1) He has extensive experience coaching big time college football, and calling plays.
This is something the Buffs have lacked in their last two play callers. Former OC/QB coach Brian Lindgren was a Mike MacIntyre disciple from San Jose State who hadn’t called plays at a higher level, and while he had experience coaching wide receivers in the power five - most notably at Texas Tech, Darrin Chiaverini hadn’t called a single play heading into his role last season.
Johnson has called plays for a total of six seasons - five for the Louisiana-Lafayette and one for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Gophers moved up 43 spots in total offense under his guidance, while ULL enjoyed their best offensive season in program history his final year in Lafayette. He also coached under mastermind Kirby Smart at Georgia, which is where he built a relationship with Tucker. Johnson is a guy who’s been there, done that, and seen it all, which should help in preparing a younger Buffs offense.
2) Very different scheme
Last year we saw the Buffs run a offense that was hard to identify from a scheme standpoint. Most would say it fell somewhere between the spread and air raid offense with some pro-style concepts. Regardless, at times last season it seemed overly simple and easy for opposing defenses to predict.
Johnson brings a different look to the table - utilizing primarily three wide receiver, one H-back sets. Similar to Utah’s offense, the quarterback typically lines up in the shotgun or pistol and runs a lot of zone reads and RPO’s. This offense also leans on a physical run game to establish a multi dimensional attack and wear out defenses. He spent all of last season under the guidance of Bulldogs co-OC’s Jim Chaney and James Coley - who coached a UGA offense that ranked 14th in the country, so I imagine he’s absorbed some information and concepts that he’ll bring to the Buffs. His desired scheme and style of play seemingly does a better job keeping defenses guessing and on their heels.
3) Good fit for Montez
It was no secret that Steven Montez built a tight relationship with now former quarterback coach Kurt Roper and will have mixed emotions about his departure. Not only was he huge in his development on the field, but Montez lauded Roper as a mentor and leader every chance he got. On the flip side, as someone who wears both a QB coach and play calling hat (rather than just the QB one), Johnson will do more to tailor the playbook to Montez’s strengths. At times last season it was clear they weren’t utilizing his big arm, mobility, or other desirable skills. As a QB coach by trade, he sees the entire offense through a signal caller’s eyes while understanding what needs to be done to make it successful.
Whether it’s finding a way to create a number of high completion percentage throws or allowing Montez to get out of the pocket more, he understands that the offense’s success revolves around making his quarterback confident and comfortable. Although Montez may be bummed out initially, this is a guy who has his best interest in mind and will do everything to maximize his potential in the long term.
4) Shots, shots...shots!
For you party animals reading this the first thing that came to mind were the lyrics of the hit LMFAO song released nearly a decade ago (yes, we’re all getting old now). From a Colorado football standpoint, it refers to taking more shots down the field. Between Shenault, Nixon, Brown, Winfree, as well as some of the younger guys it was evident that the Buffs had the weapons to stretch the field vertically but simply didn’t take enough chances.
With a more aggressive play caller in place who recognizes arm talent and playmakers from his time in the SEC, they should try and exploit mismatches down the field at a higher clip. He understands he has talented guys running routes and will find a way to allow them to win 50-50 battles and make big plays. Johnson has cut his teeth on taking risks, and here he’ll take more on the field that should ultimately pay off.
If CU is able to stretch the field at a higher rate people should take more celebration, you guessed it, shots, shots...shots!! Just kidding, but not really (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).
5) Excellent, excellent hire
This may have become clear in the above analysis, but I just had to hit this point home. During the last regime change six years ago, almost all of the position coaches who were brought in had previously spent the majority of their career coaching at the Group of Five level with no Power Five experience. Bringing in a Power Five hot shot and former play caller as OC to a team that endured years of misery wasn’t even a possibility. This time around they’re getting a guy who comes to Boulder with over twenty years of coaching experience, including time in the SEC and calling plays in the Big Ten.
If nothing else, this is a statement hire for Mel Tucker and the direction of Colorado football. Tucker is showing that he can bring high profile people on board, and that the program will dole out the money to get top notch, respected coaches. Earlier in the process, one could’ve reasonably doubted the school’s ability to bring in someone with Johnson’s expansive body of work and resume but this sends the message that they’re for real in building something special from the top-down.
6) Who will be the new O-line coach?
I know this was a list of five facts, but I just had to thread the needle and ask this question, especially after it was announced earlier today that former offensive line coach Klayton Adams wouldn’t be back. Last year the Buffs offensive line gave up a conference worst 30 sacks. While some of them fell on Montez, if the offense wants to be more successful as a whole they’re going to need to do a better job protecting the quarterback up front. Following the trend of recent hires could Tucker and Co. lure an experienced guy to help turn things around up front?
The unit certainly has the young raw talent to succeed with some highly touted recruits in Jake Moretti, Will Sherman, and Frank Fillip returning, and only losing one part time starter in Josh Kaiser, but they’ll need a solid coach to mold them into impact players and maximize their potential.