Utah football: Coaching switch has helped Utes' offense
Utah assistant coaches Brian Johnson and Aaron Roderick walked off the practice field this week together, laughing and joking.
Apparently a different view is what both needed to improve their lives as well as Utah's offense.
The assistants, who traded places two weeks ago, say their new roles fit both their styles much better.
Johnson, the first-year offensive coordinator who often relied on his instinctive skills rather than scripted plays to become Utah's winningest quarterback, says he is much more comfortable on the field working with the quarterbacks while Roderick, who remains the passing coordinator, is happier in the box, reading defenses as he has done in the past.
The unconventional move might have raised some eyebrows and prompted the question of who really is the offensive coordinator at Utah, but the Utes are brushing all that aside.
All they care about, they say, is that Utah has won its last two games and had 49 points in each of those outings. While the offense has been more streamlined and efficient in those games, Roderick downplayed the impact the switch made and gave credit elsewhere.
"I've always liked being in the booth, and I will do anything the team needs me to do to win," Roderick said. "I think people are making too big of a deal about it. The reason we have played better is the quarterback has played better every game and the players are getting better at what we do. That is it."
The move made Roderick a happier man and Johnson a more confident coach. The 25-year-old Johnson had just two years of coaching experience before he was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator.
He admits he wasn't comfortable in the press box, separated from the field, the players and the energy that helped define him as a winner.
Now down on the field, Johnson no longer is overthinking things, but is using Roderick's eyes to react and make calls.
"I'm so used to being down there for my entire career for the last eight or nine years and so much of this game is about the emotion, the passion and the energy and all that comes along with it and being able to understand it and handle it," he said. "You get a genuinely better feel for how that is being on the field than being isolated in a little cubicle to yourself where there is kind of tunnel vision, so I like being down there. I feel really comfortable."
Johnson said that he is still calling the plays, but helping him is a slimmed-down offense and the direct contact with quarterback Travis Wilson.
"Dealing with a young quarterback and to get ahold of his demeanor and how things are generally going out there, I think it gives us a better feel of everything," he said. "It might be a little unorthodox, but if you look around the country and the NFL, there are a ton of guys who call the plays from the sidelines and have great success with it.
"Green Bay has a great offense and coach [Mike] McCarthy does a great job of calling from the sidelines so that part of it was absolutely seamless because you are really calling the game throughout the week. The preparation is where you know what you are going to call, then in the game you adjust to what the defense is doing."
Those adjustments of course, are now relying more on Roderick's skill than ever.
As he prepares for Washington, Roderick knows many might theorize his latest role is just another line to add to his rÃ©sumÃ©. After all, he left the Utes once in 2009 when Steve Sarkisian hired him to be his receivers coach.
Roderick was there less than two weeks before he decided to return to the Utes. He had a brief stint as coordinator until the Utes hired Norm Chow.
Roderick was admittedly upset when he was passed over for the offensive coordinator's position when Johnson was hired to replace Chow, but says he has come to terms with all of his past decisions.
"I love it here, and this is home," he said. "You don't look back on things like that."
Instead, both Johnson and Roderick are looking forward, studying film and theorizing schemes that could beat the Huskies on Saturday and keep Utah's bowl hopes alive.
"I tell Brian what coverage I see and the pressure I see, but he calls all the plays," Roderick said. "The roles are the same as they were, we are just in different places."
Different places that are helping the Utes go places that is the goal.
• Youngest OC in the nation
• 2010-11 quarterbacks coach for Utah
• MVP of the 2007 Poinsettia Bowl and 2009 Sugar Bowl
• 2003-04 SUU offensive coordinator
• 2005-09 Utah wide receivers coach
• 2010 co-offensive coordinator
• 2011 wide receivers coach
• 2012 passing game coordinator
Utah at Washington
P Saturday, 8:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network