Bleeding Red: Erickson hire the right thing for Utah

If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it
If it is broke, then get to it
If you want to be in the hunt
Don’t overreact, be patient

COMMENTARY — Two identical situations. Two dramatically different approaches. Two wildly divergent results.

Please allow me to set the table.

You have a young and talented quarterbacks coach who used to be a star quarterback for your school. Recognizing his immense potential, you prematurely promote him to offensive coordinator notwithstanding his glaring lack of coaching experience. Not surprisingly, you learn the hard way that he is in over his head as your offense struggles and your team loses game after game. Sound familiar? Now what do you do?

Approach No. 1: Even though it was your fault for prematurely promoting your talented, but inexperienced, former quarterback, go ahead and humiliate him by re-hiring the offensive coordinator he replaced, demote him to quarterbacks coach with the hope that he will voluntarily leave the program with his tail between his legs, and in the meantime it is really awkward for the coaches, the players and the fans waiting for this soap opera to finally play its way out.

Approach No. 2: Hire a seasoned coach as co-offensive coordinator for a few years to give your former quarterback the mentoring and support he needs to fully develop his unrealized potential and become the outstanding offensive coordinator you envisioned when you promoted him at such an early stage in his career.

Kudos to Kyle Whittingham for taking the second approach in dealing with Brian Johnson. I have said this from the very beginning: Johnson is very talented and ultimately will make a fine offensive coordinator, but Whittingham promoted him to offensive coordinator way too soon.

Dennis Erickson

I absolutely love the recent hire of Dennis Erickson as co-offensive coordinator. Rather than making Johnson pay for Whittingham’s mistake, Whittingham has found a way to address the deficiencies on the offensive side of the ball for Utah and still give Johnson an opportunity to be successful.

So let me see if I have this straight. The secular school found a way to preserve relationships without unduly embarrassing anyone and giving everyone involved an opportunity to be successful. The religious institution dropped a bomb inside of its coaching staff that has turned its own former gridiron star into a humiliated scapegoat and has the potential to alienate both players and fans. How ironic.

At 65 and coming out of retirement to take the job, Erickson isn’t likely to be around very long, so Johnson should not feel threatened. Soon enough, Johnson will be sitting in the driver’s seat of the Utah offense all by himself. In the meantime, Johnson has the benefit of being tutored and trained by a coach who won two national titles at Miami, and won coach of the year honors at three different schools within the Pac-12 (Washington State, Oregon State and Arizona State), not to mention two different stints as an NFL head coach.

In respect to the newest member of his coaching staff, Whittingham stated: “Dennis Erickson brings a wealth of knowledge and coaching experience to our program.” That wealth of knowledge and coaching experience will indeed make a big difference in working closely with a very talented, but otherwise still inexperienced, Brian Johnson.

Erickson said he was excited for the new opportunity: “Being around football players and coaches has been my life and that’s why I’m coming out of retirement. I will do whatever I can to help the players and coaches at Utah be successful and I am excited to get back out on the football field.” Call me naïve, but I sincerely believe Erickson has readily acknowledged and embraced his role as mentor to Johnson and truly will do whatever he can to help Johnson be successful as a coach.

Should Johnson be upset by this turn events? I do not believe so. Soon, Johnson will resume his role as sole offensive coordinator. Now he has some time to do a little more learning.

Embarrassing for Johnson? Perhaps a little, but still far better than the other possible alternatives (like being demoted back to quarterbacks coach or fired outright). I give Johnson enough credit to realize he was in over his head and needs a little more experience and mentoring before flying solo again.

I will never fault Johnson for accepting the offensive coordinator position when it was offered to him (what kind of idiot turns down an opportunity like that?). If any mistake was made, it was made by Whittingham in offering Johnson the coordinator position at that time. Nevertheless, I also give Whittingham credit for realizing his own mistake and taking the necessary steps to correct it without making Johnson pay for it.

The hire of Dennis Erickson has only made me more anxious for Utah’s spring game and the football season in the fall. I can’t wait!


Dwayne Vance is a sports commentator. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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