Leo T. Johnson served as the head track & field coach at the University of Illinois from 1938-65, winning three NCAA championships and four Big Ten championships during his career.
A four-sport letterwinner and 1919 graduate of Millikin University, Johnson’s coaching career began as a football coach at his alma mater from 1924-36, where he led the Big Blue to undefeated seasons in both 1928 and 1934.
In 1938, he accepted a head coaching position at Illinois, and Johnson’s talented Illini squads won the 1944 and 1946-47 NCAA titles and finished as runners-up in 1953 and 1954. His teams also swept the 1943 and 1958 indoor and outdoor Big Ten titles, with the 1958 Big Ten indoor title coming only one year after a last-place finish at the conference meet.
Among his most successful athletes were hurdler Bobby Mitchell and 400m legend Herb McKenley. In 1958, Mitchell set an indoor world record of 7.7 seconds in the 70 yard low hurdles. McKenley set world records in the indoor and outdoor 400m while at Illinois and won an Olympic Gold Medal while setting a world record on Jamaica’s 4x400m relay at the 1952 Olympics. McKinley is also the only athlete to have ever reached an Olympic final in the 100m, 200m, and 400m dashes.
At the beginning of his coaching tenure, Johnson also served as chief scout for the Illini football team. Near the end of his career, he served as President of the track coaches association (1963-64). He is honored in the Drake Relays Hall of Fame and the Millikin University Hall of Fame.