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Although it was just over eight years ago that Jess Johnson earned her degree from Franklin College, it feels like she’s accumulated half her coaching experience in that stretch.
Now, he’s bringing him back to his alma mater.
Late last week, Johnson was named the Grizzlies’ new women’s basketball coach. She succeeds Dana Haggenjos, who posted a 94-95 record in eight seasons at the helm.
Johnson spent last winter as a senior assistant at Marian University, helping guide the Knights to a 30-5 record and a trip to the NAIA national quarterfinals. Though it’s his only season on a college bench to date, Johnson feels he’s gotten plenty of use out of it.
“Behind the scenes, Coach Brooks allowed me to do a lot … in terms of running a program, so I feel like that was very beneficial,” he said. “I just learned how to operate a budget, we were giving out scholarships last year, and running camps, recruiting and all that kind of stuff. It allowed me to have an important role in it.”
Prior to her time with the Knights, Johnson had also established herself as a winner in the state’s high school basketball season. She worked as an assistant at Greenwood and Center Grove and then began her head coaching career at Clinton Prairie, where she posted a 51-21 record in three seasons (2015-18), and then spent two years at Martinsville, going 37-11 there. and winning a Mid-State Conference championship in 2019.
Johnson spent the 2020-21 season at Perry Meridian, his old high school, and led the Falcons to a spot in the sectional championship game.
Those who have trained against Johnson in recent years are confident that he will succeed in his new role.
“She’s an entrepreneur,” said Greenwood’s trainer, Justin Bennett. “I spoke to her this summer and she told me that she was ready to… lead a university program, and if there is anyone who can do it, it is her.”
Johnson hopes those high school circuit connections will benefit her at Franklin College, not only in the recruiting process going forward, but also in establishing a relationship with this year’s team. None of the 21 players currently on the roster have committed to playing for Johnson, so he considers building those relationships his first priority.
“There are a number of girls on the roster that I know or have trained against in the past, so that helps a little bit, and just being in the recruiting scene last year, I know some of the girls,” she said. “The most important thing for us is going to be creating these new relationships and seeing how we can all work together to win, honestly.”
That shouldn’t be a problem for Johnson, according to Bennett.
“I don’t want to say ‘player coach,’ but there is something about her that draws kids in and wants to play for her,” she said. “I think she’s going to get a lot of kids that want to come play for her, because she knows what she’s doing, she puts players in the best position to be successful, and her energy fuels the rest of those kids to give them everything they have to she. So I think she’s going to do very well in Franklin.”
Johnson doesn’t expect to make too many overt changes to the floor layout, though he says he’ll look to pick up the pace a bit more and maybe make some adjustments on the defensive end.
She hopes the end result will be a run of success for the Grizzlies within the HCAC and eventually beyond. Johnson and her family are eager to settle here for the long term.
“Getting to be a college head coach,” she said, “especially in a city and a school that we love and have connections with, this is where I want to settle down and hopefully build something for the future.”