Wally Johnson was Minnesota’s coach for 34 years, winning two conference titles.
By Roman Augustoviz, Star Tribune
Wally Johnson, the coach of the University of Minnesota wrestling team for 34 seasons, died Wednesday at the age of 91 in an Edina hospice from complications of Parkinson’s disease.
Johnson coached the Gophers from 1952 until he retired in 1986. He had a career record of 392-209-11.
His teams won Big Ten titles in 1957 and ’59 and finished either second or third 13 other times.
“Wally had a personality everybody liked, “said Pete Veldman, a Gopher wrestler in the mid-1950s. “He could be very tough, demanding, but he was also very thoughtful. He worked hard to get guys through school and to get them good jobs in the summer.”Wally always said that only one guy who lettered for him at the ‘U’ did not earn his degree, “said Don Meyers, another wrestler for Johnson in the mid-1950s. “… And at one time 10 or 12 of his wrestlers had some of the best [high school] wrestling coaching jobs in the metro area.”
Meyers started the wrestling program at Fridley High School.
“Wally was not the world’s greatest technician, “Meyers said, “but there was not anybody who had athletes on the mat who were better conditioned or had more of a go get ’em attitude.
“He was a man with a great heart who bailed out more than one of his athletes — not literally. He was one of the real good guys.”
Johnson also was the Gophers’ freshman football his first 20 years at Minnesota.
Growing up, Johnson was a three-sport athlete at Detroit Lakes High School, competing in football, basketball and track.
Later in college at Minnesota, he was a Big Ten boxing champion, but a football injury changed his life.
“During spring practice with Bernie Berman, [future Minnesota Gov.] Orville Freeman hit my dad just right and broke his leg, “said his son, Wally Jr. “They took him over to the health service.”
There Johnson met his wife.
“The nurse that wheeled him to X-ray was my mother [Almeda], “Wally Jr. said. “She told him if he was going to hang around her, he would have to give up boxing.
“So he took up wrestling and became a starter [for the Gophers] his first year after never wrestling before. … He was a tough hombre.”
Funeral services are pending.
Roman Augustoviz “¢