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Chad Johnson
Chad Johnson coaches for the Fargo Force against the Lincoln Stars at the Ice Box on March 21, 2009. (Robert J. Meyer/ USHL Images.com)

The Lincoln Stars shook up their coaching staff by replacing head coach Jimmy McGroarty with Chad Johnson.

In an unusual twist, though, McGroarty will remain with the team as associate head coach.

The move comes only days after Lincoln finished its worst season in the 14-year history of the franchise with the worst record (16-36-8) in the United States Hockey League.

Nick Fouts, a former Lincoln player who has been an assistant coach for three seasons, will remain in that position.

Chad Johnson is the younger brother of former Stars head coach Steve Johnson and was a Stars assistant for three seasons beginning in the team's first season, when Lincoln set an expansion record with a 40-13-1 record and won the postseason championship.

Stars president Jim Pflug said the decision to switch coaches was based on the results of this season, and that McGroarty's first two seasons met expectations. He never questioned the effort of the players or coaches, Pflug said, but felt the organization owed it to its fans to make a change.

"We've always had high expectations for our teams, and bottom line is we weren't competitive this year in the standings," Pflug said. "It's not like we go into a season expecting to win it all every year, or win every game we play, but we do expect to go into each game with the mind-set that we're going to win tonight's game, and it just seems like at times we didn't have that confidence on a consistent basis."

Chad Johnson is in his second season as associate head coach of the Fargo Force, which also plays in the USHL, the top junior league in the nation for players 16 to 20 years old. Last season, he worked under Dean Blais (now coaching at Nebraska-Omaha), and this season under his brother. Johnson will stay with Fargo through the playoffs.

The 40-year-old Johnson, who like his brother played for North Dakota, says he's trying to keep his emotions in check while still helping coach Fargo, but is "extremely excited" about the chance with the Stars.

In Lincoln, Johnson hopes to be able to bring the same high-tempo style that has been successful in Fargo.

Johnson interviewed for the Stars' head-coaching job when McGroarty was hired in 2007. Pflug hesitated to say Johnson was No. 2 for the job last time, noting that it was more like No. 1 and No. 1A.

"We just felt like Jimmy was what our organization needed at the time with his energy," Pflug said.

There was no formal interview this time, and Thursday Johnson finalized a three-year contract. He will also be the general manager, and have the final say during the USHL Draft in May and the team's tryout camp in June.

Johnson's strength was his success as a head coach at the Tier II junior level in stops at Helena (Mont.), Minot (N.D), Bismarck (N.D) and Fargo-Moorhead of the North American Hockey League. Also, his work under Blais, who team owners and management consider one of the top coaches in the game.

More than 50 people applied for the job in 2007, but Lincoln didn't bother with a long coaching search this time. The potential pool of candidates likely would have included former minor-league pro coaches, NCAA Division I assistant coaches and current and former USHL coaches.

The chance of hiring a current USHL head coach was a less-likely possibility, and something Pflug said was never considered. Some USHL coaches have a clause in their contract that prevents them from leaving for another USHL team, and some also are team part-owners.

Reach Brent C. Wagner at 473-7435 or bwagner@journalstar.com.

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