Derek Johnson never had the itch to become a college head coach.
He was perfectly happy to stay at Vanderbilt and retire as the Commodores’ pitching coach.
“I felt like being on the field and really being able to develop players was my calling,” he said.
Thus, Johnson couldn’t pass up this opportunity.
Not when the Chicago Cubs called and asked him to be their minor league pitching coordinator. After 11 years, Johnson is leaving Vanderbilt to work for the franchise he grew up rooting for.
“I’ve been extremely happy here for the last 11 years and quite honestly didn’t have a whole lot of thoughts or aspirations of moving,” the 41-year-old said. “Then an opportunity comes your way that you feel like you kind of can’t pass up, and then you’re leaving. It was really tough. At the same time, it’s really exciting, and I’m looking forward to all the new challenges.”
Johnson, a native of Normal, Ill., will stay in Nashville and travel to the Cubs’ minor league teams, which are as close as Knoxville (Double-A). Head coach Tim Corbin said he hopes to hire a replacement in the next three weeks.
Johnson’s successor will have big shoes to fill.
Under his tutelage, six players were drafted in the first round. His most notable protégé, Tampa Bay Rays right-hander David Price, is a candidate for the Cy Young Award.
In 2011, Johnson mentored a pitching staff that set a school record with a 2.44 ERA. Eight pitchers were part of a Southeastern Conference-record 12 players drafted that June.
“I don’t look at it like it was a one-man show,” Johnson said. “I don’t look at it like it was any one magical thing. I think it was a combination of a lot of things that worked really well. ... The thing that I will miss is the everyday interaction with our players, our coaches. I’m going to miss that.”