UW-Green Bay now has two alums as Division I men’s basketball head coaches, at least for the time being.
Ben Johnson, who starred at Green Bay from 1988-1992, was named the interim head coach at the University of Portland on Friday after fellow Wisconsinite Terry Porter was fired. Tony Bennett, his teammate at UWGB, is the national championship head coach at Virginia giving the Phoenix two alums as head coaches at the Division I level.
Johnson faces an uphill battle at Portland as the Pilots have only had one winning season in the past ten years, a 17-16 mark in 2015, and have only had five winning seasons in the last 25 years. The team plays in the West Coast Conference, one of the best mid-major leagues in the country that features teams like Gonzaga, BYU, and Saint Mary’s.
As a player, Johnson started 79 of his 119 games in a Green Bay uniform and was a team captain in his final two seasons. He averaged 5.1 points and 3.3 rebounds per game during his four year career and helped lead the Phoenix to the postseason three times including the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in 1991 and two NIT appearances in 1990 and 1992. He was inducted into the Phoenix Hall of Fame in 2007.
He returned to Green Bay in 1995 as an assistant coach under Mike Heideman and helped guide the Phoenix to a Horizon League regular season championship and an at-large bid in the 1996 NCAA Tournament. He was an assistant with the Phoenix until 2002 before spending a year in Australia coaching basketball down under.
He returned to the US in 2003 as an assistant at Washington State under his old head coach Dick Bennett and later his former teammate Tony Bennett. He was an assistant at WSU until 2013 when he returned to Australia for three more years coaching and developing basketball players there.
Johnson joined the University of Portland staff in May of 2016 when Terry Porter was hired but the Pilots did not have much success going 43-103 in Porter’s four plus seasons in charge of the program. He interviewed for the open Green Bay coaching vacancy this past summer but the job ultimately went to Will Ryan.
Portland (6-12, 0-9 WCC) started the season 5-1 including an overtime road win at Oregon State but are just 1-11 since then. Johnson is 0-1 in his coaching career as the Pilots lost his debut against Pepperdine 90-71 on Saturday but will look to get his first career Division I win Thursday against Pacific.