The Florida Gators have been starving for a quarterback since Tim Tebow completed his last pass against Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl nearly 10 years ago. Florida has had 11 different players make at least one start at quarterback since that bowl game but none has been able to sustain success.
That’s why Dan Mullen is in Gainesville and it’s why Mullen tapped one of his former quarterbacks to coach the position. Not often in college football will you see a coach leave a job as a coordinator to be a position coach, it title it’s a step back, but that’s exactly what Brian Johnson did. Johnson served as Mullen’s quarterbacks coach at Mississippi State from 2014-16 but left when he was offered the offensive coordinator job at Houston. He served in that role with the Cougars for just one season before joining Mullen at Florida.
“A chance to be at a place like the University of Florida and be around people I’ve worked with for a number of years. What we have on the offensive staff, I’ve known all of those guys for an extremely long time,” Johnsons explained when asked about the move. “We’ve worked together and had a ton of success throughout the course of the years both when I was a player and as a coach. There was a certain comfort level for me.”
Johnson in in the unique position of being able to coach the position he played in the same offense that he ran while playing quarterback for a season with Dan Mullen as his offensive coordinator and position coach.
“Understanding the expectations and knowing what he wants and knowing how he operates the program. I think it obviously gives me the advantage in having done it before and being very involved in it over the course of years,” Johnson said. “Just understanding the expectations of what it is like day-to-day coaching quarterbacks.”
NCAA rules have restricted the involvement that Johnson can have with his quarterbacks but he has a previous relationship with Emory Jones. Johnson and Mullen were the first school to offer Jones a scholarship at Mississippi State. When Johnson moved on to Houston he didn’t recruit Jones but that relationship was a big factor in getting Jones to Florida. He’s also had the chance to watch tape of Feleipe Franks from last season and practice reps of Kyle Trask, who missed last season with a knee injury. The young coach is excited about the talent he sees in his room.
“I feel good about what we have in the room,” he said. “I think those guys are all talented in their own way and they all kind of have a different skill set.”
Obviously Franks is the only quarterback on the roster that has real game experience at this level. Jake Allen redshirted last season, Trask took a redshirt his first year on campus and missed last season with a knee injury and Jones is a true freshman. That experience Franks has is invaluable — Johnson noted experience is the best teacher, but that just because Franks is the incumbent starter it doesn’t mean the job is already his.
“It’s gonna be open,” Johnson said of the quarterback competition. “We’ll put everybody in the position to see what they can do. The beauty of us all coming in, I talked to the guys about this yesterday, everyone’s kind of starting from the same spot in terms of learning our offense. I think sometimes it’s very, very hard to make up for the experience or lack thereof of some of the guys. I think that’s life’s best teacher — experience. He might have some advantages in having played in SEC football games before but from a standpoint of us practicing and putting in the offense, everybody is kind of starting from ground zero.”
That’s including Jones. Quarterback is far and away the most difficult position to come in and play as a freshman. You’re seeing it more these days in college football and enrolling early — which Jones has — helps but successful freshmen starting quarterbacks are still the exception, not the norm.
Jones wasn’t promised anything when he was recruited to Florida other than an opportunity. He’ll get just that this spring and the coaching staff is certainly open to starting a true freshman quarterback — if he’s the best man for the job.
“At the end of the day,” Johnson said. “We’re going to play the best guy that we feel
gives us the opportunity to go out there and compete at a high level.”