College - Utah State
Phil Johnson is in his 18th season as Jerry Sloan’s top assistant coach. Over the years, the former NBA Coach of the Year has become widely acknowledged as one of the premiere basketball coaches in the sport, confirmed when NBA general managers named him the league’s top assistant before the 2004-05 season.
Johnson’s working relationship with Sloan dates back nearly three decades to when he coached Sloan as an assistant for Dick Motta and the Chicago Bulls from 1971-1974.
After working under Motta, his former junior high, high school and college coach, Johnson earned his first head coaching duties at the age of 27 with the Kansas City/Omaha Kings midway through the 1973-74 season.
Though the Kings were just 6-19 when Johnson took over, he earned a record of 27-30, and the team finished the season at 33-49. But Johnson had instilled changes in his players – enough to earn Coach of the Year honors the next season when he guided them to an 11-game improvement at 44-38 and their first playoff berth in eight seasons. Johnson garnered 21 of 54 votes from the media, defeating Al Attles (10) and K.C. Jones (5) for the award.
After being replaced by the Kings in mid-season in 1977-78, Johnson reunited with Sloan in Chicago as an Assistant Coach prior to the 1979-80 season. The two worked together through the end of Sloan’s tenure with the Bulls midway through 1981-82, then Johnson joined the Jazz when Frank Layden named him assistant coach on July 20, 1982. In 1983-84, the Jazz would make the playoffs for the first time, winning the Midwest Division en route. Also during that season, Frank Layden, Johnson and Scott Layden coached the All-Star West squad.
The Kings welcomed Johnson back on November 18, 1984, and he coached nearly three seasons at Sacramento before joining the Jazz in his current position on December 11, 1988. In that time he has helped guide the team to six Midwest Division titles, 16 playoff appearances, and two Western Conference championships.
The 64-year-old Johnson began his coaching career as a graduate assistant to Ladell Andersen while earning his master’s degree at Utah State University before moving on to become an assistant to Motta at Weber State (Ogden, UT) in 1964. When Motta became head coach of the Bulls in 1968, Johnson assumed the reins and guided the Wildcats to a 68-16 record, three Big Sky Championships and three consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament – while earning three consecutive conference Coach of the Year awards in the process. He was named District VII coach of the year in 1967-68 as well. To this day he sits atop the Big West records book as the all-time winningest coach in conference history, with a 39-5 record.
A native of Grace, Idaho, Johnson lettered in both track and basketball at Utah State while earning his bachelor’s degree in physical education. He played on the Aggies teams that advanced to the 1962 and 1963 NCAA Tournament, captaining the 1963 squad as a senior and averaging 12.3 points and 7.1 rebounds. Weber State inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 1992, and Utah State honored him as its Alumnus of the Year in 1997.
He and his wife, Ann, are the parents of two children (Mitchel and Nathan) and have two grandchildren. They reside in suburban Salt Lake City.