New QB Coach Brian Johnson Excited About Future

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Watch an exclusive sitdown interview with new MSU quarterbacks Coach Brian Johnson.
Photo Courtesy of hailstate.com

STARKVILLE, Miss. – Brian Johnson first met then Utah assistant coach Dan Mullen as a high school quarterback in Texas at the age of 16. Four years later, he became the winningest quarterback in Utah history. The two officially reunited two weeks ago when Johnson became the newest assistant coach at Mississippi State where he will spearhead a talented quarterback group.

Johnson made his first media appearance in Starkville on Thursday when he discussed the excitement surrounding the Bulldogs in 2014 and reuniting with his former coach. The Baytown, Texas, product who turned 27 last week has served as a leader both on and off the field since Mullen recruited him in 2004.

“I think the relationship that you carry with your position coach is one that lasts a lifetime,” said Johnson. “When we go into a kid’s home and recruit that kid, we essentially become an extension of their family. That’s something that has been extremely important to me throughout my coaching career, and even in my playing career. You can see that with Coach Mullen. He recruiting me has had a lasting impact on my life. It’s 11 years later and that relationship is still there for us.”

Johnson finished his playing career in 2008 when he became the winningest quarterback in school history with 26 victories capped off by a dominating 336-yard performance against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. He spent the past four seasons as an assistant coach in charge of quarterbacks at Utah, including one as offensive coordinator and one as co-offensive coordinator.

Johnson arrives in Starkville with experience and leadership in coaching quarterbacks. He’ll oversee a group that will be led by junior Dak Prescott in 2014.

“I don’t think you can ask for a better young man,” Johnson said of Prescott. “When you see him, you can tell, he’s a quarterback. He carries himself with a certain demeanor that draws people to him. He’s very charismatic, very good with people. He’s a great leader, an extremely hard worker and obviously a talented player. I’m excited to get a chance to work with him.”

Johnson said he watched on television as an injured Prescott turned in a gutsy performance and led the Bulldogs to a game-winning score against Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl last November.

“I remember watching the Egg Bowl last year, that in itself was something,” said Johnson of Prescott’s game-clinching drive. “I’d never seen anything like that before. It was impressive. Watching it from TV, I’m sure it didn’t even do it justice what it was like in that actual moment for it to go down like that.”

Johnson and the Bulldogs begin spring practice on Tuesday, March 18, which leads up to the Maroon-White Spring Game at noon CT on Saturday, April 12 in Davis Wade Stadium.

The complete transcript from Johnson’s media session is below:

On his first impression of the MSU quarterbacks …

“A great group of young men. I’m excited for the opportunity to get a chance to work with them. Obviously Dak (Prescott), Damian (Williams), and Nick (Fitzgerald); all three of them are extremely hard workers. From a standpoint of mental attributes, I think they’re exactly what you want in our program. And I think they’re going to provide great leadership and great athleticism at the position. I’m looking forward for a chance to getting them on the field and working with them in some detail. For me right now a lot of it has been just getting to know them personally. I think the football part of it, obviously that takes care of itself. We spend plenty of time talking football. But I think from a personal standpoint getting to know these kids and getting to the point where they know me and we build that relationship and build that trust. That’s been my main focus these first two weeks is getting a chance to know them on a personal level -- their backgrounds, where they’re from, their family. And just getting a chance to meet each other and spend some time making sure that everything is in line.”

On Nick Fitzgerald …

“The thing that stands out to me about Nick is he’s ultra-competitive. In a couple of good workouts that we’ve had, he’s absolutely fearless. He’ll go against (Benardrick) McKinney and those guys and he’ll race them. And he’ll step up to the challenge. He’s a guy I’m extremely excited to work with because I think he has a bright future ahead of him.”

On knowing players on a personal level …

“I think the relationship that you carry with your position coach is one that lasts a lifetime. When we go into a kid’s home and recruit that kid, we essentially become an extension of their family. That’s something that has been extremely important to me throughout my coaching career, and even in my playing career. You can see that with Coach Mullen. He recruiting me has had a lasting impact on my life. It’s 11 years later and that relationship is still there for us. I think it’s extremely important for the reasons I just stated, the trust you build with you position group. And when those guys are done playing football it’s important that you stay in touch with them. It’s important that you remain a part of their lives.”

On being on the same coaching staff as the coach who recruited him …

“It’s unique. I’m extremely grateful to those guys that gave me my first opportunity in college football. And it’s nice to kind of have that come full-circle and have that chance to work with Coach Mullen and Coach Gonzales and Coach Hevesy and those guys and be a part of that staff. From a philosophical standpoint the foundation of my offensive philosophy kind of derives from what I learned from those guys early on at Utah. Those principles are things that have stuck with over the last 11 years, and I’m sure they’ll continue to be the same 20, 30 years from now. It’s just a great opportunity to come and coach in this league and be around a great group of guys each day. I can’t say enough about those guys and what I’ve learned from them throughout the years. Obviously having that relationship, having that rapport with them was something that was extremely inviting and enticing. The success that they’ve had in this program, the job that Coach Mullen has done over the last five years has been outstanding. And I just wanted to be a part of that and I felt it was great opportunity for me to make a move.”

