The pinnacle point in NCAA Division I collegiate baseball lives in Omaha, Nebraska. Throughout the spring and summer, colleges play in more than 50 games in the regular season. Teams who finish in the top of their conference must then battle through regionals, super regionals and, finally, the College World Series. Once a year, at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha, eight teams compete for the national championship.
This year was particularly special for PLNU. University of Arizona head coach and PLNU alumnus Jay Johnson and his team made it to the final game of the College World Series, but ultimately fell to Coast Carolina University.
It was Johnson’s first year as head coach for the Wildcats, as he was chosen in 2015 to become the University of Arizona’s 16th head coach in their history.
“It was obviously a tremendous honor,” said Johnson in an interview with The Point. “As a head coach at any level, you want to win a championship. It has been a dream of mine for a very long time, now.”
Johnson began his PLNU career in 2000 as a player under former head coach Scott Sarver. The middle infielder played two seasons until he graduated and began coaching in 2002.
“Coach Sarver taught me almost everything I know. I was a very young coach, and he had the confidence in me to handle a majority of the responsibilities,” said Johnson. “For that I am very grateful. We remain good friends to this day.”
One of Johnson’s players during this time was current PLNU baseball head coach, Joe Schaefer. Schaefer played and coached two seasons under Johnson.
“Since this is the only place I have ever coached at, I have to say he taught me a lot. He is a go-getter and has a lot of energy which helps him a lot in recruiting,” said Schaefer. “He’s really good at knowing whether or not a player will fit into a particular program.”
Another former player of Johnson’s, and current XTRA 1360 Fox Sports San Diego commentator and co-host of “Hardwick and Richards,” Judson Richards, recalls his recruiting trip to PLNU with Johnson.
“I remember my mom was really impressed with him. He’s just one of those guys who you would describe as having a living-room personality,” said Richards. “In 2011, I moved back to San Diego and needed a place to stay. I was between jobs and asked him if he knew anyone looking for a roommate. He let me live with him for two years. We played together in 2004, and for him to do that in 2011 says a lot about who he is.”
In 2004, PLNU was a part of the NAIA and was successful enough to make it to the World Series. Johnson was an assistant coach under Sarver at the time. After three seasons as an assistant, Johnson took over as head coach in 2005. He finished with a 37-16 record, winning the Golden State Athletic Conference Title.
His “living-room personality” turned Johnson into arguably one of the best college recruiters in baseball right now. After taking an assistant coaching job at the University of San Diego in 2006, he became the head recruiter. Baseball America titled USD the top recruiting class in 2008 and second-best in 2013. Some of the Major Leaguers today who were recruited by Johnson include Brian Matusz, AJ Griffin, Sammy Solis and Kris Bryant.
While all of Johnson’s successes up until last year were more than worthy of praise, he had never made it to the World Series at the Division I level.
“They [University of Arizona] have had a fantastic baseball program for a very long time. When I got there, I knew that I had a good team to work with before anyone I recruited came in,” said Johnson. “My job in the first year was to guide their talents, and to make the World Series in my first year was very special.”
Johnson admitted that he could not believe the response he received following the World Series from former players, friends and family.
“He has always ended all of his emails with ‘see you in Omaha,’” said Richards. “I was able to watch the game that got them into the World Series. As they won, the camera shot went to Jay and the look on his face was incredible. It looked like he was going to throw up. You could tell how much that moment meant to him.”
Going into his second season as head coach of the Wildcats, Johnson says that his main focus is “building off what we have with the new guys coming in.” After losing a good number of seniors, there will be a lot of work to do to get back to Omaha.
“I will forever remember Point Loma as a great place,” said Johnson. “Ever since my playing days, I have loved the people and what they are about.”