MEMPHIS, Tenn. — LeMoyne-Owen men’s basketball coach William Anderson recalls this story of legendary Magicians coach Jerry C. Johnson turning down a chance to be the first black coach in the Big 10.
Our president actually said hey you could go to the Big 10 and you could be the coach there for three or four years, then you’ll be looking for another job," Anderson says. “Then he said you could have a job here for life.”
Johnson still made history, though, and his story will be shared Sunday at the Burbank International Film Festival with the documentary, “1st Forgotten Champions: The Legacy of Jerry C. Johnson”.
Despite avoiding the big gigs, Anderson says Johnson was a big name in the college.
He still remembers a trip to the Final Four when he saw this up close.
“He was recognized amongst all the coaches,” he said. “I mean all the legends of the game. Bobby Knight, anybody you can think of. Coach had more wins than any active coach at that time. He had 826 wins.”
These wins were spread over 46 years. He led the Magicians to the 1975 NCAA Division IIII championship, the first African American coach to do this. LeMoyne was also the first HBCU to win it all as well.
Anderson says Johnson’s longevity was a testament to his ability to adjust.
“Being at an HBCU he always had limited resources,” he said. “He was able to adjust to what his talent level of players as well as whatever circumstances he was dealing with.”
The list of players guided by Johnson is impressive. It includes Dr. Willie Herenton, the first elected African American mayor of Memphis.
Anderson is among those former players. He says Johnson was a father figure to him and those who watch the documentary will be inspired.
“A great American story,” he said. “Perseverance, leadership and success. I encourage everyone to go check out the film on September 13th.”
The Jerry C. Johnson foundation will buy tickets for the first 100 people for Sunday’s screening.
If you’re interested, you can email them at email@example.com. All you have to do is leave your name and phone number.