Skip to main content

Wisconsin football assistant coach profiles: running backs coach Al Johnson

An overview of Wisconsin assistant coach Al Johnson, who enters his first season as the running backs coach for the Badgers.
  • Author:
  • Publish date:

The Wisconsin Badgers football coaching staff underwent an uncharacteristically high amount of change since the team beat Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl on December 30.

With several new coaches on the staff, and multiple retained coaches shifting responsibilities, All Badgers will spend the next week providing an overview of each position coach on head coach Paul Chryst's coaching staff.

Previously covered position coaches:

Returning to the offensive side of the ball, next up in our assistant coach previews is running backs coach Al Johnson. 

Wisconsin running backs coach Al Johnson speaking to his players during spring practice (Credit: Tom Lynn/UW Athletics)

Wisconsin running backs coach Al Johnson speaking with his position group during spring practice. 

Name: Al Johnson

Role: Running backs coach

Hometown: Brussels, Wisconsin

High School: South Door High School, in Wisconsin

Alma mater: University of Wisconsin

Years at Wisconsin: 2022 will mark Johnson's first season as the running backs coach for the Badgers. He was a graduate assistant at Wisconsin for two seasons under Paul Chryst previously, primarily working with the offensive line. 

Playing career: Al Johnson was a three-year starter at center for the Wisconsin Badgers from 2000 to 2002 under Barry Alvarez. Johnson was a team captain as a senior and was a second-team All-Big Ten selection in 2002. After finishing the season as a finalist for the Remington Award, given annually to the top center in college football, Johnson was picked by the Dallas Cowboys in the second round of the 2003 NFL Draft. 

Johnson would go on play in the NFL for seven seasons, starting 45 games, and playing for four teams. He had to overcome several injuries during his NFL career, but the majority of his playing time came with the Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals.

Al Johnson snapping the ball to Matt Leinart with the Arizona Cardinals (Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Al Johnson snapping the ball to Matt Leinart with the Arizona Cardinals during the 2007 season. 

Scroll to Continue

Read More

Previous coaching experience: Al Johnson has quickly risen through the coaching ranks. He began his coaching career back at Southern Door High School but accepted a role at Saint Norbert College (DIII) as the offensive coordinator in 2014. After a brief time at the private school, located in De Pere (Wis.), Johnson returned to Wisconsin as a graduate assistant, where he worked closely with Joe Rudolph and the offensive line. Some notable players Johnson had a hand in developing include future NFL players such as Ryan Ramczyk, Michael Dieter, Beau Benzschawel, and Tyler Biadasz.

Following his time as a graduate assistant, Johnson took a job as the head coach at East Central University, a small public university in Oklahoma that plays at the DII level. After four years as head coach, Johnson accepted an offer from Paul Chryst to return as running backs coach earlier this year, taking over for the late Gary Brown.

As a recruiter: One area that Johnson has excelled at since joining the staff is on recruiting trail. The former offensive lineman was able to land two running backs in the 2023 recruiting class just months after taking over as the position coach. Four-star running back Jaquez Keyes out of Ohio and Nate White from Milwaukee complement one another well, and both players should add a dynamic element to the offense when they get on campus.

Johnson has also been actively helping recruit players at other positions around the country, but his primary role will be identifying and signing running backs. With both Keyes and White already committed, Johnson should be able to focus his attention on some of the future classes. Johnson's abilities as a recruiter will be tested in the 2024 and 2025 classes, as the Badgers have a chance at landing a pair of supreme talents in Corey Smith out of Catholic Memorial High School in Waukesha and Tory Blaylock in the 2025 cycle. The Badgers have an early advantage given proximity to home for Smith, and family ties with Blaylock, so it will be interesting to see if Johnson can carry over his great start into the future classes.

Coaching trends: Only a few months into the job, and considering Wisconsin down several tailbacks unable to practice as they recover from injuries, there is not much to go off of yet, in terms of evaluating Johnson as a running backs coach.

He inherits a tremendous situation with sophomore Braelon Allen and plenty of experienced depth heading into 2022, though. Allen worked on receiving the football out of the backfield more in the spring, and I think that Al Johnson's background on the offensive line should help the running backs be more aware of what the offensive line is attempting to do, and potentially develop in their ability to read blocks. Johnson is a very personable individual, and overall, I think that Wisconsin's running back room is in good hands.

Three miscellaneous facts:

  • His cousin, Ben Johnson, starred along the offensive line with him and was also drafted in the 2003 NFL Draft.
  • In addition to holding the title of head coach, Johnson also served as the athletic director at East Central University in 2021. 
  • Paul Chryst had this to say about hiring Al Johnson to his staff earlier this year in a press release put out by the university:

“I’m really excited to be able to bring Al back. 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.

Related links:

You can keep up to date on everything at All Badgers by liking + following our Facebook page and Twitter account:

Facebook - @AllBadgersSI
Twitter - @SI_AllBadgers

You can also follow Site Publisher Matt Belz at @savedbythebelz on Twitter.