Sydney Johnson joins the Air Force men’s basketball program for the 2020-21 season as the associate head coach, according to a release from Head Coach Joe Scott. Johnson was most recently at Fairfield University, where he was the head coach for eight seasons from 2011-2019.
Prior to his eight years at Fairfield, Johnson was the head coach at his alma mater of Princeton for four seasons from 2007-11. Johnson’s ties to Scott take him back to his playing days from 1993-97 when Scott was as an assistant coach with the Tigers during those seasons.
“Sydney has been a successful head coach and assistant at multiple institutions with NCAA tournament experience. I have known him since he played at Princeton and we have maintained our relationship through his professional career as a player and now a coach. His competitiveness, passion and experience will be a tremendous benefit for our players on and off the court as we re-energize Air Force basketball.”
“It is an honor for me to join Coach Scott at Air Force and to assist him in re-energizing a program that he has already had an historic impact on,” Johnson said. “I know firsthand Coach Scott’s unwavering commitment to instilling confidence, toughness and cohesion in his players and I look forward to supporting him in building those same core values in our Falcons. I am thrilled to represent the Academy and grateful for the opportunity to work with some of the finest student-athletes in the country.”
During his one season off college coaching, Johnson remained active in the coaching ranks, serving on head coach Mike Fratello’s coaching staff for the 2020 Team USA AmeriCup Qualifying team. Johnson was the lone coach on Fratello’s staff entrusted with both scouting and player development. In addition to his Team USA AmeriCup duties, Johnson was a television analyst in 2019-20 for ESPN and NBC Sports, providing expert analysis for national TV broadcasts for the Ivy League, Atlantic 10, as well as the MEAC and SWAC, the two preeminent historically black conferences in Division I.
His tenure at Fairfield was one of the most successful stretches in program history. Johnson set several milestones during his eight years at Fairfield, including the most winning seasons in school history (tied with five), most postseason appearances in school history (four) and most 19-plus win seasons of any coach in school history (three). In addition, Johnson’s teams were strong in conference play, as he became the first coach in 40 years to garner four winning seasons in MAAC play. In Johnson’s eight years at the helm, no MAAC program had more winning seasons than Sydney Johnson except for one (Iona Gaels). Johnson’s historical achievements also include the first win versus an ACC team in school history (12/21/16 vs Boston College) and a semifinal run at the 2012 CIT Tournament.
Fairfield reached the MAAC tournament championship game in 2017-18, the second time under Johnson that the Stags played for the conference title. The Stags finished strong once again under his guidance, posting seven straight victories that included the last four regular-season games and the first three MAAC tournament contests.
The 2015-16 campaign included a 12 win improvement from the prior season and saw the Stags achieve the fourth best turnaround in wins in Division I basketball. In both 2012-13 and 2015-16, the Stags finished with 19 wins in each season and garnered berths to the CIT Postseason Tournament. The 2011-12 Stags reached the MAAC Tournament Championship game, the CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT) semifinals, and defeated Arizona State, Old Dominion, and Iona, among others, en route to a 22-win season.
Fairfield posted 41 victories under Johnson in his first two seasons and 116 wins overall. His 41 wins through his first two campaigns ties him for the most by any Fairfield men’s basketball coach through his first two seasons and he is just one of four Fairfield coaches to surpass the 100 win mark. The Stags three postseason wins in 2012-13 were the most by any team in school history. Fairfield also led the MAAC in scoring defense at 61.1 ppg in his inaugural season.
During his time at Fairfield, Johnson had nine student-athletes sign professional contracts, highlighted by Tyler Nelson, who was chosen as the No. 3 overall draft pick in the 2018 NBA Developmental League.
In all 12 of his seasons as a head coach, Sydney Johnson has placed a player on the league’s all-conference team or had a player earn an all-conference individual award.
Johnson recruited and coached some of the most accomplished student-athletes in history at two separate institutions. While at Princeton from 2008 to 2011, Johnson recruited Ian Hummer and Doug Davis. Hummer (1,625 points) and Davis (1,550) finished their careers as second and third respectively on the all-time scoring list (behind Hall of Famer Bill Bradley).
Beginning at Fairfield in 2011-12, Johnson coached Derek Needham for two seasons on Needham’s way to finishing as the school’s third all-time leading scorer (1,875 points). Following Needham, Marcus Gilbert and Tyler Nelson emerged as Johnson’s most recent historically great players. Gilbert ranks as the fourth most prolific scorer in school history (1,661 points); Nelson broke the school scoring record with 2,172 points and the career three-point field goal mark with 315.
