John L. Johnson, a former UCLA football teammate of Jackie Robinson who went on to found the Cal State Dominguez Hills athletics department and serve as its golf coach for 45 years, died in his sleep Saturday. He was 96.
Known as the original “Dr. J” after having obtained a doctorate in education and administration from UCLA, Johnson played fullback and linebacker for a Bruins team that won its first 10 games in 1946 before losing to Illinois in the Rose Bowl. He later scored two touchdowns and was named most valuable player of the Hula Bowl, the postseason all-star game for collegiate seniors.
Johnson’s stardom came after serving as an airship pilot in the South Atlantic during World War II. His initial experiences as a member of the UCLA football team alongside Robinson in 1940 were far more humbling.
“I scrimmaged against him every day,” Johnson told The Times in 2009, “and I haven’t tackled him yet. He was a great running back, unbelievable.”
Johnson returned to UCLA in 1949 as an assistant coach, primarily working with the defensive backs, and served under coach Red Sanders in 1954 when the Bruins won the only national championship in the program’s history.
Johnson became the first athletic director and golf coach at Cal State Dominguez Hills in 1968, coaching four All-Americans before his retirement in 2013. He also served as an NFL scout from 1965 to 1990.
“John’s life and career are laden with superlatives, ranging from his fantastic career as a football student-athlete at UCLA, to his successful coaching career at both UCLA and California State University, Dominguez Hills,” UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, who also held the same post at Dominguez Hills, said in a statement. “He also served as a role model for me as I cut my teeth as a young college athletic administrator back in the early 1980s.”
Memorial services are pending.
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