By Ryan Aber
NORMAN (TNS)— When Skip Johnson first met Tim Tadlock, Johnson’s bravado quickly stood out.
“Hey man, my curveball breaks this much,” Tadlock recalls Johnson saying during one of their first meetings as he holds he hands nearly as far apart as they’ll go.
Now, that pitcher with swagger turned pitching coach with high-profile pupils is Oklahoma’s baseball coach.
Johnson was announced Monday as the Sooners’ newest baseball coach, just a week after OU parted ways with Pete Hughes.
“Once our search got underway last week, we spoke to many people throughout the youth, college and professional baseball worlds about the candidates we were considering, and the information gleaned from those conversations further validated our belief that Skip is the right and the best choice for our program now and going forward,” OU Athletic Director Joe Castiglione said in a release.
Johnson will be formally introduced at a Tuesday morning press conference.
“More than anything, I’m honored,” Johnson said in a release. “As head coach at OU, I’m going to do everything I can to make our alumni and our fan base very proud. ... we’ll have a player program that is going to develop young men on and off the field.”
Oklahoma junior safety Will Sunderland looked poised to grab a starting spot opposite Steven Parker for the upcoming season.
That’s in doubt now after Sunderland was suspended indefinitely from he team, Sooners coach Lincoln Riley announced Monday.
Sunderland played in either games in each of the last two seasons, coming on strong last year. He had 14 tackles and a pass breakup.
His most memorable play came against Texas, when he picked off Shane Beuchele’s pass pate in the third quarter with OU leading by eight.
If Sunderland isn’t available, Kahlil Haughton and sophomore Chanse Sylvie are among the possibilities.
Haughton has played 25 games the last two seasons including one start last year.
Johnson joined Hughes’ staff at Oklahoma last year after spending the previous 10 seasons as pitching coach at Texas under legendary coach Augie Garrido.
When he was passed over to replace Garrido, Johnson wound up in Norman with some help from Tadlock and former Sooners star Bobby Witt.
He helped the Sooners to their first NCAA Regional appearance since 2013. His pitching staff surrendered the fewest home runs in the Big 12 last season and combined for 531 strikeouts to rank fourth in the league.
His tutelage was particularly evident in the improvement of pitchers like Jake Irvin, JB Olson and Devon Perez.
Three of those pitchers—Perez, Olson and Vincenzo Aiello were picked in last week’s MLB Draft.
Before he arrived in Austin, Johnson was the head coach at Navarro (Texas) College from 1994-2006.
It was there that Tadlock really started to see Johnson’s coaching career take shape when Tadlock was coaching at nearby Grayson College.
“He had some guys that ran through there that were really good, and then he’d have guys show up that you’re like, ‘Well, he might be all right,’” Tadlock said. “And then they’d end up being really good.”
Johnson’s stable of students includes Dodgers superstar pitcher Clayton Kershaw.
Johnson started working with Kershaw more than a decade ago when Kershaw’s then-advisor called to ask Johnson to work with the young pitcher.
Their relationship continues, with Johnson offering help both during the season and in the offseason.
Kershaw’s success made Johnson a popular coach for professional players. He’s worked with pitchers like Homer Bailey and Chad Qualls in addition to the players he’s worked with at Navarro College, Texas and Oklahoma.
He has followers beyond pitching, though.
Johnson coached Baltimore Orioles’ first baseman Chris Davis at Navarro and continues to stay in touch with Davis.
“As far as baseball, Oklahoma is getting the best guy I know of,” Davis said in a release. “And I’m talking about high school, college, minor leagues, big leagues. Just as far as knowing the game, being able to relate to players and communicate with them, and being able to understand players, how they tick and how to get the most out of them, I think he’s the best at those things.”
Hughes resigned after four seasons, going 128-107-1. Oklahoma was 35-24 this season but struggled near the end of the season after going 17-2 to start the year.