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Following a legend: Johnson fills Thompson's shoes at MCC

Tyler Johnson
Posted at 3:40 PM, Jul 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-04 17:45:29-04

WACO, Texas — Mitch Thompson was out recruiting at Sam Houston State University when he got a phone call that changed his life.

Baylor VP and Director of Athletics Mack Rhoades was on the other end of the line and asked if he could be back in Waco by 5 p.m. Thompson told him no, but texted him back minutes later saying he could make it to campus "for the right reasons."

Rhoades gave Thompson the vote of confidence he needed and not long after, Thompson was named the next Head Baseball Coach at Baylor University.

"I had to tell my staff [from McLennan] who rode with me in the car that my wife called, and I had a busted pipe, and I had to go," he said. "Whether they believed it or not, I don't know, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it."

New McLennan Head Coach Tyler Johnson was among the assistants Thompson left behind in Huntsville.

"Kinda later on we were sitting there thinking, "A pipe bust in the middle of summer?" Johnson said. "It was kind of funny, but it was then we realized something was going on."

Thompson served as McLennan's head coach for nine seasons before moving across town to Baylor, but his departure was not a surprise to those close to him. Prior to his stint at McLennan, Thompson was an assistant coach at Baylor under Steve Smith.

"He told us Wednesday morning and it was pretty awesome," Johnson said. "All of us wanted it for him, and we hate to see him leave this place, but we realize how much that place means to him."

After nearly a decade of coaching continuity, McLennan was prepared for Thompson's departure. Johnson said he had discussions with Thompson and members of the administration about potentially being his successor.

"I'm stepping in and following a legend here," Johnson said. "That's big shoes to fill. I'm excited about it, but I think he's done a good job of preparing me."

Johnson has spent the last four years as a McLennan assistant. But, for the 20-plus years before that, he had a different mentor: his dad, Oklahoma Head Coach Skip Johnson.

Earlier this month, Skip led Oklahoma to the College World Series Championship, where the Sooners eventually fell to Ole Miss. Tyler was in the stands watching in Omaha.

"It was awesome seeing them play that way," he said. "How hard they played and the passion they had for the game is something that he always tries to instill in everybody. So I was super proud and extremely happy watching them make that run."

Before coaching at OU, Skip spent time at another Central Texas JUCO program, Navarro College. Now, Tyler hopes to have similar success at the Junior College level.

He already has some things working in his favor.

Just before MCC's return to the World Series in 2022, the school broke ground on renovations for Bosque River Ballpark. The new field will feature turf, padded walls and lighting for the first time in program history.

"Coach Thompson is leaving me a Cadillac," Tyler said. "This place is gonna be pretty incredible... By being right here in the middle of the state, it is gonna help so much with recruiting. We're going to be able to host high school games and tournaments. And then on our side of things, we are never going to miss a day ever."

So, despite losing their nearly decade-long leader, the Highlanders are not letting their World Series expectations dip one bit.

"We are not slowing down at all. [Our] foot's still on the gas pedal," he said.