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February 2, 2012
Instant analysis: Coaching hires
Kyle Whittingham made waves this morning, announcing multiple changes to his coaching staff, including the surprise naming of Brian Johnson as Utah's new offensive coordinator. UteZone breaks down how these staff shakeups impact the program.
New Look Offense
The announcement of Brian Johnson's promotion to offensive coordinator came as a surprise to most fans. Johnson has been the Utah quarterbacks coach for the past two years. He is also highly regarded by his peers for his intelligence and football acumen.
"After spending the past month conducting a national search for an offensive coordinator, it became very apparent that we had the best candidate for the job right here on our own staff. Brian is a leader and a special coaching talent, just as he was a special player, and he is the right person to lead our offense," said Coach Whittingham in a statement released this morning by the university.
The primary argument against Johnson is his age - he turns 25 this month. However, despite his youth, Johnson won't be starting from square one. Expect a collaborative effort with the entire offensive staff in gameplanning. Offensive line/tight ends coach Tim Davis has a wealth of experience and served as a running game coordinator while at Wisconsin. Aaron Roderick was promoted to passing game coordinator, and will be involved in game prep. Jay Hill - who has taken the responsibility of coaching running backs - is a talented coach that has done a good job coaching Utah's special teams and cornerbacks the past two years.
Expect Johnson and the Utah staff to move to more of a spread offense than was used last year under Norm Chow. This will allow the Utes to better utilize the talents of a deep receiver corps, and should help prevent Jordan Wynn from taking as many unnecessary hits as he did last year. The running game will still be an emphasis with John White being one of the top returning backs in the Pac-12.
Perhaps the biggest lesson learned in Utah's inaugural Pac-12 season was the importance of having a deep, well-coached offensive line. Utah's line play was erratic at times and the Utes have already made offseason adjustments to improve performance this year. Utah signed eight offensive linemen in its incoming recruiting class, including two massive JUCO tackles that should be immediate contenders for starting spots. The Utes took the next step by adding former San Diego State offensive line coach Dan Finn as offensive line coach.
Finn's hiring gives the Utes two excellent motivators and teachers to groom the 2012 offensive line. Tim Davis will lead the charge, coaching the tackles and tight ends. Finn will be responsible for coaching the interior linemen.
Finn will be a good fit for the staff. He was a grad assistant at Utah, and has experience working under Coach Whittingham. The added attention of a second offensive line coach should lead to improved performance on the field. Finn doesn't have a lot of experience as a recruiter, but he did land two signees from Arizona for San Diego State.
A New Sherriff in Town
Whittingham completed his staff by hiring Sharreiff Shah as cornerbacks coach. Although Shah doesn't have experience coaching at the FBS level, he is well connected to the program, having played safety for the Utes in the 1990's and worked as the sideline reporter on radio broadcasts. Expect Shah to contribute immediately as a recruiter. He's intelligent, has an engaging personality, and will be able to sell the Utah football program.
Keeping it in the Family
With these hires, Whittingham has once again lived up to his reputation of promoting from within and hiring coaches that he has close ties to. Keeping coaching hires within the family is a strategic move for Whittingham, who values loyalty and continuity. The family atmosphere that is touted by players to recruits and plays such a critical role in convincing players to come to Utah is no accident, and Whittingham has taken great care to ensure that the new coaching hires continue to reinforce the culture that he has developed since taking over in 2005.
Although the hires of three relatively inexperienced coaches can be seen as a gamble, it's a gamble that will yield long term dividends if the three new hires are successful.