Bobby Johnston leaves JMU to build girls’ program at IMG Academies
By Roger Gonzalez
For the last five years, Harrisonburg, Va. has been the home of James Madison University assistant women’s soccer coach Bobby Johnston.
“JMU has been a big part of my life for a long period of time,” Johnston said, who also attended and played soccer at the school in the 1990s. “Harrisonburg is a great, small community.”
With Johnston as an assistant, the Dukes won the Colonial Athletic Conference championship and made three NCAA Tournaments, including a Sweet 16 finish in 2008.
Now, it will all change. In early March, Johnston accepted a position as the Director of the IMG Soccer Academy’s Girls’ Program at the prestigious IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. He will officially start the job on April 1.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for me and my family,” the veteran coach told The Soccer Wire. “It’s a new adventure. It’s something that is going to be extremely challenging. IMG academy has a big reputation in a lot of sports.”
IMG has helped produce a long list of well-known athletes, including the NBA’s Michael Beasley, NFL stars Cam Newton and Eli Manning and soccer’s Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley, among many others.
In his new position, Johnston, 39, will oversee the growth, marketing and development on the girls’ side of the boarding school, which offers full-time and part-time residency to players. One of his primary goals is to elevate the girls’ program to match that of the boys, which boasts several star pro soccer players as alumni.
“[I will] bring players in, train them, develop the teams, get these girls ready for college soccer and beyond,” he said.
David Lombardo, the head coach at JMU, feels that the move reflects the success of the Dukes’ soccer program and is more than happy for his assistant.
“Well, I think first of all, this is a tremendous opportunity for Bobby and his family,” Lombardo said. “A lot of decisions are based on personal, some are professional. I think this is a good combination of both. He has a very good business mind. Working in more of a public sector like that would allow him to be more creative than the NCAA allows you to be on the college level.
“Things are in very good shape…Bobby brought a new energy. He has been a winner at every level he’s coached at.”
While Lombardo is proud, he can’t help but feel sad at seeing his assistant go.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said, while also adding that a national search is being conducted to find a replacement.
“What people don’t realize when you are not in the world of college athletics, there is a very close bond between the players and coaches…Oftentimes, we see these players more than we see our families. The reaction from the team was bittersweet. I think they were excited for him for this opportunity.”
After building his reputation with successful stints at youth clubs Beadling (Pa.), Annandale (Va.) and Bethesda (Md.) and several Washington, D.C. area high schools, Johnston led the program at the University of Tampa for five strong years. He took the Spartans to the NCAA Division II semifinals in 2006, made four total NCAA tournament appearances as a head coach and won NSCAA South Region Coach of the Year honors in 2005 and 2006.
That’s when he returned to his alma mater, where he has helped the team compile a record of 65-34-9.
He departs knowing that the institution is in a good state.
“One of the goals was to help the program get back to national status, and I’m very confident that the program will continue to grow,” Johnston said. “I’m very proud of what we accomplished the last five years.”
Now a new journey awaits.
“Mixed emotions,” Johnston admitted. “You are leaving your alma mater. James Madison has been very good to me…We are going to miss everything that there is about JMU. But, we are exited for a new adventure and a new challenge.”
Johnston will move to Florida with his wife and four boys.
“We are going to another great situation,” he said. “And for that, we are really excited.”