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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

CC Spokane’s Bruce Johnson ready to hang up whistle after successful 32-year coaching stint

Community Colleges of Spokane women’s basketball coach Bruce Johnson is retiring after 35 seasons with the team. Here he is photographed in his office at Spokane Falls Community College on Feb. 17, 2020. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

The warm and sandy beaches of Adelaide, Australia, are calling to Bruce Johnson.

Rock concerts, local fairways and cross-country relatives are also on his itinerary.

Johnson – the longest-tenured women’s basketball coach active in the Northwest Athletic Conference – will have ample time for each.

After 35 years on the Community Colleges of Spokane bench, Johnson is hanging up his whistle next week after the Sasquatch’s season finale.

CCS (11-12 overall, 4-10 NWAC East) hosts rival North Idaho (14-10, 8-5) on Wednesday in a men’s and women’s doubleheader, Johnson’s final home game.

In a career that includes 614 wins, Johnson has helped CCS earn 24 NWAC Tournament berths, six East Region titles, three NWAC Tournament championship appearances, and the crowning gem of them all, the 2017 NWAC Tournament championship.

“It’s been great, it’s been fun,” said Johnson, a 32-year head coach. “But there’s a couple regrets, like missing activities of my kids while coaching other people’s kids. But that’s all part of the deal.”

Johnson, 62, had the luxury of being a coach and raising a family in his hometown.

After starring at Rogers High and graduating in 1974, Johnson had two successful years as a player at CCS before taking his game to NAIA Yankton (South Dakota) College, where he was an all-conference talent.

“When I came back to Spokane after college during the 1978-79 school year, there weren’t many open teaching jobs back then,” said Johnson, who is in the Rogers High Hall of Fame. “I was a substitute but couldn’t get on full time.”

A lack of employment in the Spokane School District proved serendipitous for Johnson, who soon got a call from a Yankton College teammate asking if he was interested in playing professionally overseas.

He jumped at the opportunity.

For the next three years Johnson was a member of the North Adelaide Rockets – a team located in South Australia’s cosmopolitan coastal capital – and enjoyed his time abroad, and plans to soon return for a long vacation.

There he also helped coach the Australian women’s national team, leveraging that experience to an assistant coaching position and teaching job at CCS in 1985, working his first three years under then-head coach Paul Tikker.

Johnson was named head coach in 1988 and has worn plenty of hats around the athletic offices since, including his current position as the athletic department’s chair and acting dean of the physical education department.

The majority of his days over the past four decades have been on the SCC and Spokane Falls campuses, doing everything from teaching students how to bowl, first aid, his regular coaching duties and administrative work.

“Bowling, tennis, golf, I taught it all,” Johnson said. “And I’m the worst golfer you can find.”

His favorite job was developing basketball players.

Johnson sent more than 50 players to four-year schools during his career and over a dozen to the NCAA Division I level, including former Riverside High standout Bernice (Stime) Tobeck, who helped CCS reach the 2000 NWAC Tournament title game.

A collection of awards and photos from Bruce Johnson’s time as the Community Colleges of Spokane women's basketball coach is displayed at his Spokane Falls CC office Feb. 17, 2020. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
A collection of awards and photos from Bruce Johnson’s time as the Community Colleges of Spokane women’s basketball coach is displayed at his Spokane Falls CC office Feb. 17, 2020. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

Tobeck went on to Gonzaga before returning to CCS as an assistant coach for nine seasons.

“Bruce is a very fundamental coach, all about jump-stops” said Tobeck, who is now an assistant at Lakeside High School. “He has high expectations for the girls, but liked to have fun and laugh.

“He drilled fundamentals into us. Even today as a coach I think, ‘What would Bruce say?’ ”

Johnson had more than a half-dozen teams good enough to win NWAC Tournament titles, he said, but injuries slowed them down in key games.

Behind former North Central star Brianna King, Johnson earned his first and only NWAC Tournament championship in 2017. King went on to NAIA Montana Western, earning National Player of the Year in 2019 after leading the Bulldogs to a national championship.

“I probably had seven or eight teams that were better than that team,” Johnson said. “But we stayed healthy and (King) was a very special player for us, the most talented player I ever had.”

Johnson tried ascending earlier in his career, applying for then-vacant Eastern Washington and Gonzaga head coaching jobs, but was passed over.

Johnson wasn’t interested in moving his family across the country to be an assistant coach at a four-year school, so he stayed put and enjoyed coaching in an area littered with talent from which to recruit.

After next week, he plans to spend a significant amount of time away from gymnasiums, enjoying the good life.

“I’ll be on the beach in Australia,” he said. “And visiting my daughter in San Antonio, doing more things I didn’t have time for.”