Arkansas offensive coaches are having to make plans this week for a …
Head coach in waiting ready to take next step
Lance Harter (right), head coach of Arkansas women's cross country and track and field, smiles Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, as he listens to Chris Johnson, associate head coach, during a press conference to announce Harter's 2023 retirement and that Johnson will succeed him as head coach at the Broyles Athletics Center in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — No additional credibility is required to Chris Johnson as Arkansas’ head coach in waiting.
Johnson is the three-time national women's assistant track coach of the year. He has coached and recruited All-American sprinters for five Arkansas national championship teams.
He added some over the summer for good measure. Great measure.
The 12-year Razorbacks assistant, starting his second year as head coach in waiting, now coaches a U.S. World Championship gold medalist who is the world’s fifth-best 400-meter hurdler.
After winning SEC titles in the indoor and outdoor 400-meter dash, and outdoor 400-meter hurdles, placing an All-American sixth in the NCAA Indoor 400-dash and winning the NCAA Outdoor 400-meters hurdles, sophomore transfer Britton Wilson ran the third leg on the victorious United States 1,600-meter relay and placed fifth in the 400 hurdles at the World Championships in Eugene, Ore.
Off 2021 collegiate bests 58.68 and 52.99 for the 400 hurdles and 400 at Tennessee, Wilson clocked personal records 53.08 in the 400 hurdles and 50.5 in the 400 dash, plus a 48.60 leg in the 1,600 relay.
A stunning tribute to Johnson’s coaching, given Wilson never reached her high school senior best times while running as a 2021 freshman at Tennessee.
“Her success is her success,” Johnson said. "I’m just the conductor of the train.”
Lance Harter’s judgment, the coach says smiling, was reconfirmed by Johnson’s success with Wilson.
“It reconfirmed that Chris is definitely on everyone’s short list,” said Harter, the outgoing coach who will retire next summer.
Harter advance shortened the list to Arkansas. In 2021 he conferred with Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek for the two-year plan for Harter coaching to retirement with Johnson the successor.
Except Harter isn’t entirely retiring.
“Basically we’ll switch hats,” Harter said. “He’ll be in this office and I’ll be down the hall as a volunteer helping any way I can while coaching some of our athletes turned pro.”
Some would feel threatened having their Hall of Fame predecessor down the hall.
“Obviously me and Lance have a great relationship,” Johnson said. “So him being here volunteering is an advantage for me as someone to learn from and to banter back and forth about what you should and shouldn’t do.”
They have thrived as an egoless, consulting-each-other team: Distance coach Harter, Johnson, world-renowned pole vault coach Bryan Compton and director of operations and former Razorbacks distance runner Megan Elliott.
Harter carried the whole load dealing with the athletic department administration. He shares that now. Johnson accompanies to the department meetings.
“Hunter wants Chris involved in every decision,” Harter said.
Harter said he’s “really not focused” on his final year head coaching aspect but on the indoor and outdoor track teams he predicts “will be really, really good,” and a cross country team that is underdog to Alabama even while seeking a 10th consecutive SEC championship.
“Cross country is probably one of the youngest teams we’ve had in a long time,” Harter said.
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