Arthur Johnson’s family spent Friday nights under the lights at Thomasville High School, in Thomasville, Georgia, where he played quarterback. Then in the winter, the neighborhood kids, along with Johnson and his four siblings would head to the Thomasville YMCA to play pick up.
His upbringing created a long-term connection with sports beyond playing on the field.
On Oct. 6, 2021, Johnson was hired as Temple University vice president and director of athletics, after previously serving as senior associate athletics director for administration and operations at the University of Texas. Three months in, Johnson’s objective is reconnecting fan’s engagement with Temple sporting events.
Johnson rose through the ranks in college operations to athletic administration, which has allowed him to see different perspectives of internal and external affairs.
He’s dealt with budgets, provided resources for student-athletes to succeed and strengthened the bond between college athletics and the community. With 25 years of experience, Johnson plans to channel everything he’s learned from his previous experiences to rebuild Temple athletics.
RISING THROUGH THE RANKS
Johnson attended the University of Georgia from 1988-1994 and majored in risk management.
During his freshman year, Johnson was roommates with Damon Evans, a former Georgia football player and current athletic director at the University of Maryland.
Evans spent most days at Sanford Stadium, and it wasn’t long until Johnson got involved with Georgia’s Athletics by becoming a manager on the football team.
The former football players referred to Johnson as “Mr. Smooth”, because he was a great relationship builder and could interact with a variety of individuals, Evans said.
“He’s true to his word,” Evans added. “He does what he says he’s going to do, and he really cares about people.”
Johnson graduated in 1994 and worked at Arizona State as a manager for football operations, where he became close with then defensive coordinator Phil Snow, who was a defensive coordinator at Temple under Matt Rhule. Johnson also managed the football budget and participated in recruiting efforts, he said.
As a risk management major, Johnson had a business foundation in accounting and finances, so those skills came in handy while working at Arizona State because of their zero-based budgeting approach, which involves developing a new budget from scratch each year.
“Financially, we ran out of money,” Johnson added. “In spring, we couldn’t send recruiting letters. That’ll remind you in a hurry to manage the budget to get through that fiscal year and to be able to do all the things that you want to do.”
Johnson was offered a job at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as an administrative assistant for football operations, after serving at Arizona State for three years.
“I left Arizona, went to Chapel Hill, got married, moved and changed jobs all in the same week,” Johnson said. “Life-changing at the time.”
After a brief one-year stint, Johnson was offered an opportunity to go to Texas as an assistant athletics director for football operations and special assistant to former head coach Mack Brown in 1999.
But once Evans was named Georgia’s athletic director in 2004, he wanted Johnson to join his staff and to serve on the senior leadership team, Evans said.
When he rejoined his alma mater, Johnson oversaw $150 million in construction projects and each project was in line with the budget plan, he said.
“To go back on the campus in a place where I grew up and see that you were involved in making some decisions on some key iconic spaces on campus, it’s humbling,” Johnson said.
In his six-year span in Athens, Georgia, Johnson helped organize the construction of a new basketball facility. He also managed to move the SEC basketball tournament in Atlanta to Georgia Tech University due to a tornado in the area, Evans said.
“We had a team that had only won eight games that year and had 20 losses,” Evans added. “We ended up winning the SEC tournament and Arthur played a big role in just keeping that team together and working with that staff.”
Evans resigned from his position after seven years due to a personal incident, and shortly after Brown called Johnson about an opportunity to return to Austin, Texas, as the school’s senior associate athletics director for football operation.
“I got a call from Texas,” Johnson said. “There was just a better opportunity. There was a financial component to it that was really good. I’m not gonna downplay that at all, but I went back to a place where I knew people.”
In 2011, Johnson returned to Texas, where most of the coaches and administration have been there for decades. But once programs started losing and coaches were retiring, the department felt stagnant at times, Johnson added.
After three years working in football operations, Johnson was moved to senior associate athletics director for administration and operations in 2014. He had direct oversight of a $35 million athletics budget, roughly similar to Temple athletics’ current budget.
“It was a great learning experience,” Johnson said. “It was a great opportunity to learn new styles, new models and to adjust.”
Johnson was in charge of implementing the university’s athletics facilities plan, which encompassed capital projects valued at more than $750 million, like the $400 million Moody Center.
REBUILDING TEMPLE ATHLETICS
Johnson knew he wanted to lead a college athletic program, particularly in Philadelphia, because of the city’s history and culture. Since his arrival, he’s noticed the disconnect between fan engagement and sporting events within the university.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic affecting fan attendance, the program had a smaller number of fans at games due to the program losing games even before March 2020.
Since assuming his role, Johnson has released certain coaches who produced losing seasons.
Former head football coach Rod Carey, who was hired on Jan. 11, 2019, was let go on Nov. 29, 2021, after finishing with a 3-9 overall record this season. Johnson also opted not to renew the contract of former volleyball coach Bakeer Ganesharatnam, who finished with a 7-24 record, after serving at Temple for 11 seasons.
“We have to come up with the right strategy,” Johnson added. “Now I know that winning plays a role in it, but we have to invest in the strategy and provide the resources.”
Johnson’s first focus is recreating the fan engagement experience, so more students and community members will want to spend their Saturday at the Liacouras Center, he said.
From a marketing standpoint, Johnson wants to push athletic events as an entertainment option for families. He plans to market tickets at a reasonable price, so more local residents can afford to come to the games, Johnson said.
Right now, a single price ticket for a men’s basketball game at the Liacouras Center can range anywhere between $12 to $99.
Associate Vice President and Dean of Students Stephanie Ives spoke with Johnson about providing Temple Athletics with contact information for students who are living on campus, so they can market games to them. Johnson also wants to provide students with better seats at basketball or football games, he said.
“[Fans] made a difference for our teams in the final four minutes of a close game,” Johnson said. “We need fans, we need their energy.”
Johnson looks for aspects at Temple that can separate them from other institutions. He plans to use newly built buildings, like Charles Library, as a recruiting tool by showing potential athletes its use for academic support. He also is working on creating internship opportunities for student-athletes through the Resnick Academic Support Center.
“Those pieces are really helpful for us to go recruit and sell what we’re doing,” Johnson said. “Making sure we provide the resources for our students to be successful, for coaches to have the resources that they need to be successful and we need to win. We gotta win some championships.”