Matt Gade, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — It has become an annual tradition for the University of Utah to name a new offensive coordinator for the football team.
On Tuesday morning, the Utes introduced Dave Christensen as the seventh offensive coordinator in the past seven years at a press conference at the Eccles Football Center.
The 52-year-old Christensen was a successful offensive coordinator at Toledo (1991-2000) and Missouri (2001-08), before becoming the head coach at Wyoming, where he compiled a 27-35 record before being let go at the end of the 2013 season.
Christensen said he was excited for the opportunity to coach with Kyle Whittingham and added, “I’m thrilled to be here in Salt Lake and coach in a conference where offenses are explosive.’’
Whittingham explained the decision to replace last year’s co-offensive coordinators Dennis Erickson and Brian Johnson with Christensen, who is a close friend that he worked with nearly 25 years ago at Idaho State.
“We still need to get better,’’ Whittingham said. “We’re on the right track. But we need to get better and I don’t think anybody would disagree with that. My hope is that Dave will help us get to the next level.’’
Whittingham said the biggest issue for the offense last year was turnovers and the Utes would work to improve on the 25 turnovers the team had last year when it ranked 112th in the country in turnover margin.
Christensen said he would use a spread offense and be “more up-tempo,’’ but said there would be “a lot of carryover and not as drastic of a change as people may think.’’
When asked about his priorities going into spring ball, he echoed Whittingham in saying, “Our No. 1 priority is to protect the football,’’ adding that No. 2 would be "to get everything installed and all the terminology down and identify the top 22 or 25 players offensively.’’
Both Whittingham and Christensen downplayed any rift there might be between Christensen and last year’s offensive coordinators, Erickson and Johnson, who will coach the running backs and quarterbacks, respectively.
“I feel great about working with both of them,’’ Christensen said. “I’ve known Dennis for a long time. He’s from my hometown (Everett, Wash.) and we graduated from the same high school. I’ve followed him and known him forever.
“Brian is an extremely intelligent young coach and Dennis has a lot of knowledge and experience — I think it’s a great combination. Just being here a couple of days and meeting with those guys, it’s gone really well.’’
Whittingham said Erickson, who was brought in last year as the co-offensive coordinator with Johnson is fine with the change and will continue to be part of the Ute staff.
“Coach Erickson is an unbelievable guy,’’ Whittingham said. “I visited with coach Erickson and he said, ‘I don’t need titles, I just want to help the University of Utah win.’ He’s the consummate professional and he’s excited to stay on.’’
Christensen was non-committal about the quarterback situation at the U., saying he will look at all of the quarterbacks in the Utes’ system and not come in with any preconceived notions. Because the status of Travis Wilson’s health won’t be known for a few months, Christensen said the Utes aren’t likely to name a starter before fall camp.
He said his ideal quarterback is one who “makes great decisions with the football, has an accurate arm and has escapability. He doesn’t have to be a 4.5 guy, but have some threat from a running standpoint. Based on the guy who plays the position, we’re going to mold the offense to fit his strengths.’’
Junior Adam Schulz, who started the final three games for Utah, is back along with redshirt freshmen Connor Manning, Travis Cox and Micah Thomas.
Before Erickson and Johnson last year, the offensive coordinators at Utah were Johnson in 2012, Norm Chow in 2011, Aaron Roderick and Dave Schramm in 2010, Schramm in 2009 and Andy Ludwig in 2008.
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