DePaul athletics hires former Chicago Bulls strength and conditioning coach


Ryan Gilroy

The inside of Wintrust Arena is seen after a DePaul basketball game on Tuesday, Oct. 29.

DePaul athletics announced the hiring of Matt Johnson to be the associate director of human performance for DePaul men’s basketball, after having spent the last 10 years as the head strength and conditioning coach for the Chicago Bulls.

Johnson received both his undergraduate and graduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, one of the premier sport science schools in the country.

After working for La Crosse and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Johnson landed a gig with the Chicago Bulls and has spent the last 10 years with them, including the last five as the head strength and conditioning coach.

“As far as leaving the professional level, I just really enjoy working with student-athletes,” Johnson said. “Being able to see physical development over a four year period is really cool. A lot of times students will come in as an 18-year-old kid and will leave as a 22-year-old man. Whether that’s emotional development, physical development, mental development. Being a part of that holistic approach to student-athlete development is another thing that drew me.”

Johnson made it clear that he had no issues with working at the professional level and his decision to leave was based on a passion for watching his impact take place up-close with student-athlete development and to have a team to call his own.

“When Coach Stubblefield called me, he pitched me on a vision of rebuilding DePaul basketball and to be a part of something special in the rebuild process and that culture,” Johnson said. “He also pitched me on the autonomy of running my own program and how I saw that my vision of how guys could improve from a physical development standpoint.”

Coach Stubblefield took none of Johnson’s experience for granted and announced his hiring back in June, admitting he felt it was necessary to add a strength and conditioning coach to his new coaching staff. He described the hiring of Johnson as “a perfect storm” for him and his basketball team since Johnson had already been working and living in Chicago.

“I had quite a bit of say in hiring Matt,” Stubblefield said. “DeWayne is my boss and I had to run everything by him. When I got the job, I thought it was very important to have a strength and conditioning coach that was committed to men’s basketball and our guys and our team. That’s something that I sought out with DeWayne’s approval and I felt like I got one of the best guys in the country.”

“I’m excited for his experience and his expertise. I’m looking forward to working with him and seeing how our guys develop and how he works with our guys and their interactions to get better from a strength and conditioning standpoint. Our guys want to feel like they’re getting quicker, bigger, and stronger. For them to see those types of improvements that’s exciting for them, as well from a guy who has worked with the best of the best athletes in the world.”

Johnson is no stranger to working with the best in the business at the professional level. He shared an anecdote of flying out to Seattle to implement a rehabilitation plan for Zach LaVine, who then was freshly traded to the Bulls and four months post-ACL surgery.

Coach Stubblefield emphasized that Johnson’s NBA experience is nothing to take for granted when it comes to his own team’s current situation, and a big reason he believed Johnson would be perfect for the job.

“That’s big. It’s more than just lift, lift, lift,” Stubblefield said. “It’s rehabilitation and time management with guys and workload. Guys coming off of injuries and guys that are injured to stay in shape while they’re injured. We have Javon (Freeman-Liberty), he’s going through a wrist injury right now, but can do things as far as bodyweight and other exercises to keep him in shape while he’s sitting out.”

Johnson has big plans for his student-athletes at DePaul. Between him and Coach Stubblefield, it’s clear that they make the perfect fit for DeWayne Peevy’s “dream big” approach to DePaul athletics.

“I want to be a strength coach that puts athletes first and puts them in the best position to succeed and physically develop and be a part of the education process,” Johnson said. “It starts with building strong relationships with the athletes. From there, I will put together the best program for each individual guy, and then it’s up to them to put in the work. I will never take credit for an athlete’s success, it’s their hard work and their ability to come in and do the work.”

“I’m a huge believer in doing the basics really well. My program is centered around coaching those basic Olympic lifts and mastering them with form and great technique before you move on to fancy stuff. I think that starts with moving well, technique, getting stronger.”

The men’s basketball team is dreaming a lot bigger than it has in recent years. The team has not had a winning season since the 2018-19 season. What’s more, the team has not had a winning conference record in the Big East since the 2006-07 season.

With the new look of the team and its supporting staff, like Johnson, that’s all about to change.

“Our goal is to win games,” senior guard Brendan Favre said. “Matt is gonna help us out by making us faster, stronger, and keeping us disciplined. So far it’s been very good. He’s got a lot of experience working with basketball athletes.”

The Blue Demons will open up their 2021-22 season with a six-game homestand. Coppin State, Central Michigan, and Rutgers represent the first three. They will host the next three in the Blue Demon Classic versus Western Illinois, Northern Kentucky and Eastern Michigan. Finally, the team announced recently they will take on Chicago teams Loyola Chicago, UIC and Northwestern in the middle of traveling to Louisville to take on the Cardinals.