UCLA officially names Mike Johnson OC
Former San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Johnson will be UCLA's new wide receivers coach and offensive coordinator, head coach Rick Neuheisel announced Saturday morning.
Johnson will replace Norm Chow, who was hired as Utah's offensive coordinator Saturday. Former wide receivers coach Reggie Moore was fired in December. Moore earned $130,000 for the 2010 season, meaning that position coach salary could be folded into Johnson's salary.
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"Mike is a great addition to our staff," Neuheisel said. "He has a background with a multitude of offensive schemes, has coached several different positions and has experience in our conference as well as in the National Football League. In addition, Mike is a dynamic and tireless recruiter who is familiar with the Pac-12 area and, in particular, southern California. He will be a great plus for our program in this important area."
Though Johnson's involvement with UCLA has been widely rumored the past two weeks, he did not officially sign employment papers until the middle of this week. He has since taken and passed the NCAA-mandated recruiting test, met with several Bruins players on campus, and gone out on the road recruiting for UCLA.
Johnson, 43, spent two seasons (2009-10) with the 49ers, coaching the quarterbacks. He took over the offensive coordinator duties early in the 2010 season. In 2010 the 49ers ranked No. 18 in the NFL in passing yards (209.8 per game), No. 18 in yards per pass attempt (7.2), No. 19 in rushing yards (103.6) per game and T-No. 17 in yards per carry (4.1).
He also worked with Neuheisel when both were on the staff of the Baltimore Ravens.
"Now that I'm here I'm excited," Johnson said. "I hope to develop an offense that can be diverse both running and passing and make sure that we marry the two and detail it."
Neuheisel also announced that he would be taking over as quarterbacks coach -- a position also formerly held by Chow -- and that he would be more involved with the day-to-day operations of the offense.
"I'm going to go back to what I've done," Neuheisel said. "When you're not doing things as well as you like, one of the things we all do is go back to our comfort zones and my comfort zone is coaching those guys. I'll live and die with it, as they say, but I know I can coach these guys and I know I can coach them well."
Chow agreed to a two-year extension worth approximately $1 million in July, but it had not been prepared for him to sign until the middle of December. That extension wasn't set to kick in until his previous contract expired on Feb. 14.
Instead, he will return to his alma mater, which ironically joined the new Pac-12 Conference for next season.
Chow's departure ends an era that began with much fanfare in December 2007 as Neuheisel convinced both Chow and defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker to join his staff when he was hired as UCLA's coach.
But Walker left after one season to become New Mexico State's head coach and Chow failed to jumpstart UCLA's offense in his three seasons as coordinator. UCLA ranked 99th in total offense and 104th in scoring in an injury-plagued 2010 season.
"I think we've always had good coaches, I think we've always had good people, but sometimes the chemistry of the staff isn't exactly right," Neuheisel said. "Dysfunction is probably too strong a word, but when it's not functioning at the highest level, it leaks down into the program.
"I, at the conclusion of the season, looked around and tried to make the necessary adjustments and those are sometimes painful."
Johnson, who is from Los Angeles, served as the 49ers quarterbacks coach in 2009 and offensive coordinator in 2010. He played collegiately at Arizona State and Akron.
He then played five years of professional football, in the World League and Canadian Football League.
The relationship between Johnson and Neuheisel goes back to their time as assistant coaches for the Ravens in 2006 and 2007. Neuheisel was the team's quarterbacks coach in 2005-06 before being promoted to offensive coordinator in 2007, and Johnson was the wide receivers coach.
UCLA famously switched its offense to the Pistol in 2010, something Johnson said he was not yet committed to keeping around on a full-time basis.
"I'm a believer that you look at the personnel you have and then you develop an offense around the people," Johnson said. "There's plenty of knowledge in the room to develop that. As the personnel changes then maybe the offense changes."
The Pistol helped revamp a UCLA running attack and the Bruins averaged 175 yards rushing per game, but their passing attack ranked No. 116 out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
"We need to marry the passing game to make the Pistol, the Spread -- whatever offense we call it --become effective and score points," Johnson said. "Football plays to me are football plays. You can put a label or name on any of it. It's about execution."
Meanwhile, UCLA will interview former Miami head coach Randy Shannon for its vacant defensive coordinator position on Sunday, according to a source familiar with the situation. Neuheisel wouldn't confirm any of the coaches who have interviewed for the defensive coordinator position, saying only he's interviewed "several" candidates who were "highly qualified and highly interested."
He said he hopes to have a decision by national signing day, which is Feb. 2.
"I look forward to having that decision as quickly as is possible," Neuheisel said. "But I can't go so fast as to not be exactly right."
He said he took the same approach with the offensive coordinator position, which is why it took until now to make an announcement when it had been rumored since before last season ended that Chow would not be back on the UCLA staff.
"It was important to take the necessary amount of time and do due diligence in putting together what I think will be a winning combination," Neuheisel said. "I've been working to try to put back together what I think will be a formidable staff."
Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Peter Yoon was used in this report.