All told, Johnson has recruited and coached the #2 and #3 scorers at Princeton and the #1, #3, and #4 scorer at Fairfield.
At Princeton, Johnson led the Tigers to the 2010-11 Ivy League championship and an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. Princeton took the University of Kentucky to the final seconds before dropping a 59-57 decision in the NCAA tournament second round. It marked the second straight season that the program advanced to postseason play, playing in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) in 2009-10. During his tenure, Johnson owned a 66-53 record as the Tigers’ head coach.
Johnson helped turn around the Princeton program in his four-year stay as the Tigers posted a 6-23 overall record and a 3-11 Ivy League slate in his first season. After improving to 13-14 overall and 8-6 in Ivy play in 2008-09, Johnson led Princeton to its first 20-win season since 2004 when the team finished the year with a 22-9 overall record. That year, the Tigers tied the second-highest win total in Princeton history with a 25-7 mark. Johnson led Princeton’s turnaround with an intense focus on recruiting that led to remarkable results. Both Ian Hummer and Doug Davis, the second and third all-time leading scorers respectively in Princeton history, were recruited by and played for Johnson during his time at the helm.
Under his guidance, Princeton became one of the top defensive teams in the country. The Tigers led the nation in scoring defense during the 2009-10 season, allowing fewer total points (1652) and fewest points per game (53.3) than any other Division I team that year.
Johnson was named the Ivy League Coach of the Year by Collegeinsider.com following the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons.
Before taking over the Princeton program, Johnson was an assistant coach at Georgetown University under John Thompson III. He helped the Hoyas advance to the program’s first Final Four in 22 years. Georgetown owned a 30-7 record that season, winning the Big East regular season and tournament titles. Georgetown advanced to the postseason in all three of his years as an assistant coach which included two NCAA tournaments and one NIT berth. The 2007 Georgetown team was crowned the Big East Champions and included Jeff Green, who was the 5th overall pick by the Boston Celtics in the 2007 NBA Draft.
Johnson also experienced postseason play as a student-athlete, leading the Tigers to the NCAA tournament during the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons. In the 1996 tournament, Princeton upset defending national champion UCLA to advance to the second round.
As a student-athlete, Johnson earned the 1997 Ivy League Player of the Year as well as an All-Ivy League first team honors in 1995-96 and 1996-97. He is the only three-time captain in Princeton men’s basketball history. He earned an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship in 1997, but decided to continue his basketball career overseas.
He was a starter for Gorizia Pallacanestro in Italy and helped the team capture the Italian Second Division championship. The following season, he was part of another championship team as Reggio Calabria won the league title. Johnson moved on to play five more years in the top divisions of Italy and Spain including a two year stint in the Spanish league with Girona Basket and an Italian championship with Siena.
Johnson and his wife, Jennifer, have three children – Jalen, Julia and Jemma.
Sydney Johnson Coaching Career
Georgetown – Assistant Coach – 2004-07 – 3 years
Princeton – Head Coach – 2007-11 – 4 years
Fairfield – Head Coach – 2011-2019 – 8 years
USA Basketball (2020 Team USA AmeriCup Team) – Scouting & Development Coach – 2019-20 – 1 year
Johson’s Head Coaching Year-By-Year Record
Season – School – Record – Conf/Finish – Postseason
2007-08 – Princeton – 6-23 – 3-1 Ivy/T-6th
2008-09 – Princeton – 13-14 – 10-4 Ivy/T-2nd
2009-10 – Princeton – 22-9 – 2-12 Ivy/2nd – CBI Semifinal
2010-11 – Princeton – 25-7 – 12-2 Ivy/T-1st – NCAA Round of 64
Record at Princeton – 66-53
2011-12 – Fairfield – 22-15 – 12-6 MAAC/T-3rd – CIT Semifinal
2012-13 – Fairfield – 19-16 – 9-9 MAAC/T-6th
2013-14 – Fairfield – 7-25 – 4-16 MAAC/10th
2014-15 – Fairfield – 7-24 – 5-15 MAAC/T-10th
2015-16 – Fairfield – 19-14 – 12-8 MAAC/T-4th – CIT 1st Round
2016-17 – Fairfield – 16-15 – 11-9 MAAC/5th – CIT 1st Round
2017-18 – Fairfield – 17-16 – 11-9 MAAC/5th – CIT 1st Round
2018-19 – Fairfield – 9-22 – 6-12 MAAC/T-9th
Record at Fairfield – 116-147
Career Record – 182-200