Lawrence Johnson, hired last week for Clemson's restructured position, shook hands and shared a few words Friday night with tailback C.J. Spiller and receiver Jacoby Ford, who both have excelled in sprints for the Tigers. He also visited with incoming defensive back Spencer Adams, an accomplished North Carolina high school hurdler who could bring that talent to Tiger track in the spring. "Those guys are very instrumental in our plans to succeed in the ACC and beyond," Johnson said.
Johnson, 33, knows what it takes to triumph in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He spent the past four years with Virginia Tech, concentrating in sprints, hurdles, jumps and multi-events for men and women. The Hokies' women swept the indoor and outdoor ACC titles in 2007 and '08.
Johnson was picked as the Southeast Region Assistant Coach of the Year by the U.S. Track & Field coaches' association.
He's got some big track shoes to fill at Clemson. Not only will he have to follow the success of retired men's coach Bob Pollock, but he'll also have to deal with melding men's and women's programs that had been headed by separate coaches.
His staff of five assistants will work with both men and women in indoor and outdoor track and field and cross country.
"The way I look at it, six coaches are better than three," Johnson said. "So we're going to combine our knowledge as coaches and hopefully put together some great programs that are exemplary of the university."
Clemson's athletic department decided to reorganize in the mold of eight other ACC teams that have one head coach supervising both men and women. Johnson is confident he can blend Pollock's program with that of women's coach Marcia Noad, who recently completed her eighth season at Clemson leading women's track and field.
Noad, a former Tiger track athlete, will remain at Clemson as an assistant, Johnson said. Her hiring in 2000 was the first time Clemson had brought in a black head coach.
"She has a wealth of knowledge about the program that we want to tap into," Johnson said.
Johnson's hiring follows thorny situations that brought Clemson negative headlines.
Pollock was investigated by the State Law Enforcement Division after he and an assistant were accused of depositing more than $27,000 collected from campus track meets into personal accounts. No charges were brought, in part because full restitution was made.
In May 2007, Clemson acknowledged Noad gave her athletes rules that included the lines, "Pregnancy resulting in the inability to compete and positively contribute to the program's success will result in the modification of your grant-in-aid money."
An unnamed Clemson athlete told ESPN that she had an abortion to stay in school.
Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips said then that Noad's intent was for her athletes to make "safe and responsible choices regarding sexual activity" and not to promote abortions for women to keep their scholarships. Still, Phillips said the rule shouldn't have existed.
No one lost scholarship money because of a pregnancy and the rule was struck, Phillips said.
Johnson's not worried about what happened before. He's got a restructured program to run.
"I don't ever want to have a situation where I'm giving those athletes an excuse, our staff an excuse, myself an excuse to take our time in transition. In track and field, everything we do is fast," he said.