LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Howard Johnson has joined the Mets' coaching staff, filling a hole left by the departure of Manny Acta to the Nationals.

Johnson will serve as the Mets' first-base and outfield coach, while also instructing baserunning, manager Willie Randolph said Wednesday. Sandy Alomar will shift to become the new third-base coach, replacing Acta.

"It's a weight off my shoulders," Johnson said. "The Minor Leagues are what they are; it's a way for players to work their way up, and the same can be said for coaches."

Johnson, a 14-year Major League veteran and two-time National League All-Star, had spent the last six years as a coach in the Mets organization. He had worked as a Triple-A hitting coach for the past two seasons with the Norfolk Tides.

Randolph had conducted numerous recent interviews with candidates to fill the vacancy, including Triple-A manager Ken Oberkfell, Class A manager Gary Carter and former Yankees teammate Bobby Meacham.

In the end, however, it was Johnson's versatility that won Randolph over.

"I was basically looking for an outfield guy," Randolph said, "but I preferred a guy who could teach baserunning. He was the right guy for the spot."

The first infielder to steal 30 bases and hit 30 home runs in the same season, Johnson's baserunning skills were developed despite lacking overwhelming speed. After going on to play the outfield as a Met, Johnson said he felt a "backward advantage" by having to learn the new positions.

"I had to learn how to play all three positions at Shea Stadium," Johnson said. "They're all unique. Based on that experience and really having to start from scratch, and get a feel for it and put it into practice in games, that will really help me. I can relate to guys."

Johnson said he was grateful for the opportunity to reunite with some of his former pupils from the Minors, including third baseman David Wright, who looks to Johnson as a sort of father figure. Johnson said that Wright received the third telephone call he made to relay the news, only behind his wife and parents.

Johnson also said that, for the foreseeable future, he is quite content with coaching and holds no managerial aspirations.

"I don't have [an] agenda to manage," Johnson said. "My agenda is to win and help Willie be the best manager he can be to help the organization win. Whatever happens down the road, who knows, but my goal is to help the Mets win in '07."