Johnson, who arrived at Illinois State in 2000,
is coming off his first-ever trip to the NCAA Division I Football
Championship and the third for the Redbird football program. The
2006 Redbirds finished with a 9-4 record, which is the
second-highest win total in school history, and were ranked in the
top 10 nationally every week during the regular season. Johnson, a
finalist for the 2006 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award, owns a
62-51 (.549) career coaching record in nine seasons, including a
41-39 (.513) mark at Illinois State. Of his nine seasons, seven have
resulted in six wins or more, which would have resulted in a bowl
bid at the I-A level.
"Sheahon and I have been on the same page
for quite some time, and I'm just glad to have this deal completed
so we can continue to move forward," Johnson said. "I'm extremely
excited about this football program at Illinois State. I feel very
blessed and fortunate to be able to continue to build a program
here. I'm pleased with the direction we are going, the momentum that
we are building and where this program, athletics department and
institution are heading in the future.
"We are on the front end of some exciting and fun times in the
history of ISU athletics. It has been my experience that when you
have an administration in place with all the positive energy and
support from President (Al) Bowman, and all the vision and
leadership from Dr. Zenger, it can't help but be an exciting time,
not only for football, but for our entire athletics department."
The Redbirds did more than advance to the quarterfinals of the
NCAA playoffs in 2006. Under Johnson the Redbirds have claimed an
unprecedented five straight Gateway Football Conference Defensive
Player of the Year awards, including a record three-straight by
Boomer Grigsby, while leading the league in passing offense the last
three seasons. In addition, the team carried a 2.68 grade-point
average during the spring 2006 semester, which was the highest team
grade-point average since 1993, and placed 35 players on the AFNI
Athletics Honor Roll. The Redbirds also contributed 1,595 community
service hours during the 2005-06 academic year.
Zenger has enjoyed the working relationship with Johnson over the
last two seasons.
"It has been a true pleasure to work with coach Johnson and his
staff for two seasons," Zenger said. "Coach Johnson exemplifies the
teamwork and leadership that we are asking of all of our coaches at
Illinois State University. In simple terms, he has asked for little
and given much in my time here at Illinois State.
"If someone were to put a blank resume in front of me with the
list of accomplishments that coach Johnson has been able to
accumulate, culminating in a second-round playoff birth, top-eight
finish, player awards, statistical records, and then tell me that
the same coach was able to motivate a team to achieve academically
and in community service, I would search throughout the country for
such an individual. It just so happens we have him right here in our
Having personal experience with a shift in power on the football
field, Zenger sees similarities between his time at Kansas State and
the current rise at Illinois State.
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"Having coached college football and been an athletics
administrator for close to 20 years now, I have had the good fortune
to work with men like Bill Snyder and Bob Stoops. I can tell you
that what coach Johnson and his staff are building here at Illinois
State reminds me of the momentum that we had at Kansas State in the
late '80s and early '90s, as we built what many now call the
‘greatest turnaround in college football history,'" Zenger said. "I
believe that under Denver Johnson's leadership we have an
opportunity to add Illinois State to the list of football success
stories such as Kansas State, Marshall and Boise State.
"Coach Johnson, his staff and his team took the first step in
building the kind of football tradition that Illinois State
University so richly deserves by accomplishing so much on and off
the field these past two seasons. This contract extension is the
second step, and significant facility upgrades will be the third
step as Illinois State commits to becoming a dominant force in the
world of college football."
During Johnson's tenure, the Redbirds have earned more accolades
at the conference and national levels and broken more records than
in any other period in the 111-year history of Illinois State
football. Since 2000, Johnson has coached 52 all-Gateway selections
and 28 all-Americans, including Pierre Rembert and Cameron Siskowic
this season. Both Grigsby and Brent Hawkins were awarded honors as
national defensive player of the year during their careers.
Also during this era, Illinois State has become an active player
in the national award race. Never before has a Redbird player been a
finalist for either the Walter Payton (offense) or Buck Buchanan
(defense) awards. ISU has had a finalist for the Buchanan during
each of the last five seasons, while having a Redbird on the final
ballot for the last two Payton votes.
There have also been 21 All-Gateway Newcomer selections and 23
players named to the league's all-academic team. Laurént Robinson
also claimed the 2005 Gateway Offensive Player of the Year honor,
while Tom Nelson received the 2005 GFC's Freshman of the Year Award.
In the last three seasons, Johnson has had five players participate
in senior all-star games, including Hawkins, who won the defensive
MVP honor, and Ryan Hoffman as the special teams MVP, both at the
2006 Hula Bowl.
In addition to winning honors and national accolades, Johnson's
players have been rewriting the Redbird record book. Since 2000, the
Redbirds have set the standards for rushing, passing, receiving,
scoring, kicking, punting and defense. There was also a record
season at the box office. ISU drew a pair of capacity crowds in 2006
for the first time since 1970, while ranking No. 17 nationally in
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[News release provided by Todd Kober,
assistant athletics director, media relations,