Austin Johnson will return to Lewis-Clark State College as the head men’s basketball coach, Director of Athletics Brooke Cushman announced Tuesday.
“We’re excited to have Austin back in our Warrior Family,” Cushman said. “He represents everything we look for and value in our coaches – commitment to academic and athletic excellence, and integrity.”
For Johnson, whose wife, Kelli (Tikker), played volleyball for the Warriors, the return to Lewis-Clark State is like coming home.
“In a lot of ways,” he said, “I feel like I grew up here. I didn’t attend LC State but I definitely view it as my alma mater.”
And there is the professional challenge of maintaining a program for which he helped set the foundation.
“The challenge and the opportunity to go to a place like LC State with its reputation, with what it’s done on the national level the last decade, it was something I couldn’t pass up,” he said. “The administration here and the opportunity it provides students and student-athletes means a lot to me. That’s why I coach.”
Johnson, an assistant coach at LC from 2010-16, has spent the last two seasons as the head coach at Corban University. He led Corban’s Warriors to levels of success they hadn’t experienced in more than a decade. The 2017-18 team finished 17-13 for the highest winning percentage since 2005. Among his players, he counted two first-team all-conference selections and two COSIDA Academic All-Americans.
His 2016-17 team, an underdog in the Cascade Collegiate Conference tournament, swept through the postseason to become the first No. 8 seed to claim the league title and the automatic berth into the NAIA Division II National Tournament. Corban, which advanced to the nationals for only the fifth time in school history, lost in the first round of the tournament but was awarded the Naismith-Liston Sportsmanship Award.
Johnson’s career in the Northwest began in 2010 when he was hired as LCSC’s associate head coach. During his time here, the Warriors garnered a No. 1 seed in the 2016 NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament with a 28-4 overall record. LCSC earned the automatic bid to the national tournament after winning the Frontier Conference Tournament title – its second while he was here. The Warriors won three regular-season titles during his tenure.
During his time with the program, he was a key recruiter and was charged with player development as the Warriors averaged more than 20 wins per season with one of the nation’s top performing offenses over a five-season span.
Prior to LCSC, he spent two years as a graduate assistant coach at Western Illinois University
He started his career as a volunteer assistant coach at Odessa Junior College in Texas, where he worked for NJCAA Hall of Fame Coach Dennis Helms.
Johnson earned his Master’s in Sports Management at WIU after graduating in 2008 from Oklahoma Wesleyan University with a Business Marketing degree.
Originally hailing from Wichita, Kan., Johnson enrolled at Butler CC before transferring to Oklahoma Wesleyan where he was a starter in his final two seasons. He finished with 1,207 career points and drained more than 250 3-pointers. While captaining the squad during his senior season, he led Oklahoma Wesleyan to a 26-8 record, marking the best season ever for the team. Ultimately, the team made its first appearance in the NAIA National Tournament where it advanced to the Sweet 16 Round. For his efforts, he was a two-time All-Midlands Conference selection, and he was named Oklahoma Wesleyan’s Male Athlete of the Year in 2008.
Additionally, Johnson has been active in volunteer and ministry work with both the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Athletes in Action.
Johnson replaces Brandon Rinta, who he was an assistant for at LC for four seasons. Rinta was hired as head basketball coach at his alma mater Central Washington University in April.