Jim Johnson contributed to the growth of East Carolina's athletic program both by participating as an athlete from 1933-37 and then as a coach and administrator after World War II.
In four years as an athlete, Johnson won 16 letters in three major sports and was captain of each of the sports at least once. In football, he played three positions: tackle on defense, halfback on offense and he was the kicker and punter. In baseball, he led his team in hitting with a .340 batting average. He also played basketball and received the Outstanding Athletic Award from the faculty.
In 1945, he was asked to rejuvenate athletics at ECC. Intercollegiate sports were dropped during the war so Johnson had to start from scratch. He coached baseball, basketball and football with no assistance, no scholarships and no scouting, yet had winning teams in all three sports. At this time, Johnson also held the athletic director's job and started the East Carolina Educational Foundation to raise funds for athletic scholarships.
In 1959, he was chosen as the outstanding Pirate booster. Johnson also went on to be a member of the East Carolina Alumni Board and a member of the College Athletic Council.