R.C. Johnson came aboard in February of 1996 and immediately set forth in bringing U of M Tiger athletics into national prominence. Over the last 16 years, the dynamic administrator has built Tiger Athletics into a nationally-recognized program that has participated in five bowl games and has competed in 15 post-season men's basketball tournaments during his tenure. Under Johnson's direction, donations to the department have risen steadily and more than $7 million has been raised each of the last three straight years.
Also in the last nine years under Johnson, the Tigers have captured 19 total C-USA titles in men's basketball, men's soccer, women's soccer, women's golf and men's track. The men's basketball program has garnered five regular-season titles (2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012) and five C-USA Tournament championships (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012), while the women's soccer program claimed consecutive league championships in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. Men's soccer won the C-USA tournament in 2004, while the men's outdoor track and women's golf programs claimed league tournament titles in 2007.
While he has already spearheaded two major capital campaigns that raised over $21 million in private funds for athletic department projects, Johnson announced in June 2011, a major capital campaign to directly benefit the Tiger Football program. The Vision for Victory, as it is billed, was developed to raise $10 million for a 90,000-square foot indoor practice facility, design upgrades for the current facility and the resurfacing of the current grass fields.
Johnson's previous capital campaigns included a $12.9 million effort that benefitted nearly every area of the Tiger Athletic Department. Included in the project was an addition to the Athletic Office Building, which includes the Anfernee Hardaway Hall of Fame, a weight room and turf practice field for Tiger Football, FedExPark for the baseball team that was unveiled for the 2010 season, the Frank L. Flautt golf practice facility, a renovation of the Finch Center men's basketball practice facility as well as a renovation of the women's basketball and volleyball locker rooms.
Johnson's first capital campaign was previously the largest fund-raising effort in the history of Memphis athletics. The $8 million campaign included a new 8,000-square-foot football and basketball office complex addition, the Larry O. Finch basketball practice facility, which is still considered one of the best in the country, and a complete renovation of the Murphy Athletic Complex.
During his tenure, Johnson has created the Athletic Director's Honor Roll, the Tiger Scholarship Fund Board of Directors and the Athletic Director's Ambassador's Club. The Ambassador's Club, which started with two members in 1997, has reached an all-time high of 42 members under Johnson. A significant revenue source for Tiger Athletics, members of the Ambassador's Club pledge to commit $500,000.
In June 2007, Johnson inked a lucrative long-term contract extension with Learfield Sports, which enabled Tiger Sports Properties to retain the multimedia rights for Memphis Athletics through 2017. The Tigers signed on with Learfield Sports in 2001, granting the partner radio and television rights, athletic venue signage, game day promotions and sponsorships, as well as the official athletic department website. Terms for the contract call for the Tigers to receive a financial guarantee each year of the agreement and to participate in annual revenue sharing. In 2008, the U of M entered into a five-year, $11.3 million partnership with Nike to provide shoes, apparel and equipment for all Tiger athletic teams.
Before taking over Tiger Athletics, Johnson was responsible for directing a Temple program with more than 500 student-athletes in 20 men's and women's intercollegiate sports, including nationally-visible programs in men's basketball and football. He was named Temple's director of athletics on May 9, 1994, after serving nearly six years as director of athletics at Miami (Ohio) University. He had also previously led the department at Eastern Illinois from 1980-88, and was the associate athletic director at Northern Iowa from 1974-80.
A former football coach himself, Johnson served as an assistant at Mankato State University from 1968-74. He coached at Youngstown State University during the 1967 and 1968 seasons after serving as an assistant coach at Northern Iowa (1965-67) and the University of Iowa (1963-65).
An Ottawa, Ill., native, Johnson holds his bachelor's degree in sociology from the University of Iowa in 1965 and earned his master's degree in physical education from the University of Northern Iowa in 1967. Johnson is a member of the National Association of College Directors of Athletics and serves on the NCAA Leadership Council. A veteran administrator in Conference USA, Johnson sits on both the C-USA Bowl Committee and the league's Finance Committee. In addition, he is a member of the University of Memphis President's Council. He was appointed by Governor Haslam to the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame Board.
Johnson and his wife, Melba, have three children: Jeff, P.A. and Michelle; five grandchildren and two great grandsons.