Legendary Leon Johnson to receive Southland Conference’s highest honor

Leon Johnson
Northwestern State track and field coaching legend Leon Johnson is among three 2017 inductees in the Southland Conference Hall of Honor, recognizing the Demon icon’s over three decades of service to the institution, the conference and the larger track and field community.

Southland Commissioner Tom Burnett made the announcement Thursday afternoon. Johnson joins two administrators in the Southland Hall of Honor’s Class of 2017. Also elected, both posthumously, were longtime McNeese president Dr. Robert Hebert and Abilene Christian faculty representative Dr. J.W. Roberts.

The Hall of Honor ceremony will be held May 23 to culminate the Southland’s annual spring meetings in Frisco, Texas at the Westin Stonebriar hotel.


“He had a long-standing reputation within the Southland Conference for overseeing a well-run and efficient cross-country or track and field championship meet. Just as Coach Johnson’s former athletes speak so highly of him, coaches within the Southland Conference have expressed the utmost respect and admiration for him through the years,” said NSU director of athletics Greg Burke.

Johnson retired following the 2013 season after 31 years in charge of the Northwestern program. Only H. Lee Prather, basketball coach for 36 seasons until 1950, served longer as a head coach at Northwestern.

The Southland Conference Men’s Outdoor Track & Field Coach of the Year Award was named the Leon Johnson Award shortly after his retirement.

Johnson, already a championship prep coach in Louisiana when he joined the Northwestern State program in 1982, quickly made his presence felt and maintained the high expectations of the Demon track and field program, and he was also entrusted with the startup of the Lady Demons’ program in 1986.

For 16 consecutive seasons from 1989-2005, the Demons finished in the top half of the men’s team standings at the Southland Conference Outdoor Championships, including championships in 1993, 1999 and 2002. Additionally, his men’s indoor teams won four Southland championships. He owns eight Southland Conference Track & Coach of the Year awards.

His competitors won 51 Southland Indoor event championships and 83 Southland Outdoor event titles since the Demons joined the league in 1987.

During his tenure, Johnson coached 57 All-Americans, nearly 100 NCAA championship qualifiers, numerous national champions and two USA Olympians, triple jumpers LaMark Carter (2000 Sydney Games) and Kenta Bell (2004 Athens Games and 2008 Beijing Games).

Johnson coached NSU to top 20 finishes in both the NCAA Division I Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

He was the only active coach in the country to have a home meet named in his honor. In 2011, the university rebranded its annual home meet as The Leon Johnson NSU Invitational.

For almost 25 years, he has been the driving force behind the annual Louisiana High School Athletic Association Cross Country Championships. Hosted each November on campus, that event brings tens of thousands of people to the community.

Johnson, 77, has volunteered his time to causes such as Louisiana Special Olympics, the American Heart Association, and the American Cancer Society. He continues assisting those causes, the sport in general, and the NSU athletic department. He is a volunteer assistant and advisor for the Demons’ basketball program, providing conditioning and flexibility insight for the players and sharing his wisdom with the coaching staff.

Upon Johnson’s retirement, then-NSU president Dr. Randy Webb, in concurrence with the University of Louisiana System, conferred him emeritus status as track and field coach, an honor usually reserved for esteemed academics and rarely granted in state history to a coach.

Webb also presented him with the Nth Degree given to those in the Northwestern family for extraordinary service and bringing great credit to the university.
The entrance road to NSU’s Walter Ledet Track Complex was renamed Leon Johnson Lane, and an endowed scholarship for track and field was created in his name.