STARKVILLE, Miss. (MSU Athletics) – Brian Johnson, the winningest quarterback in Utah history and current quarterbacks coach for the Utes, has been named quarterbacks coach at Mississippi State, head coach Dan Mullen announced on Monday.
Mullen also announced that Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy have been promoted to co-offensive coordinators. Greg Knox will serve as special teams coordinator in addition to running backs coach. Mullen will continue to call plays on gameday.
“I’ve known Brian since I recruited him at Utah, and he is an excellent fit to our staff with his experience and knowledge of the quarterback position,” said Mullen. “Along with Brian’s addition, Billy and John will continue to develop our offense, which was the most explosive in school history last season. Greg is well respected and has over 20 years of coaching experience that will enhance our special teams production. We are thrilled about the staff we have in place. The 2014 season promises to be an exciting one for our team and fans.”
Johnson, who turns age 27 on Sunday, comes to Starkville after spending the past four seasons as an assistant coach at Utah, including one season as the offensive coordinator and one season as the co-offensive coordinator. He coached quarterbacks since joining the staff in 2010. A rising star in the coaching profession, Johnson became the youngest NCAA FBS offensive coordinator in the nation at age 24 on Feb. 2, 2011.
His fast ascension in coaching has been nothing new for the Baytown, Texas, product. Mullen, then the quarterbacks coach at Utah, signed Johnson to a National Letter of Intent at just 16 years old in 2004. Johnson went on to play in 10 games as a true freshman backup to Heisman Trophy finalist Alex Smith during Utah’s 12-0 Fiesta Bowl season.
The next spring, he became Utah’s starting quarterback at age 17. In January 2010, a year after breaking the school record for wins by a starting quarterback (26), Johnson accepted a position as Utah’s quarterbacks coach.
Two years in that role was enough time to convince head coach Kyle Whittingham to appoint Johnson as the new offensive coordinator. In 2013, Johnson had the opportunity to work alongside former three-time Pac-10 Conference Coach of the Year Dennis Erickson as co-offensive coordinator.
Each of Johnson’s first three seasons was defined injuries at the quarterback position. Starter Jordan Wynn was injured for part or most of every season and Johnson inserted three different replacements from 2010-12. In both 2010 and 2011, Utah recovered to earn a bowl bid (Las Vegas Bowl and Sun Bowl).
With an eye to the future, Johnson anointed true freshman Travis Wilson the starting quarterback for the final seven games of the 2012 season. He also turned to the run game, implementing a game plan that allowed senior John White to net 1,041 yards and become the first Ute ever to produce back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Utah led the Pac-12 in time of possession, holding the ball an average of 32:07 a game.
As a player, Johnson was a three-year starter and a two-time bowl most valuable player. He set the school mark for victories by a starting quarterback, finishing his career with a 26-7 record. A finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm and the Manning awards as a senior in 2008, Johnson captained Utah to the best record in school history (13-0) and a Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama. The Sugar Bowl MVP tossed for 336 yards and three touchdowns in leading the Utes to a dominant 31-17 win over the fourth-ranked Tide.
Both Gonzales and Hevesy were instrumental in guiding MSU to a record-setting offensive campaign in 2013. The Bulldogs shattered school records in total yards (5,647), yards per game (434.4) and first downs (305) while playing one of the nation’s top-five toughest schedules.
As co-offensive coordinator, Gonzales will serve as passing game coordinator and continue to coach the wide receivers. He is no stranger to that role after spending the 2012 season as co-offensive coordinator at Illinois and two seasons as the passing game coordinator at LSU from 2010-11.
Hevesy just completed his fifth season as MSU running game coordinator and offensive line coach. He developed offensive guard Gabe Jackson into an All-American in each of the past two seasons. Jackson is widely regarded as one of the top guard prospects in the nation heading into the 2014 NFL Draft.
Knox has 15 years of Southeastern Conference coaching experience, including the past three seasons molding MSU into one of the top run-game units in the league.