Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle didn’t wait long to name Richard Pitino’s replacement.
Ben Johnson, a Minneapolis native who played for the Gophers and was an assistant coach at the school, was named the university’s 18th men’s basketball coach on Monday. Darren Wolfson of SKOR North and KSTP-TV reported Monday morning on the Mackey & Judd podcast that Johnson had interviewed with Coyle (above) over the weekend.
“Ben is a proven coach who is ready to lead his own program,” Coyle said in a statement. “He has earned this opportunity and is a tremendous teacher, recruiter and relationship builder. I am thrilled for him to lead his alma mater, and I am excited for the future of our men’s basketball program.”
Johnson, 40, returns home after most recently being an assistant coach at Xavier. He played high school basketball at DeLaSalle and was shooting guard for the Gophers from 2002 tor 2004 after transferring from Northwestern. Johnson was an assistant on Pitino’s staff from 2013 to 2018.
He began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Dayton and then became an assistant for Texas-Pan American before spending four seasons on the Northern Iowa staff. He served as recruiting coordinator in 2011-12 and then joined the Nebraska coaching staff for a season.
The Gophers went 25-13 and won the 2014 NIT championship in Johnson’s first season working for Pitino, who also was in his first year at Minnesota. The Gophers finished 24-10 and 11-7 in the Big Ten in 2016-17, qualifying for the NCAA tournament, with Johnson on the coaching staff. That was the only season in which a Pitino-led Gophers team finished with a winning record in the conference.
— SKOR North (@SKORNorth) March 22, 2021
Johnson was hired by Travis Steele when he took over as Xavier’s coach in 2018.
“Ben is an outstanding coach and recruiter that will be a very successful head coach one day,” Steele in a quote on Johnson’s bio page. “Ben is ‘Steady Eddy,’ he just is. He is the same guy every day. He is highly intelligent, very well thought out. He’s very good at everything. He is great on the floor, he’s great in skill development, he’s got a great offensive mind and he’s got great relationships with our players. He is a really good evaluator and recruiter. Everything he does he is very thorough and has helped us to mine the state of Alabama to get Colby Jones and New Jersey to get Zach Freemantle just to name a few. He’s got a great eye for talent and he’s very thorough, very diligent with his process. He is another guy I think is going to be a head coach sooner rather than later. He is terrific and we are fortunate to have him.”
Xavier is 51-37 overall in the past three seasons under Steele, but has made no NCAA appearances and is 23-26 in the Big East. Xavier went 13-8, 6-7 this season and was seventh in the conference.
According to Goodman, Coyle met with Johnson for much of the day Sunday and was “blown away.” Johnson’s work will begin long before he serves as a head coach in a college game for the first time. Coyle will be counting on him to get many of the top local recruits who left the state during Pitino’s eight seasons in charge. Johnson’s ties in the state should be a good start with high school and AAU coaches.
Johnson graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology.