No position has been more indicative of the Gators’ turnaround under Dan Mullen than the quarterback position.
UF started at least two quarterbacks in every season from 2010-17, and the play they got from the position was consistently among the worst in the SEC. During the height of the Jim McElwain era, a pair of discarded quarterback transfers from Oregon State and Purdue topped the depth chart.
That’s a far cry from where the Gators are now.
Feleipe Franks turned his career around late in 2018 and was the Offensive Most Valuable Player of the Peach Bowl. In 2019, career backup Kyle Trask, who held no other major Division 1 offers in high school, stepped in for an injured Franks, turned in the ninth-highest single-season passer rating in school history, and was recently named Preseason First Team All-SEC by the league’s coaches.
Emory Jones has flashed enormous potential during his brief time on the field, and Anthony Richardson has all of the skills you could want in your signal-caller.
While Mullen has rightly gotten a lot of credit for the position’s development, Brian Johnson, his trusted lieutenant and quarterbacks coach, also deserves a ton of praise. Johnson’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed by Mullen, who promoted him to offensive coordinator this offseason.
“It’s really exciting,” Johnson said. “We have great players here and a great coaching staff. I’m excited to get that opportunity and help our team go out there and perform at a really high level.”
Mullen said Johnson earned his promotion through his efforts in helping him game plan and call plays the past two seasons.
This will be Johnson’s third stint as an offensive coordinator in his career. In 2012, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham made him the youngest offensive coordinator in the country at 24 years old. He served as Houston’s offensive coordinator in 2017
This offensive coordinator job will be different than his time at Utah, though, as he called the plays for the Utes. Florida’s game-planning and play-calling will remain a collaborative effort among all of the offensive coaches, with Mullen ultimately making the play-calls.
“I don’t know if our regular weekly preparation changes anybody’s responsibility in everything that they do,” Mullen said. “We’re preparing the exact same way we always have within preparing for the game.”
Johnson said he and Mullen had discussed his promotion to offensive coordinator for a while, and he is OK with not taking on any additional responsibilities.
“In terms of game day, I’ve always been really heavily involved, myself and Coach Mullen, determining how we call the game and what we’re calling and what we’re running,” Johnson said.
“Even when we were at Mississippi State, we had a system in place of how everything worked on game day and throughout the course of the week. It’s always been a really collaborative effort in terms of our plan. And you know, one of things we always talk about is we really do most of the work calling the game on Monday through Thursday. When you get out there on the field, it becomes a little bit of instincts and things take over.”
Though his promotion is largely ceremonial, it is historic. He becomes the first Black offensive coordinator in program history and only the fourth Black offensive or defensive coordinator in school history.
“I didn’t realize that,” Johnson said. “If that is the case, it’s obviously something to be very, very proud of. Coaching the quarterbacks is obviously a big deal, especially here at a place like the University of Florida, where they have a very rich tradition of elite quarterback play and there’s three statues downstairs that prove that.”
Much has been made of the fact that Black coaches are underrepresented among head coaches when you consider that a majority of scholarship players are Black and there also a ton of Black position coaches. There are 13 Black head coaches in the FBS and only one (Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason) in the SEC.
The path to becoming a head coach often runs through the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator positions, so Johnson is appreciative of Mullen giving him the opportunity to advance his career.
“He knows the ability to advance in this profession, being a quarterbacks coach is a pipeline to that, and it’s something that’s his specialty, and he’s done a good job helping me throughout the course of my career and helping me develop as a coach each and every day,” Johnson said.
Johnson isn’t worried about where this promotion might take him down the road. He just wants to play his role in making the 2020 Gators offense as good as it can be.
“At the end of the day, I just want to make sure that our guys play really, really well and consistent week in and week out, and I’ve always been under the impression that, you know, be where your feet are and make sure you can do the best job that you can in your current position and good things happen,” he said.