Derrick Johnson

2011: M.S.S. Sports Management

Derrick Johnson

Derrick Johnson saw a job opening for the athletic director position at Riverside City College in California four times before he finally decided to apply.

Johnson was hesitant because he had never been to Southern California and had lived and worked most of his career on the East Coast.

Finally Johnson, who earned his master’s in sports management from the Academy in 2011, decided to apply. Today, he is serving in his first athletic director role for Riverside City College, traditionally a powerhouse in community college sports.

Previously, he spent the past decade working in various roles at Benedict College in South Carolina, which is a historically black, liberal arts college in Division II. At Benedict, Johnson was responsible for the daily operations and game day planning for 14 sports, as well as media relations, athletic marketing and fundraising and sports publications.

“I thought about the position for a long time and thought, ‘Why am I bypassing it?’” he says in an early morning interview after his daily workout. “This is a great place and has an excellent tradition. I spoke with Benedict College Athletic Director Willie Washington and he said, ‘You have to go. Don’t even think about it.’ I appreciate that support.”

Johnson was a star baseball and football athlete in high school in Trenton, N.J., and in college at the University of South Carolina-Aiken. He was inducted into the New Jersey Athletic Hall of Fame. In addition, the Florida Marlins selected him in the Major League Baseball draft in 1993 and 1994.

He spoke to the Alumni Network about Riveside, his goal in working with community college student-athletes and his mentorship experience during his master’s program at the Academy.

Alumni Network: What do you think of taking over the athletic programs at Riverside City College, which has 17 competitive men’s and women’s teams that have earned more than 40 conference, state and national titles?

Derrick Johnson: This is the kind of place that I can see myself staying for a long time. The college has a great culture and winning tradition. I didn’t know anything about Southern California and had never been here. It’s a totally different culture from South Carolina and the Bible Belt. I love it here. But it was a difficult decision for me to leave Benedict College. My 9-year-old daughter Journey was a deciding factor on how she handled the news. I had to explain to her I would not just be able to drive to Wilmington, N.C., whenever she called me. She had a sad face for a while but when she Googled Riverside and saw that Disneyland was close by, everything was OK.

Alumni Network: How do you feel about working with community college student-athletes?

Derrick Johnson: My goal right now is to mentor our junior college athletes and make sure they get to the next level whatever that may be both athletically and academically. This is one of the nation’s leading junior colleges and that’s a fact, not just me boasting about RCC. It is a great place for learning and a great place for anyone to start their academic career. I am a product of a junior college. I was drafted by the Florida Marlins. But junior college helped me reassess and define who I was professionally. I thought I wanted to be a major Division I baseball player. However, I decided what I really wanted was a good quality of life. That’s what I have now at RCC.

Alumni Network: What impact is earning your Sports Management master’s degree having on your career?

Derrick Johnson: Getting my degree at USAA has been a jump starter. I had a lot of experience but earning the master’s degree from an accredited college has opened up doors for me and really set me apart from other folks. I’ve learned about a lot of other sports education programs and they’re not even comparable. There is just no comparison. Also, the Academy’s mentorship program was invaluable to me. When you get to this level things come up and having gone through a mentorship was the only way I could get the type of experience I needed to handle different situations. If I had not gotten my degree from the Academy, I don’t think I would have even been considered for the Riverside job.