Rick Johns called it a “dream job.”
Johns, St. Thomas Academy’s new athletic and activities director, has only been in his new office since June 15. He officially starts his tenure July 1 but he already is starting to feel quite comfortable in his new surroundings.
“This school is known for exactly what I believe in: building programs,” he said.
It’s a simple philosophy, Johns explained. The purpose of an athletic director is “to build programs, not chase W's.”
“Our job, the over-arching goal of my career, is to provide a positive educational-based athletic experience for kids,” he said. “If we do a good job of that, then the wins will take care of themselves. I’m a firm believer in that, and that’s what [St. Thomas Academy] such a compelling place to be.”
It’s a place where the 63-year-old’s career seems to have come full circle. Johns grew up in the Twin Cities, coached at area colleges, cut his teeth in administration at Blake and guided a high-profile prep school in Milwaukee to unprecedented success.
Now at St. Thomas, he hopes to continue the all-male school’s long-standing track record of success, highlighted by recent runs of state titles in swimming and hockey. He also wants to add stability to an athletic department that is now on its third leader in 2½ years.
“Hopefully, we will just continue to grow the program and move it forward in that positive direction we want to go in,” he said.
A 1970 graduate of Benilde High School (now Benilde-St. Margaret’s), Johns did his undergrad at St. Thomas, where he played football through his junior year, and earned a master’s degree from Minnesota. He coached football at the now-defunct Golden Valley Lutheran College and at Augsburg, before eventually winding up at Blake.
“I did pretty much everything you could do there — head coach, assistant coach, assistant athletic director, classroom teacher, department chair,” he said. “We really developed that philosophy during my time there that I’ve carried with me.”
Then he received the opportunity to take over the athletics program at University School of Milwaukee, a private college preparatory school that has students from third grade through high school.
The school won 25 of its 29 state championships since 2000 during Johns’ tenure, and he oversaw a total renovation and rebuild of the school’s athletic complexes. University School also had an 83 percent athletic participation rate among its students during his time there, and was named a 2013 Interscholastic Sports Program of Excellence by Coach and Athletic Director magazine.
Both of Johns’ children recently graduated from the school. He said the timing to come back to the Twin Cities couldn’t have been better.
Jason Sedlak had served as St. Thomas’ interim athletic director for two years after the sudden death of Jack Zahr, who held the position for 24 years. Johns takes over a department with countless success stories in recent years—from the school’s sparkling new facilities to its various state championships.
“There are so many distractions and so much competition nowadays — AAU programs, youth athletics, winning-at-any-cost mindest, everybody has to be a starter,” he said. “ I think one of our great challenges as administrative professionals is to find that balance and continue to promote the importance of educational-based athletics. … There are challenges, but I’m excited to be here and be part of this community that has such a good sense for what our purpose is. It just feels like a perfect fit.”