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Keyshawn Has a Catch for Matadors

Football: Former USC All-American Johnson endorses West L.A. coach for Northridge job, says he'll back it up with cash.


NORTHRIDGE — Keyshawn Johnson doesn't think much of quarterback Neil O'Donnell but he can't praise Rob Hager enough.

Johnson, the outspoken wide receiver of the New York Jets, said Thursday he is endorsing Hager, West Los Angeles College's football coach, for the vacant head coaching position at Cal State Northridge.

The former West L.A. and USC star, a Tarzana resident, pledged to financially and morally support the Matadors if Hager gets the job.

"I would act as an alum of Northridge," Johnson said. "I would support [Hager] to my full, maximum potential."

Hager said he applied for the job vacated Monday by Jim Fenwick, who resigned after one season with the Matadors to become offensive coordinator at New Mexico.

The Matadors were 6-6 overall and 4-4 in the Big Sky Conference under Fenwick.

Hager applied at Northridge after Dave Baldwin left in December 1996 to become coach at San Jose State. He was not a finalist.

"I think [Northridge] has the greatest dynamic of all, and that's location," Hager said.

Johnson, an All-American at USC and the first player picked in the 1996 NFL draft, ripped O'Donnell and other Jets teammates in his book "Just Give Me the Damn Ball!" after his rookie season.

His offer to Northridge might be titled "Just Hire Me the Damn Coach!"

"[Johnson] has always been tremendously loyal to us," Hager said. "I'm just proud of having his support."

Johnson mentioned several things he could do for the Matadors.

"I could help him raise money, starting with me putting in the first dollar," he said. "Maybe putting a golf tournament together or a basketball tournament, whatever. . . . I have a very strong corporate backing. I would try to get them involved somehow."

Johnson would not specify the extent of what his financial contribution would be, but he called it "a very significant, large amount."

He believes Hager would fare well at Northridge.

"He will turn that program around, I guarantee it," Johnson said. "I know what this man can do. . . . If he gets the opportunity, he'll build that program like he did the West L.A. program and not run out like some coaches do."

Hager guided the Oilers to an 8-3 record last season and a three-way tie for first place in the Western State Conference Southern Division with a 4-1 mark.

It was the second consecutive winning season for the Oilers, who lost 21 consecutive games before Hager became coach in 1990.

Johnson played with the Oilers in 1991 and 1993. Hager also turned out linebacker Sam Rogers of the Buffalo Bills, wide receiver Isaac Bruce of the St. Louis Rams and running back Michael Black of Washington State at West L.A.

Hager was an assistant in the early 1980s at Vanderbilt, Eastern Michigan and Western Kentucky, and coached at St. Mary's Prep in Detroit from 1985-88. He said he turned down an assistant's post at Colorado in 1990 because he was committed to West L.A.

"[Hager] has a very strong recruiting base in the [Los Angeles] inner city," Johnson said. "He can out-recruit all those Big Sky schools in that area."

Hager won't have to compete for the Northridge job with two coaches who would have been strong candidates--Mike Kramer of Eastern Washington and Jerome Souers of Montana.

Kramer was interested in the position when Baldwin left but said this week that he is negotiating a multiyear contract to coach the Eagles, whom he took to the Big Sky title in 1997.

Souers was hired Thursday by Northern Arizona after eight seasons as Montana's defensive coordinator.



NCAA Division I-A / I-AA College Football


School Former Coach/Left Alabama State Houston Markham/Dec.1 Alcorn State Cardell Jones/Dec. 1 Arkansas Danny Ford/Nov. 29 Boise State Houston Nutt/Dec. 10 Brown Mark Whipple/Dec. 16 Cal State Northridge Jim Fenwick/Jan. 5 Grambling Eddie Robinson/Nov. 29 Indiana State Dennis Raetz/Nov. 19 Iona Harold Crocker/Nov. 17 Kent Jim Corrigall/Nov. 12 Louisville Ron Cooper/Nov. 19 Massachusetts Mike Hodges/Nov. 16 Nebraska Tom Osborne/Dec. 10 New Mexico Dennis Franchione/Dec. 15 North Carolina Mack Brown/Dec. 4 Northern Arizona Steve Axman/Dec. 17 St. Francis (Pa.) Pete Mayock/Nov. 17 Temple Ron Dickerson/Nov. 17 Texas John Mackovic/Nov. 29 TCU Pat Sullivan/Oct. 26 USC John Robinson/Dec. 17 Utah State John L. Smith/Nov. 24 Weber State Dave Arslanian/Dec. 6

School New coach/Hired Alabama State Ron Dickerson/Dec. 17 Alcorn State x-Mario Kirksey/Dec. 1 Arkansas Houston Nutt/Dec.10 Boise State Dirk Koetter/Dec. 10 Brown Phil Estes/Dec. 18 Cal State Northridge Grambling Doug Williams/Dec. 4 Indiana State Tim McGuire/Nov. 26 Iona Kent Dean Pees/Dec. 17 Louisville John L. Smith/Nov. 24 Massachusetts Mark Whipple/Dec. 16 Nebraska Frank Solich/Dec. 10 New Mexico Rocky Long/Dec. 20 North Carolina Carl Torbush/Dec. 8 Northern Arizona Jerome Souers/Jan. 8 St. Francis (Pa.) Kevin Doherty/Dec. 29 Temple Bobby Wallace/Dec. 4 Texas Mack Brown/Dec. 4 TCU Dennis Franchione/Dec. 15 USC Paul Hackett/Dec. 17 Utah State Dave Arslanian/Dec. 6 Weber State Jerry Graybeal/Dec. 24


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