SALT LAKE CITY — Brian Johnson has a history of early advancement. Being named Utah's offensive coordinator at the tender age of 24 is just the latest milestone for the soft-spoken Texan.
"He's been the exception to the rule his whole life," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "He starts school when he's 5 years old and boom they put him in second grade right out of the gate. He skips first grade and kindergarten."
Johnson claims he learned how to read when he was just 2 years old. Whittingham, however, jokingly said he might have to call Johnson's mother to verify that.
"It sounds a little Uncle Rico-ish to me," Whittingham quipped.
Even so, it shouldn't come as any surprise if Johnson could, indeed, throw a football over them mountains. He's continually reaching new heights.
"He's always been ahead of the curve ever since he started school — signed a letter-of-intent as a 16-year-old senior in high school and was a starting Division I quarterback at 18 years old," Whittingham said. "So there's never a point in his life, I don't believe, that he hasn't been ahead of the curve."
As such, Johnson is eager to take on another challenge — even one as large as being an offensive coordinator in the Pac-12.
"I've been young for everything I've done in my life. So it's nothing new to me," he said. "I've always believed that hard work pays off. So you've got to continue to grind, keep working and good things usually happen."
After expressing appreciation to Whittingham for giving him the opportunity to direct Utah's offense, Johnson noted that he's ready for it and has no fear. He believes the slight age difference between himself and the players will be beneficial because he can relate to what they're going through.
Johnson added that the Utes have a lot of talented players and his job is to put them in position to be successful.
Whittingham said he believes in Johnson "100 percent" and is confident the former Utah quarterback will be successful, even with just two years of experience as a position coach — overseeing the quarterbacks.
"He's been ahead of the curve his entire life," Whittingham said. "And I've got no doubt that he's got the necessary skills to get the job done."
Johnson replaces Norm Chow, who left the Utes after one season to become the head coach at Hawaii.
After conducting a nationwide search, Whittingham said it became very apparent that the top two candidates were already on his staff — Johnson and wide receivers coach Aaron Roderick.
"A-Rod is a very good football coach and certainly was one of the guys that was right there at the end," Whittingham said. "But I felt for our situation, our current situation, where I want to go and the leadership Brian demonstrated as a player was the better fit at this point and time."
Whittingham acknowledged that Roderick, who was promoted to passing game coordinator in a coaching staff restructuring announced Thursday morning, was disappointed.
"Aaron Roderick is a competitive individual and he has every right to believe he could have been the coordinator or should have been the coordinator, Whittingham said before noting that Roderick is the "ultimate team guy" who is on board with the situation.
Although disappointed with how things turned out, Roderick told reporters he was fine with it. The 39-year-old has been on Whittingham's staff since 2005 and was the co-offensive coordinator before Chow was hired.
"I have a great relationship with Brian and I love this program," Roderick said. "I've had a great experience coaching here. I accept it. I'll just go forward."
Roderick insists there's no issue between he and Johnson, and both will continue to oversee the receivers and quarterbacks, respectively.
"I think we'll work together fine. I'm not worried at all about working well with Brian," he explained. "(We) have worked closely together, starting when he was a player and then the past two years (as coaches). We've had a great relationship."
Roderick compared the situation to the receivers he coaches. Every player wants the ball every play, he said, but they can't have it.
"It's just part of football. It's just part of life and you just go forward."
Johnson said that he respects Roderick's knowledge and everything he brings to the table. They share a similar philosophy about the game.
"A-Rod is obviously my right-hand man," Johnson said. "We have a great relationship and that goes back to 2005."
Johnson, who turns 25 on Feb. 16, was the Most Outstanding Player in Utah's 31-17 Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama on Jan. 2, 2009. He's the winningest quarterback in school history, amassing a 26-7 record as a starter. He was named Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Year and Poinsettia Bowl MVP along the way.
"Brian is a leader and a special coaching talent, just as he was a special player," Whittingham said in the official announcement. "And he is the right person to lead our offense."
Whittingham noted that Johnson's preference is to spread things out offensively and that is what the Utes will do.
"All I'd like you to do is take care of the football and score touchdowns in the red zone," Whittingham said while explaining that the offensive scheme will be in Johnson's hands.
The new coordinator, who credits coaches like Chow, Dan Mullen, Andy Ludwig and Roderick for shaping his philosophy, has a vision for the future.
"I see us being very multiple on offense. I think we have the ability to line up in a myriad of formations and personnel groupings," Johnson said. "There's a ton of talent here."
Johnson and Roderick weren't the only coaches to receive promotions this week. Whittingham also announced that defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake will add the title of assistant head coach.
Other moves in a coaching shuffle include the hiring of Dan Finn and Sharrieff Shah, as well as altered assignments for assistants Tim Davis and Jay Hill.
Finn, a former graduate assistant at Utah, joins the staff after stints as the offensive line coach at Idaho and San Diego State. He'll coach the centers and guards at Utah.
Shah, an attorney who has also spent the past 12 years as a sideline reporter for ESPN 700, is Utah's new cornerbacks coach. He was a starting safety for the Utes from 1990-93 and has earned his bachelor's, master's and law degrees from the university.
Whittingham said he looks for intelligence, character and energy in hiring assistant coaches and said Shah epitomizes every one of them.
"The players are very excited to have him on board," Whittingham added.
The hirings of Finn and Shah prompted a change in duties for Davis and Hill.
Davis, the offensive line coach, will now focus primarily on the tackles and tight ends.
Hill, meanwhile, will oversee the running backs. He'll continue to be the team's special teams coordinator as well.
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