NASA flight engineer interns as Roughnecks assistant coach

By Tyler Tyre, Sports Editor
Posted 6/18/24

“Yusef did a great job,” he said. “He worked mainly on the defensive side of the ball; very smart guy. He surpassed his obligations and was a true help to our staff.”

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NASA flight engineer interns as Roughnecks assistant coach


One does not have to be a rocket scientist to coach football, but it certainly helps. At least it does according to Yusef Johnson, who is a flight design engineer for NASA and a high school football coach.

This spring, Johnson participated in an internship program with the Houston Roughnecks of the United Football League. He got to be on the sidelines helping coach the defense at all five home games for the Roughnecks through a partnership between the UFL, Under Armour, and the National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches (NCMFC).

“I’m very thankful to be able to take advantage of this opportunity,” Johnson said.

With the Roughnecks, Johnson spent two days a week with the team. He was part of the game planning and preparation the day before a game and then helped coach the outside linebackers during the games.

“I called personnel packages for the defensive coordinator,” he said. “It’s my job to signal it in.”

In addition to doing some coaching, he is also responsible for making sure the other coaches have their iPads and other tools to do their jobs. Johnson said the shadow program taught him a lot.

“It’s gonna really help us in the fall,” he said.

Roughnecks head coach C.J. Johnson was pleased with the job Johnson did.

“Yusef did a great job,” he said. “He worked mainly on the defensive side of the ball; very smart guy. He surpassed his obligations and was a true help to our staff.”

Yusef Johnson is a linebackers coach at Lutheran South Academy in Houston. His day job, however, is as a rocket scientist for NASA. Having earned his bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from Tuskegee University and his master’s degree in space systems management from the Florida Institute of Technology, he is currently employed as the lead mission planner for Artemis IV. That mission will deliver the I-HAB module to the Lunar Gateway, as well as land humans on the moon.

“When I was a boy, I dreamed of being an astronaut,” he said.

Since he was not selected into the astronaut program, Johnson said the next best thing was to help the astronauts get into space. He has been with NASA for 27 years, the first 14 as a flight controller during the space shuttle program. He was laid off when the shuttle program ended and he spent a year working with the Navy before returning to NASA.

In his evenings off from NASA Johnson has followed his other dream of being a football coach. It’s a balancing act of his time every fall, but a skill he has mastered.

“Both NASA and Lutheran South have been very generous and flexible with my schedule,” he said.

He has had to miss a couple games over the years because of launches, but his NASA bosses and colleagues are supportive of his coaching career and fill in for him when they can.

“People here love football,” he said.

He said there are aspects of coaching that help him become better at his job with NASA and vice versa.

“In football, you can be down, you can play hurt, and you learn to fight through adversity,” he said in a published interview. “Sometimes, fighting through engineering problems can be tough to solve, but you learn how to persevere, and you find a solution to the problem you’re working on.

“As far as similarities, in football, you have a lot of people from different backgrounds and different abilities, and you have to get together to achieve a goal. That’s no different from what we do around here,” he said.

He said the most important skill he has developed is time management.

“The biggest lesson I’ve learned is how efficient people have to be with their time,” he said.

Not only is time critical in the space industry, but it is equally vital on the gridiron.

“It’s (UFL) a lot faster than you think,” he said. “Television doesn’t do it justice … There is not a lot that separates these guys from the NFL.”

The internship program was tested last season with two teams in the XFL. It expanded to all eight teams this season in the UFL, which is a merged league combining the XFL and the USFL. The leaders in the partnership expressed their enthusiasm for the program in a press release.

“We are proud to work with Under Armour and the NCMFC to expand our partnership for the 2024 season,” said Russ Brandon, president and CEO of the UFL. “The program is a tremendous growth opportunity for these coaches, and we are deeply committed to creating opportunities and providing unparalleled access to professional coaching at the highest level.”

Sean Eggert, senior vice president of Global Sports Marketing at Under Armour, said, “Under Armour is passionate about creating opportunities for minority football coaches of all levels to increase minority hires year over year, and increase engagement with the Coalition, ultimately bringing more diversity, equity, and inclusion to football.

“With the expansion of this partnership, we will provide NCMFC coaching members in each of these markets a platform to continue to build on their craft, grow personally and professionally, and develop a network so they are in the best position to take the next step in their careers,” he said.

Mike Locksley, president and founder of NCMFC, said he was thrilled to participate in the program.

“The mission of the National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches centers around the professional development of minority football coaches, which is why we are excited to expand our partnership with Under Armour and the UFL,” he said. “This unique opportunity for a minority fellowship with a professional UFL team will give our coaches the chance to gain invaluable experience as they seek to advance their careers. We know our coaches truly appreciate such a rare opportunity, which was apparent by the vast number of applications we received.”

Houston Roughnecks, sports, football, UFL, Assistant Coach, Yusef Johnson