Sept. 29, 2014
WASHINGTON - On Saturday evening, at Georgetown's Leo O'Donovan Hall, friends, family and alumni of the Hoya men's rowing program gathered to celebrate the career of Tony Johnson. Johnson, who coached the Blue & Gray for 28 years over two stints, retired at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season and now serves as Coach Emeritus.
The evening was hosted by the nine Hoyas from the 1968 Dad Vail crew that took home the gold medal. All proceeds and donations from the night went toward the Tony Johnson Boat Fund.
Throughout the evening various toasts were offered on Tony's behalf. Guests spoke of fond memories and lessons, both on and off the water, bestowed upon them by Johnson. Among the speakers were rowing alum Mike Vespoli ('68), former Georgetown Athletic Director Frank Rienzo, Yale rowing alums and current GU junior Graham Miller (Greenwich, Conn./Brunswick).
"To be a coach for 47 years, with 28 years at the same institution is just an amazing accomplishment," Rienzo said of Johnson. "During his time here at Georgetown, he has done a lot of amazing things. I think all of them show a sacrifice that he has been prepared to make in order to help Georgetown rowing become better. I think it is an amazing indication, of his dedication to Georgetown rowing, the things that he did to change the nature and the scope of rowing at Georgetown.
"One of the other things that he involved me in was the transition from the Dad Vails to the Eastern Sprints. I didn't know what he was trying to get me to do, but I have come to understand that if Tony suggests it, he has thought about it, it is a good idea and we ought to go for it. That was probably one of the most significant changes that occurred under Tony's regime in that he changed the name and the goal of the program for everyone."
Additionally, the Georgetown rowing senior class presented Johnson with a gift, a framed picture of him coaching on the water. Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Lee Reed then introduced the man who will be stepping into Johnson's shoes, first year head coach Luke Agnini.
"I am truly honored," Johnson said of the evening. "My family is honored. It is quite flattering. I am very fortunate in so many ways. I not going to say I am lucky because, as a coach, you learn that you better make your own luck. I really am honored by everyone's attendance and terribly appreciative. All these young men had four years to row, I have had 48 years of this and it has been wonderful.
"The support from the administration and the support from the alumni has been terribly important. There have been guys who have stood by and helped and been leaders in many varied ways, whether it is on committees, whether it by donations. All of those are so helpful and so important to the crew family."
Johnson first coached the Georgetown crew from 1967-69 before moving on to Yale University, where he coached for 20 years. He returned to the Hoyas in 1990 to manage the rowing program and to guide the varsity heavyweight men.
As Director of Rowing on the Hilltop, Johnson oversaw significant growth of the program, strengthening the foundation for even greater success in the future. He has helped to secure more than $18 million in financial support over the past 15 years.
Johnson was the only full-time crew coach in 1990 when he returned to Georgetown. Today, four full-time coaches and four part-time coaches oversee four varsity programs and four novice teams. The Hoya crews have all upgraded their competitive level from Dad Vail to Eastern Sprint competition. Equipment and training facilities have continued to expand during his tenure. Johnson has served as a leading proponent for a new boathouse, a goal that the University is continuing to pursue.
Johnson's rowers earned gold for three-straight years at the Champion Regatta in the mid-1990s. In 1993, his heavyweight four earned a national championship medal at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) Regatta. Several have earned post-collegiate accolades on a national level.
His coaching achievements at Yale include the 1982 national championship, several Eastern Sprint titles, and two junior varsity titles at the Henley Royal Regatta. He was named Eastern Coach of the Year in 1982.
Johnson received the Joy of Sculling Lifetime Achievement Award in December 2013. The award is given to a figurehead of rowing who has made a permanent and lasting contribution to the sport of rowing.
Johnson began his rowing career under the legendary Charlie Butt at Washington-Lee High School and continued to row at Syracuse University and Potomac Boat Club. Johnson earned a silver medal in the pairs at the 1968 Olympics and gold medals at the 1967 and 1969 European championships. He served as an assistant U.S. Olympic rowing coach in 1972.