Friday, June 17, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Sherwood native now coaching Razorbacks

Special to The Leader

FAYETTEVILLE – Soft-spoken Wes Johnson spoke with and about power Thursday in his first address as the Arkansas Razorbacks’ pitching coach.

The Dallas Baptist University pitching coach from 2011-2015 and the 2016 pitching coach for SEC champion Mississippi State, Johnson was announced Wednesday by Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn. He replaces Dave Jorn, who in May announced his retirement after 14 years of coaching Van Horn’s Arkansas pitchers.

Johnson’s first coaching position was as assistant at his high school alma mater Sylvan Hills. He then head coached nearby private school Abundant Life to a state championship appearance before embarking on a college career.

Asked his pitching philosophy in Thursday’s joint press conference with Van Horn, Johnson said, “My philosophy on pitching is real simple. I like power. I try to develop it. That’s what I want. I want power fastballs. I want power breaking balls. It’s pretty simple. We want guys bigger, faster, stronger on the mound. That’s what my track record shows and that’s what I have had success doing.”

Van Horn was asked how that fit with his philosophy given Jorn had plenty of powerpitchers but also some relying on slower stuff during their 14 years that included four College World Series teams and one staff leading the country in earned run average.

“Ideally, when you are talking right-handers, we want them all throwing in the 90s unless they do something different like maybe a submariner-slider type of guy,” Van Horn said. “Lefties, if you get lefties throwing in the 90s that’s pretty good. Not many of those guys make it to college. So you have to develop that. If we get a lefty and they are throwing 85 or 87 and a couple of years after that maybe with strength and a philosophy of coaching they bump it up into the 90s, that’s a good thing.

“Bottom line, we want to get good pitchers here and develop them. I feel like if you’ve got kids that are throwing hard, that makes it harder on that hitter because they have got to make decisions a lot earlier.”

Van Horn said he liked what Johnson developed at nationally prominent Dallas Baptist and his lone year at Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs burst from worst to first, a scenario the Razorbacks would like to emulate in 2017 after the 2016 season marked the only losing season (26-29 and 7-23 in the SEC) in Van Horn’s Arkansas tenure.

“I was really impressed with what was going on at Dallas Baptist a few years back,” Van Horn said, noting Jorn has considered retirement the last few years. “His name was getting out there and I knew that I would need to hire a pitching coach down the road that Coach Jorn was going to retire shortly.”

In fact, Van Horn recalled feeling “bummed out” when Johnson left Dallas Baptist for Mississippi State “because I thought that may have been one of the guys I might have really been interested in.”

“Looking back on it he has been through the SEC and gotten to see the league as good as it has ever been,” Van Horn said. “He gained some experience there.”

Johnson didn’t look back, leaving the SEC 2016 champion for the SEC’s in 2016 and not just because the 2015 Razorbacks advanced to the College World Series and were head coached by Van Horn who has taken them to Omaha four times and took Nebraska twice to the CWS.

With Arkansas ties by birth, he’s a native of Sherwood, a graduate of the University of Arkansas-Monticello and a former pitching coach at Southern Arkansas University and the University of Central Arkansas, and married to an Arkansan, Johnson said he’s “coming home” joining the Hogs.

“And obviously you look and who wouldn’t want to come here, right?” Johnson said. “It’s the University of Arkansas, the facilities are phenomenal. You get to work for a guy that, in my mind, is going to be in the Hall of Fame of college coaches. So to me it was a no-brainer.”

Johnson decided quickly as he and Van Horn met Monday following Mississippi State’s elimination from the Super Regional the Bulldogs hosted and by Wednesday Johnson was announced at Arkansas.

Van Horn said when he first started following Johnson at Dallas Baptist that Johnson’s Arkansas heritage hadn’t reached Van Horn’s radar.

“It’s just ironic that he is from Arkansas,” Van Horn said. “That was just a plus.”

Van Horn said Jorn “did an incredible job,” but that he always anticipates “new energy” with the hiring of a new coach and that Johnson brings that and a solid reputation that his players already know.

“They have heard many good things about him, whether it’s in summer ball or playing out in collegiate leagues,” Van Horn said. “Guys that he’s coached - he’s got a good reputation. And obviously that’s one reason we got him because there are a lot of kids that want to pitch for him.”