By Jeremy Gonzalez
Assistant Sports Editor
Editor’s note: In honor of the 50th year of Toros athletics, the Bulletin will commemorate the greatest achievements, moments, and athletes in sports history at CSUDH through this column, where we will recount one notable sports achievement, athlete, or moment in every issue.
In its 50 years of athletics, our teams have claimed championships, our athletes have earned all-conference or All-American awards, and many friendships/memories have been made. But none of this would be possible if not for the efforts of one man: John “Dr. J” Johnson.
When he arrived at CSUDH back in 1968, Johnson founded the athletics department and formed the first intercollegiate team, the men’s golf team. Johnson was also the university’s first athletic director. He is the man who saw the sports program grow from the ground up; literally.
“There were no facilities and there was no campus,” Johnson said in an interview with The Bulletin in September, 2010. “I ran the physical education program out of Victoria County Park.”
Johnson saw the program flourish into what it is today.
“This school has come a long way; we didn’t have the facilities we have today,” said Johnson. “As the original athletic director, I’ve seen great things happen to this place. I knew coaching and teaching young people was my passion, so that’s the path I took.”
Johnson coached the men’s golf team for 45 years and even saved the team. There was a point when the golf team almost got phased out, but Johnson kept the program afloat by using his own assets and equipment to sustain a team he thought was important to have.
But before he put his permanent stamp on CSUDH athletics, Johnson had enjoyed a stellar life in athletics. He played football alongside Jackie Robinson at UCLA and as a fullback and linebacker helped the Bruins win their first 10 games in 1946 and advance to the 1947 Rose Bowl.
After his college playing career, Johnson earned two bachelor’s degrees, a master and a doctorate in education and administration at UCLA, was a coach for UCLA for 14 years, and worked as an NFL scout for 25 years, including with the Vince Lombardi-led Green Bay Packers..
“Dr. J was the first true Toro,” said Joe Flanagan, former men’s soccer coach. “He brought his great mind and experience to Dominguez Hills and put our athletic department on the map. For me as a player and coach at CSUDH, he was always a mentor and a great example of who we all wanted to be as a coach.”
Johnson passed away in October 2017 at age 96. He leaves a lasting legacy that will be honored and remembered.
Current CSUDH men’s golf head coach Ron Eastman said Johnson was one of those people who truly lived life to the fullest every day.
“He had seen and done things that most people can dream of,” said Eastman. “As a coach and teacher, he also encouraged his students to live a life of dreams, and that everything was possible if you just believed and did it.”
And let’s go back to something you may have overlooked: Dr. J. played alongside one of the most iconic people to ever play sports: the No. 42 that broke the race barrier in professional baseball. What did he remember of Jackie Robinson?
“I scrimmaged against him every day,” Johnson told The Los Angeles Times in 2009, “and I haven’t tackled him yet. He was a great running back, unbelievable.”