Florida Gators offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson is leaving Gainesville to become the quarterbacks coach for the Philadelphia Eagles, per multiple reports, with Wednesday’s first prominent one coming from NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
Johnson, who played briefly for Mullen (and new Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer) at Utah before succeeding Alex Smith as the Utes’ starter and keeping the job through the first four years of Kyle Whittingham’s tenure, had fashioned himself into one of the hottest offensive coaching prospects in college football.
Johnson spent just two years pursuing a career outside of coaching after his senior season in 2008, then headed back to Utah as quarterbacks coach in 2010, getting hired at the age of 22. After rising to be Utah’s offensive coordinator before turning 25 in 2012, Johnson decamped to Starkville in 2014 to spend three years under Mullen at Mississippi State, two of which coincided with Dak Prescott leading the Bulldogs to unprecedented successes.
Johnson left Mississippi State to spend one year as offensive coordinator under Major Applewhite at Houston in 2017, but rejoined Mullen as he came to Florida that fall, already on his fourth distinct job before turning 31. And Johnson thrived at Florida, helping refine Feleipe Franks and especially Kyle Trask alongside Mullen while playing a significant role in Florida’s recruitments of Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson.
He was also elevated to the title of offensive coordinator in 2020, making him the first Black man to serve as offensive coordinator for the program, though what that move did to change Johnson’s duties is unclear, as Mullen continued to — and likely always will — handle the bulk of the playcalling as an offensive-minded head coach, and Johnson likely had plenty of input in an offensive brain trust that also includes longtime Mullen assistants Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy without having the OC title.
But that title change may have helped Johnson get his next gig — where he’ll be tasked with either resurrecting the career of Carson Wentz or helping mold Jalen Hurts, whom he once recruited to Mississippi State, into a complete professional quarterback — and certainly helps reaffirm that being Mullen’s QBs coach and consigliere is a coveted spot for young coaches hoping to advance in the sport.
Just who Mullen will pursue to replace Johnson is unclear, though names as big as Smith — should he want to retire from pro football and enter coaching — or Tim Tebow (should he want to retire from his quixotic foray in minor league baseball and lucrative ESPN role) could be bandied about.
If familiarity with Mullen remains as valuable to him as it has been in staff construction, though, scrutiny should probably focus on the last quarterbacks coach Mullen employed other than Johnson. That would be Brett Elliott, who also briefly played for Utah in Mullen’s short stint in the Beehive State before getting hurt, ceding the starter’s role to Smith, and transferring to Division III Linfield College, where he once threw for 61 touchdowns in a season. Elliott had a peripatetic semi-pro playing career, then joined Mullen’s staff at MSU in 2011 as a graduate assistant and rose to be an offensive quality control coach. He left Starkville in 2015 for James Madison, spent a year at Texas State, replaced Johnson as Mullen’s quarterbacks coach in 2017, and then went back to Texas State in 2018.
The gulf in stature between Smith or Tebow and Elliott is obviously large — but Mullen will have plenty of choices beyond and between those candidates, and Florida, which will always have Mullen calling plays and structuring its offense, should be able to absorb losing even as well-liked and respected a coach as Johnson without much dropoff.