Dennis Erickson: 'Brian Johnson is a superstar in our business'
There are plenty of co-coordinators on staffs throughout college football, but you would be hard pressed to find two co-coordinators with more divergent backgrounds than Utah's Dennis Erickson and Brian Johnson.
Erickson is a 65-year-old in his sixth decade coaching football. His career began as a graduate assistant at Montana State in 1969, and from there he has gone on to become the head coach for nine different teams, seven in college football and two in the NFL. He won two national championships at Miami and was named the national coach of the year while taking Oregon State to the Fiesta Bowl. On the college level, Erickson sports a 179-96-1 record and has taken a dozen teams to bowl games.
Johnson turned 26 last week. After quarterbacking Utah to an undefeated season in 2008, he was hired to coach quarterbacks at his alma mater in 2010. Two years later, he became a 25-year-old offensive coordinator.
Any assistant who has won two national titles as a head coach and was named national coach of the year at a different school is going to dwarf the accomplishments of any assistant throughout the game, but it's the pairing of the most accomplished coordinator in college football with the youngest coordinator in college football that makes this arrangement so fascinating.
Sum up their differences this way: Erickson was in his 18th year of coaching and had just taken his third different head coaching job when Johnson was born.
Speaking for the first time since his hiring was announced a week and a half ago, Erickson had this to say about his co-coordinator:
"Brian Johnson is a superstar in our business. He really is," Erickson said. "I've spent three of four days with him, and he is (a superstar). I watched him play a lot, and you're not a player and do the things he does as a competitor and not be able to transfer it over to coaching. We'll spend a lot of time together. Hopefully I'll learn from (me) because I know I'll learn from him. It's a two-way street. I think as a young coach, never think you don't have something to learn; as an old coach, you've always got something to learn."
Head coach Kyle Whittingham has more in mind for his co-offensive coordinators than the next great buddy cop sitcom. They'll be tasked with turning around an offense that ranked eighth or lower in the Pac-12 in each of the five major offensive statistics, including 12th in passing offense and 11th in total offense. The 5-7 Utes were held to 15 points or fewer four times in Pac-12 play, but managed to win three of their final five games, topping 42 points in each victory.
"We're trying to get back into running the option most of the time, running some read option stuff, spreading them out, doing those types of things," Erickson said. "You look at the top 10 offenses in college football right now, all of them run 75-to-80 plays. We all (as a staff) want to do the same things, and that's going to be one of them."
There are many co-coordinator tandems in college football, but none as unique as this one. While their résumés could not be more different, Erickson thinks their philosophies are the same.