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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. 

Background on the new test the NFL is debuting today at the Combine

One of the the annual traditions of the NFL Combine is debating the worth of the Wonderlic test. As we all ask when the calendar hits late February, how does knowing the amount of days in a given month help determine whether or not a player can play football?

The NFL is debuting the Player Assessment Test, cheekily abbreviated to PAT, today on offensive linemen, tight ends and specialists. Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer provided a detailed background piece on the test and, most importantly, its designer. 

The PAT was designed by Washington, D.C., attorney Cyrus Mehri. As Person describes, Mehri has a long history with the NFL.

"Mehri successfully brought discrimination suits against corporate giants such as Texaco, Coca-Cola and Ford," Peoples writes. "He also helped craft the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for head-coaching and general manager positions, and co-founded the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which champions minority hiring in the NFL."

Mehri's work is certainly worthwhile, but he clearly comes to the NFL with a very specific history. Isn't there someone out there that can create a similar test, or maybe even a better one, with a neutral background?

Teaming with psychologist Henry Goldstein, the article states Mehri's test is an hour-long, 100-question assessment designed to pinpoint a player's mental toughness through "football-related dimensions". 

“If you’re going to be a Pro Bowler in the NFL or in the Hall of Fame, you have to be tremendously smart – football smart,” Mehri said. “But you may not be a guy who performed well in tests in school. I think this is going to provide a lot of information and be really good for guys who are really smart, but not necessarily book smart.”

Approved by John Elway and and New York Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi, the NFL will implement the PAT on one-year trial period for the time being. 

VIDEO: Rutgers football - 'What if I told you?'

Times are good for the folks in scarlet in Piscataway, N.J. After losing program architect Greg Schiano to the NFL, Kyle Flood stepped into his first college head coaching job and immediately delivered a share of the first conference championship in program history. The Scarlet Knights got the Flood era off to a 7-0 start, rising to No. 18 in the AP poll. 

While the Scarlet Knights faithful began to feel good about what was happening on the field, even better news came off the field. On Nov. 20, the school announced it was leaving the Big East for its dream home, the Big Ten beginning in 2014. 

A program that dates all the way back to 1869 hasn't had many better years than 2012, and the folks at Rutgers shared with us their video recap of last year's campaign. Take a look.

Jim Harbaugh making his mark on the NFL rule book

In a league that loves to name its rules - the Rooney Rule and the Tuck Rule come immediately to mind - the NFL could be getting another not-so-official namesake rule, the Jim Harbaugh rule. Harbaugh is a coach with a personality so boisterous that it can't always be contained to the sidelines, and the NFL wants to put a stop to it.

"We need to be much more disciplined about where our coaches go in terms of the box," said Ray Anderson, the league's director of football operations, told Clark Judge of CBSSports.com. "Venturing out on the field beyond traditional markers is something that is just not appropriate. It can interfere and it can be viewed as intimidating, and we really are going to rein that in."

The rule, which was already in the NFL rule book but not consistently enforced, won't officially be named after the 49ers' coach, but it is serious about reigning in wandering coaches, and it will come with a full set of teeth.

"Coaches can be flagged," Anderson continued. "It's about enforcement and point of emphasis. So coaches who, after appropriate warning, continue to venture out will pay the price with a penalty that potentially could hurt heir team."

If that doesn't work, Anderson went on to say the NFL where it hurts the most, in their checkbook. 

Colorado proposes $170 million in facility upgrades

Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn mentioned over and over in December how badly the school needed to upgrade its athletic facilities in order to compete in the Pac-12. The athletic department is now putting their money where their mouth is, to the tune of $170 million. 

CU Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano, Bohn and head football coach Mike MacIntyre jointly presented Colorado's plan to improve the Buffaloes' football facilities.

“This is a strong commitment to success by the president, the chancellor and the university as a whole,” said MacIntyre said in the school's statement. “These facilities will represent to our current and future players the dual commitments to excellence, and to be successful year-in and year-out, at the University of Colorado. The entire university community wants to sustain excellence in everything we do, and at the same time, keep moving forward. This commitment represents both of these desires.”

Pending approval from the CU Board of Regents, the plan includes a new academic center, an indoor practice facility, an expanded space for football operations inside the Dal Ward Athletic Center, increasing the safety of Folsom Field's east side stands and redeveloping the west side stands. 

“This plan represents a carefully conceived, strategic investment in our future in the Pac-12 Conference,” said Bohn. “It will position us to attract the best student-athletes in the nation. It will improve the performance of our student-athletes on the field and in the classroom, and it will enhance our fan experience.”

 

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