PLNU alumnus Jay Johnson has found success in Division I athletics as the head coach of the University of Arizona’s baseball team.
Johnson was hired in June of 2015 and in just two seasons, he has accumulated an 87-45 record. Johnson is also the first coach in school history to lead the team to the NCAA Tournament in each of his first two seasons, according to Arizona’s athletic page.
Before Johnson started his coaching career, he played college baseball at Shasta College and then transferred to PLNU, where he played second base and hit .326 as a senior. “The best decision of my life was to attend PLNU,” said Johnson via email. “Everyone was great to me and the years I spent there really shaped who I have become. Being in that environment during a very formative time in my life is something I am extremely grateful for.”
Once Johnson graduated with his bachelor’s degree in physical education, he became the assistant coach for the Sea Lions and eventually took over the program as head coach in 2005.
During his time as head coach, Johnson led the Sea Lions to a No. 6 NAIA ranking and a 37-16 record. “Coaching is what I’ve always wanted to do and coaching at PLNU was some of the best times of my life,” said Johnson. “Being at Point Loma gave me a unique opportunity to develop as a coach at a place that I truly loved… as a matter of fact, leaving Point Loma to take my crack at Division I baseball was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make.”
After Johnson chose to leave his alma mater, he coached at the University of San Diego as well as the University of Nevada.
Johnson served as USD’s hitting coach and recruiting coordinator from 2006-2013. According to arizonawildcats.com, Johnson helped recruit USD’s 2008 class, which was ranked number one in the nation by Baseball America.
The University of San Diego’s athletic website says Johnson also helped the Toreros make six trips to the NCAA postseason and capture four West Coast Conference titles. Additionally, he coached the 2013 Dick Howser Award Winner, which honors the college baseball player of the year, in third baseman Kris Bryant, who now plays for the Chicago Cubs.
Once Johnson decided to leave USD, he became the head coach of Nevada for the 2014-2015 seasons, where his team posted an overall 72-42 record. In 2015, Nevada had a record of 41-15 and captured the school’s first-ever Mountain West title. Nevada’s 41 wins ranked second in program history.
Nevada’s 2015 campaign proved to be a breakthrough season for Johnson, and he was named the Mountain West Coach of the Year. When reflecting on his coaching career, Johnson attributed his success to the players that he feels lucky enough to have coached. “I have been fortunate, whether I was at Point Loma, the University of San Diego, or the University of Nevada to have great players who had worked extremely hard to allow each of those programs to have success who opened the door for the heading coaching position at Arizona for me.”
During Johnson’s first season as Arizona’s head coach in the spring of 2015, he led the team to a 49-24 record and an appearance in the College World Series Finals. The Arizona athletics website states that the 49 wins for the Wildcats were the second-most in school history and that they finished the season ranked No. 2 in all five major Top 25 polls.
Each season, Johnson and his Wildcat team find more and more success. The Wildcats had a 38-21 record last season and led the Pac-12 in batting average (.308), doubles (133), hits (633), on base percentage (.403), runs (453), scoring (7.7 runs per game) and slugging percentage (.442).
Johnson believes that improvement on a daily basis and having the motivation to want to get better is what makes his team so successful each season. “I believe in work ethic, having a clear plan of what you want to accomplish and executing that plan consistently. [Producing] a lot of quality work over a long period of time will allow you and the people around you to achieve special things.”
Johnson remains the head coach at Arizona heading into the 2018 season. “I am 100 percent living out my dream. There is nowhere else I would rather be.”
However, that doesn’t mean he has forgotten about PLNU. “I care deeply about the baseball program at Point Loma, it has given me so much and I pay close attention to them. They have a great leader in Joe and he has done a great job with the program for a long time.”
The Wildcats head coach also had some advice for the baseball players at Point Loma, saying, “Place the needs of the team above your own and really appreciate this time in your life. Make the absolute most of it that you possibly can.”