It’s pretty unusual for a coach to give up a coordinator’s job at one school to become a position coach at another. But in the case of Brian Johnson, it made perfect sense.
Going from offensive coordinator at Houston to quarterbacks coach at Florida has given Johnson a chance to reunite with Dan Mullen and others on the coaching staff and an opportunity to coach at a school with a rich quarterback tradition.
“It’s a chance to be at a place like the University of Florida and be around people I’ve worked with for a number of years,” Johnson said Thursday. “What we have on the offensive staff, I’ve known all of those guys for an extremely long time. We’ve worked together and had a ton of success throughout the course of the years both when I was a player and as a coach. There was a certain comfort level for me. Being around all those guys and them being around me. It seemed like a good fit and a very natural fit.”
Johnson, Mullen and co-offensive coordinators John Hevesy and Billy Gonzales go way back. Mullen, Hevesy and Gonzales were on Urban Meyer’s Utah staff, and Mullen first started recruiting Johnson when Johnson was only 16 years old.
Johnson ended up signing with the Utes and played for Mullen for one year before Meyer took the Florida job after the 2004 season and brought most of his staff with him to Gainesville.
When Mullen contacted Johnson last December about possibly becoming the Gators’ quarterback coach, he quickly accepted.
“Coach Mullen and I have always had a great relationship, obviously. I’ve known him since I was 16 years old,” Johnson said. “We constantly kept the communication. When I had the opportunity to come here, I was really excited. I am excited to be here. It’s a great program and great tradition, a very, very rich history.”
Florida’s recent quarterback history, of course, is anything but rich. Ever since Tim Tebow left after the 2009 season (one year after Mullen left to become the head coach at Mississippi State), the Gators have been hamstrung by inconsistent and unproductive quarterback play.
Johnson has been assigned to correct that. And he will receive assistance from three offensive coaches he knows very well in an offensive system that he knows very well.
“It’s huge,” Johnson said. “Just the familiarity that we have with the staff where we can use it as recall in game planning. You just take a look at the timeline of how long guys have been together. They’ve pretty much had every football conversation. It’s usually not anything that comes up that we hadn’t seen or discussed generally as an offensive staff. That’s huge just in terms of how we work together, how we present information and how we teach to our guys.”
When Mullen and Johnson were together at Utah, Johnson was one of only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. The other was Alex Smith, who has gone on to have an outstanding NFL career.
Smith is one of the multiple successful quarterbacks Mullen has helped develop over the years.
Johnson said he was a sponge when he was in the meeting room with Mullen and Smith for that one year in Utah.
“He was great to play for,” Johnson said of Mullen. “I learned a lot from both of those guys in the short time that we were together. And some of those lessons and those conversations that went way beyond football is stuff that I still carry with me today. So, definitely, one of the best teachers that I’ve been around.
“I think one of the best things about Coach Mullen’s resume is the fact that he’s coached guys that have all looked very, very different and had different skill sets and gotten a ton of production out of them. That is what you’re looking for.”
Johnson will work with quarterbacks who have distinctly different skills set.
Feleipe Franks, last year’s starter, is a pocket passer who is also fast enough and athletic enough to make some plays with his feet.
Kyle Trask and Jake Allen are mostly pocket passers.
True freshmen Emory Jones is a dual-threat quarterback who made dynamic plays with his arm and his legs in high school.
Johnson said all the quarterbacks will start out even in the spring and all will have a shot at winning the job.
“We have some talent in the room,” he said. “Feleipe has played some. When I first got here I turned on all the game film and turned on some film from spring before Kyle got hurt to see what he could do. And, obviously, recruiting Emory.
“I think those guys are all talented in their own way and they all kind of have a different skill set. What we have to do as an offensive staff is to find out a way to put our guys in a position to be successful.”
Johnson said he’s impressed with some of the things Franks flashed last season. He also said he thinks Jones has the IT factor, but he and the coaches won’t know for sure until the pads come on in the spring.
“The biggest thing that I see (in Franks) is the ability,” Johnson said. “He
made plays when he had opportunities to make plays. You can see the
talent. He has some tools that we definitely can work with and get the best out of him.
“We definitely would like to think (Jones has the IT factor). We’re excited about him. I know he’s excited to get out there on the field and show what he can do and get ready to go.”