Johnson steps down as Illini wrestling head coach


Illinois head coach Mark Johnson watches during the wrestling match at Huff Hall on Friday, Feb. 13th, 2009. Johnson earned his 200th win with the Illini at Wisconsin last weekend.

By Alex Iniguez

The winningest coach in Illinois wrestling history has retired after 17 years at the helm. Mark Johnson announced his decision Monday to step down as Illini head coach.

“I really enjoyed the relationships with my athletes and staff, and I think this program is in great shape for the future,” Johnson said in a press release.

Johnson leaves behind a legacy at Illinois that includes coaching 45 All-Americans and seven individual national champions. In 2005, Johnson also led the Illini to their first Big Ten title in 53 years and won Big Ten Coach of the Year. In 2001, the Orange and Blue finished fifth at the NCAA Championships, the highest mark for Illinois since 1948.

This season, the Illini finished second in the Big Ten and eighth in the NCAA Championships. Johnson coached senior Mike Poeta to consecutive runner-up finishes at nationals.

Johnson, a Rock Island, Ill., native, graduated from the University of Michigan in 1977 after receiving two All-America honors and finishing as the runner-up in two NCAA Championships. After graduation, Johnson was a member of the U.S. Olympic team in 1980, but did not compete in the Olympics because of the United States boycott. Johnson, however, did win two USA Wrestling national championships.

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    In addition to the on-the-mat accomplishments for the Illini, Johnson’s squads have excelled in the classroom. During his time at Illinois, Johnson’s teams have featured 18 Academic All-American and 77 Academic All-Big Ten selections.

    Before taking over at Illinois, Johnson served as a graduate assistant and assistant coach at Iowa. He was an assistant coach for the 1988 Olympic team and head coach at Oregon State for two years before accepting the same position at Illinois.

    In a press release, Athletic Director Ron Guenther thanked Johnson on Monday for his time in Champaign and wished him well in his “desire to explore other opportunities.”