Kenny Johnson was the assistant head coach at the University of Louisville under Rick Pitino, who was put on administrative leave on Wednesday. No interim or permanent head coach has been named and Johnson’s alleged role in the alleged pay-for-play would make it difficult for him to get the job. Johnson, who has a degree in molecular biology, has been at Louisville since 2014.
Before joining Louisville, Johnson began coaching high school basketball. In 2011, he jumped to the college level and was hired as an assistant at Towson. He had a two-year stint at Indiana before Louisville hired him.
Here’s a look at Johnson’s life, career and his own alleged role in the corruption scandal that ended Pitino’s Louisville career.
4. Johnson Is Reportedly the ‘Coach-1’ Referred to in the FBI’s Investigation Into NCAA Corruption
Pitino is leaving the University of Louisville a day after the FBI and U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim announced the findings of a three-year FBI investigation into corruption in the NCAA. The FBI alleges that Adidas executive Jim Gatto worked with agents and other middlemen to get two great high school players to attend colleges Adidas sponsors. The schools weren’t named, but Louisville is reportedly one of them.
The FBI has charged 10 individuals in the case, including four Division I assistant coaches – Chuck Person of Auburn; Emanuel Richardson of Arizona; Lamont Evans of Oklahoma State; and Tony Bland of USC. Kim alleges that the four “took cash bribes” from financial advisors and sports agents “in exchange for using their influence over college players under their control to pressure and direct those players and their families to retain the services of the advisors paying the bribes.”
All four coaches are charged with “Bribery conspiracy, Solicitation of bribes, Honest services fraud conspiracy, Honest services fraud, Wire fraud conspiracy; Travel Act conspiracy,” which comes with a maximum potential 80 years in prison.
Gatto was charged with “Wire fraud conspiracy, Wire fraud (2 counts), Money laundering conspiracy” and could face up to 80 years in prison.
Although no one at Louisville was charged in the indictment, WKLY reports that the “University-6” mentioned in it is Louisville. The “Coach-1” is reportedly Johnson, according to WKLY’s sources.
According to the indictment (available in full here), “Coach-1” met with two of the other defendants – agent Christian Dawkins and Jonathan Brad Augustine, the president of The League Initiative and a program director for the Adidas-sponsored 1 Family AAU program.
The indictment claims that the family of Brian Bowen (referred to as “Player-10”) was supposed to be paid $100,000 for committing to attend the Adidas-sponsored school and remain an Adidas athlete in the NBA.
The meeting between “Coach-1,” Dawkins and Augustine allegedly happened in July. Others were at the meeting, which was about two different players not named in the indictment (one is reportedly Bowen). The FBI recorded the meeting. After Coach-1 left the room, Dawkins continued the meeting, saying that there was a rival athletic brand trying to lure Player-10 (Bowen) to another school with more money. He said he spoke with another coach at the university about trying to get more money for Bowen’s family. That other coach might have been assistant Jordan Fair, who was also in Las Vegas at the time.
As ESPN notes, Person and Evans were suspended by their universities. Arizona suspended Richardson and USC put Bland on administrative leave.
“If true, I agree with the U.S. Attorney’s Office that these third-party schemes, initiated by a few bad actors, operated to commit a fraud on the impacted universities and their basketball programs, including the University of Louisville,” Pitino said in a statement. “Our fans and supporters deserve better and I am committed to taking whatever steps are needed to ensure those responsible are held accountable.”
He also said the allegations came as a “complete shock” to him.
2. Johnson Was a Molecular Biologist Before Becoming a Basketball Coach
Before Johnson went into coaching basketball, he studied was a molecular biologist. According to his Louisville bio, he earned a bachelor’s degree in cell, molecular biology and genetics from the University of Maryland in 1999. While attending Oxon Hill High School in Maryland, he was named Science and Technology Student of the Year in 1994. After college, he was a researcher at Human Genome Sciences in Rockville, Maryland.
The Courier-Journal reported that Maryland also tried to hire Johnson from Indiana.
“You put your love aside,” he told the media when asked why he chose Louisville instead of Maryland. “It’s where I met my wife. … It’s definitely not an easy decision to make.”
Johnson is married to Doreen Johnson and has two sons, Amare and Mekai.
3. He Lost Over 100 Pounds in the 6 Months After Joining Louisville
In his first six months at Loiuisville, Johnson began to look noticeably different. When he was introduced to the media in April 2014, he weighed 331 pounds. By October 2014, he weighed 225. Johnson was influenced by Pitino, who wants to see his coaching staff in top physical shape.
“With Kenny, it’s really remarkable,” Pitino told WDRB of Johnson’s weight loss. “I mean, I don’t know how he did it. I didn’t — it was just him and (strength coach) Ray (Ganong) getting together. It’s an amazing transformation. Everybody who sees him on the road says, ‘Is that Kenny?’ He just cut out sugar, cut out carbs and exercised for the first time in his life and he looks tremendous. I didn’t do anything. I just said, ‘Listen, you need to get in shape, because you’re going to preach conditioning to these guys. Just get yourself into shape.’ . . . And it wasn’t a deck chair off the Queen Mary.”
Johnson told the station that he didn’t follow a “Pitino diet,” but the culture Pitino instilled in the staff inspired him. Johnson stopped eating most breads and worked out four hours a day.
“He doesn’t tell you the process or do anything like that,” Johnson said. “It’s more just identifying a plan of action. My goal was to identify a plan that was sustainable for a lifetime rather than just a short period of time.”
4. He Worked With Tom Crean, a Potential Pitino Replacement, at Indiana
Before joining Louisville, Johnson worked for Indiana’s Tom Crean for two seasons. The Courier-Journal notes that Johnson helped the Hoosiers land prospects Noah Vonleh, James Blackmon Jr. and Troy Williams.
“It’s a high-expectation job and I think he did an admirable job of accepting that challenge and working hard every day,” Johnson said of Crean in an interview with Vigilant Sports. “That’s the one thing — whether you agree with the things that he’s done philosophically on the basketball court — you’ve never heard anyone say is that Tom Crean doesn’t work hard. He’s a hard-working coach. He’s a guy that’s very passionate about his career and the university that he is representing.”
Before heading to college basketball, Johnson was an assistant director and head of travel and logistics for the Team Takeover AAU program.
5. Johnson’s Salary Jumped to $550,000 in April 2016
In April 2016, The Courier-Journal reported that Johnson’s salary jumped from $375,000 a year when he was first hired to $550,000. He was signed through 2018, with bonuses based on how well Louisville does in the NCAA Tournament.
The pay raise came after he was promoted to assistant head coach in March 2016. When his promotion was announced, Pitino praised Johnson as a “five-star coach, five-star recruiter and a five-star person.”
“I believe in the integrity of Coach Pitino and it is an honor to continue to be a part of the program that he leads,” Johnson said in a statement. “I love this program and what it means to so many great people. Just as a legion of supporters have had our back and continue to have our back, so shall I have theirs.”