As a senior in high school, Joanna Hayes turned down the chance to compete for USC’s track and field team in favor of UCLA. The man who recruited her to join USC, John Henry Johnson Jr., was a UCLA alumnus himself.
Neither expected that nearly 20 years later, the two would return to their alma mater and work together as part of UCLA’s track and field coaching staff.
With Johnson named the UCLA women’s track and field head coach on July 3 and Hayes hired onJuly 12
as an assistant coach for sprints, hurdles and relays, the two were reunited once again.
“I was telling him the other day, ‘You recruited me and now I’m kind of recruiting you. … I’m going to be your right-hand man, if you will,’” Hayes said.
Both Hayes and Johnson had successful collegiate careers, but took different routes as coaches.
Hayes previously coached at Harvard-Westlake School and Brentwood Middle School after graduating from UCLA in 2001.
Johnson, meanwhile, was named the 2013 U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association National Men’s Assistant Coach of the Year. He was the Trojans’ assistant coach for 19 years, where he served as the sprinting coach, strength coach and recruiting coordinator.
“Throughout our combined careers, we’ve competed head to head on the track and the recruiting front. In my opinion, coach Johnson is one of the finest coaches and recruiters in the NCAA,” said UCLA Director of Track & Field Mike Maynard, who hired both Johnson and Hayes.
Although he enjoyed a successful coaching career at USC, Johnson said he is excited to come back to UCLA as the women’s track and field coach and said he believes that his work style will lead the team to success.
“It’s a dream come true (to come back as the head coach),” Johnson said.
“I’m always working, that is my nature. And even when I am not at work, I’m still working, so that is going to be key for me to how I approach the program.”
Hayes, however, has a more of a laid-back approach to coaching.
“I want to have fun practices. I want to have the guys and the girls really enjoying each other and the coaching and the staff,” Hayes said.
“I think that the more camaraderie we have and if we trust each other, we will bring the championships back to UCLA.”
Hayes is very familiar with championships. As a Bruin, Hayes was the 1999 NCCA hurdles champion and she won the gold medal in the 100-meters hurdles at the 2004 Summer Olympics.
She said she hopes to inject the championship spirit that has powered her to a successful career to UCLA’s track and field team.
“I’m just going to remind them of how good it feels to win and no matter what, you have to put in hard work,” Hayes said.
“Winning is so great, but it is not about winning. No matter what, you want to be a great competitor, you want to respect your competitors and enjoy what you do, and I think that enjoying what you do is really what gets you to greatness.“