson was promoted to head coach and lasted 21 years. He took the program to new heights, winning the Southwest Conference Championship in 1986, 1989 and 1993. The Southwest Conference dissolved in 1996 and the Big 12 Conference was formed in the same year. From there, they won the Big 12 Conference Championship in 1998 and 1999. They were in the NCAA playoffs 13 times and made it to the College World Series in 1993 and 1999. He also served as head coach of Team USA in the summer of 1999.
After finishing 9th in the Big 12 in 2005 with a 30-25-1 record, Johnson was fired by current Athletic Director Bill Byrne. That could have been the end of his coaching career, but Bobby Williams, athletic director at Sam Houston State University had other ideas. Johnson was hired on July 16, 2006, becoming the sixth head coach of the Bearkat baseball program.
“He took a chance on me,” Johnson said. “My professional career would not have been complete had I not come to Sam Houston and I will always appreciate him for giving me this opportunity.”
That chance paid off because in his first season as head coach, the Bearkats won the 2007 Southland Conference Baseball Championship and reached the NCAA Division I regionals for the first time since 1996. They reached the regional finals, but came up short against Ole’ Miss. They would win two more Southland championships in 2008 and 2009.
Even though the accomplishments on the field are impressive, his accomplishments off the field is more important to him. His family and faith are at the center of his life and to him, it is important to always do the right thing and to never compromise to anything. And the statistic that shows his contributions off the field, 93% of the players that played for Johnson at A&M received their college degrees.
Johnson received the FCA Baseball Jerry Kindall Character in Coaching Award in 2007 and was the first recipient of the American Baseball Coaches Association “Ethics In Coaching” Award in 2008 at the ABCA convention in San Diego. He is in the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame.
According to Johnson, “Whether we win or lose, win a championship or not, I would rather prefer somebody to say that you’re a man of strong character and integrity.”
Coach Johnson has been a great ambassador to the game of baseball and the game will not be the same without him. He has taught young men how to play the game the right way and has made a strong impact that they will remember for the rest of their lives.
The weekend series will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday. The pre-game ceremony to honor coach Johnson will be on that Friday at 6:30 p.m.
For more information, visit the Bearkats Athletics Department website at: www.gobearkats.com.