View from the Booth: Daring hire will put fortune to the test with Utah football

Published: Thursday, Feb. 2 2012 8:44 p.m. MST

University of Utah football Coach Kyle Whittingham speaks about making Brian Johnson his offensive coordinator in Salt Lake City on Thursday, February 2, 2012.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

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"Audentes fortuna juvat" — Fortune favors the bold.

In my other play-by-play job I work with a head coach who lives and coaches by that Latin phrase. It was one of the first things that came to mind late Wednesday night when I confirmed that Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham named his 24-year-old quarterbacks coach his new offensive coordinator. Brian Johnson is barely old enough to rent a car when he goes on recruiting trips, but he is now in charge of the Utah offense as it heads into its second season in the Pac-12.

In the interest of full disclosure, I consider Johnson a friend. Not the kind that hang out or spend holidays together, but still a friend. I first met Johnson when he was just 17 years old and a freshman on the Utah football team. It was the year that everyone was talking about Alex Smith, but Johnson already stood out. He was one of the brightest and most articulate young men I'd come across in my years covering collegiate athletics. I knew immediately that the Utes had a good one, and so did his head coach Urban Meyer and quarterbacks coach Dan Mullen.

On their way out of the program and off to Florida, both raved about what great hands the Utah offense was in for the next three years. I won't recount the rest of the Brian Johnson story, because anyone reading this column or caring about this story already knows it.

I use the above example to illustrate that Johnson has always been a little ahead of his time. So as the debate rages on in the Twitter-sphere and on sports radio as to whether Whittingham made the correct choice, I would simply tell you that nobody knows just how this will work until Johnson puts on the headset Aug. 30 against Northern Colorado. But I will say that Whittingham knows a thing or two about game planning against clever offensive minds and has spoken effusively about Johnson's feel for the game.

Is there risk with this selection? There's no doubt about it. Johnson has just two years of coaching experience and has never been a coordinator before. While he has played the game at a high level and has become an excellent recruiter in just two years on the job, he's never called plays or run an offensive staff.

Whittingham has been around football and coaching his entire life. He is the son of a coach and has forgotten more football than most of us will ever know. This is the biggest hire of his seven-plus seasons as head coach at Utah. He saw in his first go-around in the Pac-12 exactly what it takes to compete offensively with the "big boys." When Norm Chow left for Hawaii, Whittingham had more than 50 potential candidates apply for the position. He spent more than a month vetting candidates and after the process was complete, his decision was just three offices down the hall.

As with any hire there will be risks, but oftentimes the higher the risk the higher the reward. If you are going to take a risk then it might as well be on a guy that knows something about winning and even more about leading. In hiring Johnson, Whittingham gets both. This would certainly be categorized as a bold move, now we'll see if indeed fortune favors the Utes.

Bill Riley can be heard as the voice of the University of Utah on gamedays and also on weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on the "Bill and Spence Show" on ESPN Radio 700 AM.

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