By Bob Asmussen
Mark Johnson, the top wrestling coach in Illinois history, announced his retirement Monday. “I would like to thank Ron Guenther and the entire athletic department for giving me the great opportunity to fulfill my dream of leading the Fighting Illini,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better athletic director than Ron. I want to thank him for how he treated my program and me over my 17 years here. I really enjoyed the relationships with my athletes and staff, and I think this program is in great shape for the future.”
Johnson, who met with his team Monday afternoon to deliver the news, will hold a press conference early Tuesday afternoon.
During his 17-year career, Johnson led the Illini to more wins and
produced more NCAA champions, NCAA qualifiers and All-Americans than any coach in school history. His teams were 203-44-3 in duals.
The team is coming off an eighth-place finish at the recent NCAA meet.
That’s the 10th time Johnson’s team finished in the Top 10.
A two-time NCAA runner-up at Michigan, Johnson earned a spot on the 1980
U.S. Olympic team. But he didn’t get to compete in the Moscow Games
because of the U.S. boycott. To read about Johnson's Olympic experience, click here.
Shortly after the Olympics, Johnson went to work as an Iowa assistant for
legendary Dan Gable. During Johnson’s time in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes won four national championships.
Johnson’s first head coaching job was at Oregon State, where he earned
Pac-10 coach of the year honors in 1992 after leading the Beavers to the
The Rock Island native took over at Illinois in 1992 and quickly started
to rebuild the program. During his tenure, Johnson coached seven wrestlers
— Steve Marianetti, Ernest Benion Jr., Eric Siebert, Carl Perry, John
Lockhart, Adam Tirapelle and Matt Lackey — to NCAA titles. Ten other Illini reached the NCAA finals, including two-time runner-up Mike Poeta. Like Johnson, Poeta plans to pursue a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.
In 2005, Johnson’s Illini ended a 53-year drought by winning the Big Ten
title. Johnson earned his second Big Ten coach of the year honor that
The national search for Johnson’s replacement will begin immediately. Johnson’s salary for the 2008-09 season was $112,890.
The new coach will inherit a strong returning team that includes All-American Jimmy Kennedy. Six of the nine wrestlers who qualified for the NCAA meet will be back next season. In November, Johnson continued his strong recruiting by adding Sam White of Massillon, Ohio, and Tony Dallago of Harrisburg, Pa.