“It continues to be a very difficult time both personally and professionally,” Creighton said. “I’ve never been through this before with a coach and family on our team, and I pray I never do it again. It’s good to be together through the grieving process and I know celebrating your life the June 15 will be another much-needed time with family and friends. Dusted with sadness and pain, there were some flashes of light. The fact that Fred’s children (Amar’e and Khamara) are coming into eastern Michigan this fall is definitely a bright light.
“The college football community has been another beacon of light with the love and support they have shown,” Creighton continued. “Thinking about the need to find a new coach felt wrong, uncomfortable and seemingly impossible. Thankfully, through the natural journey of the coaches who knew Fred was reaching out to offer his condolences, we found the right person. We thought that it would be ideal if we could find a candidate who knew Fred and had significant and relevant coaching experience as well as the maturity, sensitivity and emotional intelligence to be able to step into this very complicated situation. Coach Johnson is that person and he really wants to be here. He will join us in paying tribute to Coach Reed, as we give everything we have to make this program and this team the best it can be on and off the pitch.”
Johnson has recorded stints at nearly every level of football, spending nine seasons in the Big Ten Conference (Ohio State/Purdue), six in the Mid-American Conference (Miami), five in Division III (Wittenberg/Milliken), four in the NFL (Cleveland/Las Vegas), two in the Southeastern Conference (Arkansas), one in the American Athletic Conference (Temple) and another in a Football Bowl Independent Subdivision (Notre Dame).
Most recently, Johnson completed a three-year pro stint with the Las Vegas Raiders. Hired by Jon Gruden in 2019, he was their assistant defensive backs coach. In 2021, he was moved to become an attacking assistant working with running backs.
He joined Urban Meyer’s staff at Ohio State University for the 2018 campaign after a stopover in Philadelphia as Temple’s defensive coordinator/safety coach.
In 2017, Johnson led a defense that was first in the United States and 11th in the NCAA with 39 sacks at Temple. The unit also finished second in the conference and 11th nationally in tackles for loss with 102. Its two starting safeties, senior Sean Chandler and junior Delvon Randall, earned all-conference honors. They made seven of the Owls’ 11 interceptions and were second and third on the team in tackles.
The Cincinnati, Ohio native spent three years (2014-16) as Purdue’s defensive backs coach. He mentored a talented group that saw a defensive back finish first on the team in tackles in his first two seasons – safeties Landon Feichter with 105 in 2014 and Leroy Clark with 88 in 2015. Overall, the Boilermakers intercepted 10 or more passes each. year of 2014-16.
Johnson coached at Arkansas for two years, first as the linebackers coach of the Razorbacks in 2012 and then as the defensive backs coach in 2013. He was also the interim head coach of the ‘Arkansas in the spring of 2012.
Before crossing state lines, the Ohio native coached 13 years in his home state. From 2007 to 2011, he served as defensive backs coach at Ohio State under former head coach Jim Tressel. During Johnson’s tenure, Ohio State landed nine DB All-Academic Big Tens, four first-team DB All-Big Tens, and two consensus DB All-Americans in Malcolm Jenkins (2008) and Chimdi Chekwa ( 2010). Five Johnson high school players, including Jenkins, were later drafted into the NFL.
Under Johnson’s guidance, Jenkins racked up 57 tackles, 4.0 TFLs, nine pass breakups, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and two blocked kicks during his All-American campaign. He also won the Jim Thorpe Award in 2008 while earning first-team All-Big 10 honors in 2007 and 2008.
Prior to Ohio State, Johnson spent six seasons at the University of Miami, Ohio, where he started as the RedHawks linebacker coach from 2000-2003 before being promoted to assistant head coach/defensive coordinator two seasons later ( 2005-06). In his first three years, he built a championship defense, which eventually climbed to 35th total defense, 22nd scoring defense and 19th rushing defense in 2003. In 2005, the unit was fifth of the country in terms of turnover margin.
During that 2003 season, the team went undefeated in conference play and went 13-1 overall. After a 21-3 loss at Iowa, the RedHawks began a 13-game winning streak that began with a 44-14 dismantling of Northwestern and ended with a MAC championship and a 48-29 victory over Louisville in the GMAC Bowl. Under Johnson’s leadership, three linebackers were rocketed to first-team All-MAC status in his first four years with Miami.
Among his stops was spending the 2004 NFL season as a special teams coach for the Cleveland Browns and the 1999 season as a defensive graduate assistant at Notre Dame.
Before heading to Notre Dame, Johnson coached at DIII Millikin, serving in three roles as linebacker coach (1996-98), strength and conditioning coach (1996), and defensive coordinator (1998).
In 1998 Johnson coached four players from all conferences – LB Bob Meyer (1st), DT Carlos Burns (1st), Servera Gilbert (1st) and DB Tony Frierdich (2nd) – to turn the unit into the second-best defense in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin, and first in scoring defense. This helped lead the team to an 8-2 record and an NCAA playoff berth. The Big Blue eventually fell in the first round to Johnson’s alma mater Wittenberg 13-10.
The Cincinnati native stayed home for college, attending Division III Wittenberg, where he earned a degree in business administration. On the field, the four-year-old letterman has been dominant, leading the team in tackles in three of his four seasons.
His success led to back-to-back AP Little All-America and All-North Coast Atlantic Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1992 and 1993, while the Tigers went to a combined 17-2-1 record during his junior and senior seasons. He was third in school history with 209 solo tackles and fourth in total tackles with 368.
For his efforts, he was inducted into the school’s Athletics Hall of Honor in 2004.
Johnson and his wife Sharday have a son, Tyree, and a daughter, Brooklynn.