On how his perspective as a player for Coach Mullen will help now …

“I’ve been around him coaching before. So I know exactly how he is, what he expects, and what the expectation is for quarterback play. It’s probably identical to what I expect out of my group as well. It’s a great opportunity and an experience for me to be around a brilliant offensive mind like Coach Mullen, and get a chance to continue to grow and learn and develop as I kind of carry out my coaching journey as well.”

On Dak Prescott and Damian Williams

“I’ll start with Dak. I don’t think you can ask for a better young man. When you see him you can tell, he’s a quarterback. He carries himself with a certain demeanor that draws people to him. He’s very charismatic, very good with people. He’s a great leader, an extremely hard worker and obviously a talented player. He has some special abilities, some special tools. I’m excited to get a chance to work with him and try to help continue to refine and develop those tools, and get him to reach his maximum potential. Damian, Coach Mullen has told me a lot about Damian. He said he reminded himself when he recruited me when he recruited Damian. Getting to know Damian, he’s an absolute sponge. He picks up information and he processes information well. He handled himself well being a young kid and having to step into some tough situations. He played well and handled himself like a veteran. It’s good to have him in the program, and I’m excited to get the chance to work with those guys.”

On meeting with quarterbacks …

“Well, I think there’s always room for discussion. I think that’s a huge part of developing a quarterback. My whole deal when you talk about developing quarterbacks is getting them to understand why we do the certain things that we do. In order for them to do that, they have to be mentally inquisitive. They have to ask questions, they have to be engaged. They have to understand what we do and how we do it before they understand why we do it. Getting to that point and having them have that maturity level is something that is extremely important in their progress and development as a quarterback.”

On the experience of the offense …

“Obviously eight returning starters so there are guys that have played in this league. And this league is tough, I mean especially this Division. The SEC West is no joke. Having those guys have that experience of being in the fourth quarter of a tight game with Auburn, being in the game with Alabama and LSU and those teams. I think naturally as you get older, you can draw back from those experiences previous years in your college career and learn from those and use them to your advantage when you get that next opportunity.”

On Dak Prescott’s expectations …

“I think the biggest thing is to go out there and concentrate and control what you can control. Obviously there’s a lot of external expectations. But I can tell you that no one is harder on himself than Dak is about what he wants to get done and what he wants to get accomplished. He already holds himself to an extremely high standard. It’s just a matter of him going out there each and every day focused and doing the necessary things it takes to get better and to reach his maximum potential.”

On SEC defenses …

“I’ve seen a SEC defense first hand obviously in my playing career. My last game was against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. It’s a very, very talented league, and a very well-coached league. Those two things are what stand out when you look at the rest of college football. Guys are super-talented and they’re coached extremely well. That makes it hard on offenses. The overall evolution of defense the last six, seven years, those guys are getting more and more complicated in what they do and making it more difficult for offenses. I’m excited for the challenge, excited for the opportunity.”

On the evolution of the spread offense …

“The biggest thing I’ve seen is how defenses play it. The offensive concepts have stayed the same over the last 13 or 14 years, back since Bowling Green days and Northwestern and those guys were running the spread in the early 2000s. The way defenses play it is really what has changed. Back when they first started doing it, you’d get a base defense; four down and cover-two and guys stood still and didn’t move. That’s how people would just shred you up and down the field. The defenses have kind of caught up. That’s now the cycle of football always has been. Somebody innovates something on offense, defenses catch up; then they change, then the defenses catch up again. It’s been that everlasting cycle. For me the biggest thing I’ve seen over the last couple of years is how defenses attack the spread by being more multiple in their fronts, more multiple in their coverages, having more combination coverages and playing more brackets to things.”

On being a “young guy” in the profession …

“There are guys in this profession the age of my grandparents. By no means do you ever think you’ve arrived in this profession. I’m constantly trying to challenge myself to grow and develop. Looking back on it, it’s already been five years and it seems like it’s just flown by. I think the biggest thing is just sometimes taking a step back and getting a chance to soak it all in. Our profession moves at such a pace that isn’t always the case. You sit back and look at it and say wow, I’ve been coaching already five years, where did the time go? It’s crazy.”

On Dak Prescott’s 2013 Egg Bowl performance …

“He’s a competitor. Ultimate competitor. I remember watching the Egg Bowl last year. That in itself was something. I’d never seen anything like that before. It was impressive. Watching it from TV, I’m sure it didn’t even do it justice what it was like in that actual moment for it to go down like that I’ve watched him on tape and he has the tools to be special. Our job is just to get the most out of him.”

On Dak Prescott meeting expectations …

“The biggest thing is having the right frame of mind. Making sure that your focus is spot–on each and every single day. You have to understand the magnitude of it. You have to understand the importance and what it takes. The sacrifices that it takes to perform at a high level each and every week. And it’s not an easy thing to do. I think no one really understands the demands that are put on these kids with school and academics, and having a social life and random people hitting them up on social media. The times have changed. So now it could be hard to just sit there and say I’m just concentrating on school and football when it’s just so much in our world that goes on each and every day that they’re obviously not numb too. The challenge is making sure you have your mind right every day and staying mentally engaged.”


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