Back for his sixth season with the Chargers, Johnson leads a defensive line corps that features a pair of bookend defensive ends with future All-Pro potential. Corey Liuget, the team’s first-round pick in 2011, led the team in 2013 in sacks, tackles for loss, pressures and quarterback hits, while 2012 second-round pick Kendall Reyes finished second on the squad in sacks, pressures and quarterback hits.
A native of Newark, N.J., Johnson played linebacker at Butler Community College and Jersey City State in the mid-1970s. He earned a tryout with the New York Jets and later played for the USFL’s New Jersey Generals. Johnson segued into coaching in 1976, spending seven seasons at Santa Ana Valley High School outside Los Angeles before returning to his alma mater to coach linebackers in 1984. Johnson spent a total of 28 seasons on the prep and collegiate levels and twice he participated in the NFL’s Minority Intern Coaching Program with the San Francisco 49ers in 1997 and ’98.
Johnson spent the 2000-04 seasons at UCLA where he coached former Chargers defensive end Dave Ball, who was named the ABC-Chevrolet National Defensive Player of the Year in 2003 after leading the nation in sacks.
Johnson landed his first full-time NFL job with Chicago in 2005. He was a mentor to two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Tommie Harris, who later played for the Chargers. Harris helped the Bears to the 2006 NFC title and a berth in Super Bowl XLI.
Johnson spent two seasons in Chicago and two in Oakland before joining the Chargers in 2009. In just his second season in San Diego (2010), Johnson’s group helped the Chargers lead the NFL in total defense, while ranking second in sacks and fourth in run defense. Defensive tackle Antonio Garay had a breakout season under Johnson, earning Pro Bowl alternate recognition after setting career highs and leading the defensive line in tackles, sacks, tackles for loss and quarterback hits.
In addition to coaching, Johnson has spent 26 years as a high school and college basketball official, including eight at the NCAA Division I level. He was the president of the Orange County (Calif.) Basketball Officials Association for four years and the California Basketball Officials Association for two.
Johnson and his wife, Deborah, have two daughters, Denise and Leanna, and a son, Don, Jr. Their son, Duane, died in an automobile accident in 2002.