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That year he endured skepticism and criticism as Utah’s offense at times seemed inept. But the Utes came out winners every time, including Johnson’s ultimate moment when he led the Utes past Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.
Watching that game, Johnson’s high school coach saw glimpses of the mastery that had made him such a special player years earlier.
Brian Johnson becomes the fifth offensive coordinator under Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, following in the steps of Andy Ludwig, Dave Schramm, Aaron Roderick and Norm Chow as Whittingham continues to experiment with the offense. Here is a look at how productive the Utes’ offense has been under Whittingham:
Year Avg. Natl. Rank
2011 25 74
2010 33.1 23
2009 29.9 34
2008 36.9 15
2007 26.2 68
2006 27.9 33
2005 30.0 36
Year Avg. Natl. Rank
2011 310.9 109
2010 389.0 57
2009 389.5 54
2008 400.9 35
2007 369.9 79
2006 368.4 41
2005 473.0 12
Brian Johnson file
» Signed letter of intent with Utes as 16-year-old
» Played 10 games as a freshman
» Finished as Utah’s winningest QB with 26-7 record
» Has bachelor’s in mass communication
» Hometown: Crosby, Texas
» Born: Feb. 16, 1987
"We had a series of five plays called ‘Raider’ we would keep running until we either scored or got stopped," Olin said. "When Utah went into that hurry-up offense, that is what I saw in him. Alabama couldn’t get set and he went right down the field and scored. That was as good of a game as I’ve seen anyone manage."
In the end Johnson was left standing alone with the trophy, literally. The rest of the team took off to celebrate the win, mistakenly leaving Johnson behind at the Superdome. So he walked the trophy back to the hotel by himself through some iffy parts of downtown New Orleans.
A new challenge
The path that stands before him looks just as unsettling, with many possible foes waiting in the shadows.
How can a guy with just two years of experience craft an offense that can win in the Pac-12 when the program itself is still learning about the league? How will he manage a possible quarterback controversy with upstarts Travis Wilson and Chase Hansen pushing the injury-prone Jordan Wynn for playing time?
How will he keep returning running back John White happy and find room for highly touted signee Kelvin York? How can he keep Whittingham from meddling in his business to the point where Johnson is nothing more than a yes-man?
Moreover, is Whittingham nuts for promoting Johnson? After all, he said he had more than 70 applicants with impressive pedigrees. But in the end, Johnson won him over.
"After I looked at everything, he was the best candidate," Whittingham said. "It’s just the way he conducts himself."
Johnson said he’ll do all things to make the Utes successful by using the same attitude that made him successful on the field.
"The biggest challenge we have is creating a culture where we are aggressive and thinking outside the box," he said. "We have to be innovative and be demanding with the players."
Pushed to reveal more about his coaching philosophy, Johnson offers little in the way of specifics, other than saying he has been influenced heavily by his former coordinator, Mullen, and he plans to use a multiple attack.
"You have to be aggressive in football these days," he said. "The days of slugging it out are over. You have to take some risks and not be afraid of thinking outside the box and coming up with better ways of doing things."
It’s a vision thing
If Utah fans are a little uncomfortable with the fuzziness of such statements, those who spend significant time with Johnson say they shouldn’t fret.
Johnson was the same way on the field, said former offensive lineman Zane Beadles. Yet, he always put the Utes in position to win.
"He has something you can’t quantify," said Beadles, who will be protecting Peyton Manning this season as starter on the Denver Broncos’ offensive line. "It’s one of those things you either have or you don’t, and he has it. He is a humble guy and I know he is going to go into it by taking the team approach, getting the opinions from everybody on the staff and doing what is best for everyone. He’ll put his ego aside. I have faith in him for sure."
If there is any place he could take a misstep it’s in doing too much, Mullen said. Johnson likes to be in control so much that he still considers the years when he couldn’t drive the most frustrating period of his life. "Bumming rides off everybody when I was a senior, it was the worst," he said.Next Page >
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