Al Johnson named Badgers running backs coach

New coach played at Wisconsin and was graduate assistant there

The Wisconsin football program has added a familiar face to its coaching staff with the addition of Al Johnson as running backs coach.

Head coach Paul Chryst announced the move March 17.

The move is a homecoming for Johnson, who has contributed to highly-successful Badgers teams both as a player and coach. He returns to his alma mater after serving as head coach at East Central University since 2018. He also has served as the NCAA Division II school’s interim athletics director since July 2021.

“I’m really excited to be able to bring Al back,” Chryst said. “He’s a great coach and a tremendous person. His experience as a head coach and in all facets of the offense will help us immensely. Al truly cares about the players and helping them in their development and he is a great addition to our staff.

“My family and I are thrilled to be back at Wisconsin,” Johnson said. “I’m incredibly thankful to coach Chryst for this opportunity. It’s truly an honor. You can’t say no to the Wisconsin Badgers.

“The absolute best part of coaching is helping to develop players on and off the field. I wouldn’t be where I am today or have accomplished the things I have in my career without the people at Wisconsin who set me up for success. My goal is do the same thing for our players. When you add to that the opportunity to help our guys uphold the tradition we have at running back, this is a fantastic opportunity. I’m truly grateful.”

Johnson takes over a role previously held by Gary Brown, who has stepped away from coaching and assumed an off-field role with the program.

As head coach, Johnson led East Central to a 7-4 record in 2021 after guiding the Tigers to a 2-0 mark in a 2020 season that was cut short due to restrictions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. That shortened campaign included a signature road win over No. 25-ranked Tarleton State of the Football Championship Subdivision.

Johnson was part of a pair of Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl teams as a player and starred at center for the Badgers for three seasons from 2000 to 2002. He twice earned all-conference honorable mention before being named second-team All-Big Ten as a senior. He also was named a finalist for the Rimington Trophy — presented to the nation’s top center — and earned third-team All-America laurels as a senior in 2002.

He returned to Madison as a graduate assistant for the 2016 and 2017 seasons, working directly with UW’s offensive line. He helped the Badgers post a 24-4 record and score back-to-back New Year’s Six wins — in the Cotton and Orange bowls — over his two years on staff.

During that time, Johnson assisted in the development of five offensive linemen who would go on to earn first-team All-America honors and play in the NFL. That includes 2016 consensus first-team All-American and first-round NFL draft pick Ryan Ramczyk at tackle and 2019 unanimous first-team All-American and Rimington Trophy winner Tyler Biadasz at center. The list also features 2018 Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year Michael Deiter, two-time first-team All-America selection Beau Benzschawel, and David Edwards, who won a Super Bowl ring as a starter for the Los Angeles Rams this past season.

Johnson’s coaching career, which included experience at the high school level and as offensive coordinator at NCAA Division III St. Norbert College prior to his time as a grad assistant at UW, came on the heels of a seven-year playing career in the NFL. Selected by Dallas in the second round of the 2003 NFL Draft, Johnson went on to play four seasons at center for the Cowboys and helped the franchise to a pair of playoff appearances. He started at center for Arizona in 2007 and finished his career with stops in Miami and New England.

Johnson gives the Badgers six coaches with NFL playing experience, joining Bobby Engram, Jim Leonhard, Ross Kolodziej, Hank Poteat and Alvis Whitted. Engram and Whitted also have coached in the NFL, as have Chryst and assistants Bobby April III, Bob Bostad and Bill Sheridan.

A native of Brussels, Johnson attended Southern Door High School. He and his wife, Brandy, are parents of a son, Cyrus, and three daughters, Skyler, Makayla and Chloe.