When Utah coach Kyle Whittingham tapped Norm Chow as his offensive coordinator last year, he got a celebrated, experienced veteran. With Chow off to the islands as Hawaii's new head coach, Whittingham is going with youth, energy and potential this go-around.
Whittingham has promoted has promoted Brian Johnson from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator.
Johnson, who will turn 25 on Feb. 16, has been the Utes quarterbacks coach for just a year. He will continue to coach quarterbacks, and it seems likely that the Utes will use more of a spread-option scheme in 2012 as they did before Chow arrived with a pro-style offense.
"After spending the past month conducting a national search for an offensive coordinator, it became very apparent that we had the best candidate for the job right here on our own staff," Whittingham said in a statement. "Brian is a leader and a special coaching talent, just as he was a special player, and he is the right person to lead our offense."
The winningest quarterback in Utah history, going 26-7 as the Utes' starter, Johnson was the MVP of the blowout victory against Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl, which capped a 13-0 season.
This is a bold move for Whittingham -- if there are any 24-year-old coordinators with any other AQ team, none come immediately to mind -- and a huge career boost for Johnson. Simply put, if he's successful he will become a head coach before he turns 30.
"I am excited that Coach Whittingham has given me this opportunity and I am prepared for the challenge," Johnson said in a statement. "I'm looking forward to working with a great coaching staff and putting together a productive offense that will help us win a conference championship. I've had many good mentors as a player and a coach, including Dan Mullen, Andy Ludwig, Aaron Roderick and Norm Chow."
Whittingham also announced other staff moves. Defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake was given the title of assistant head coach. Aaron Roderick, in his eighth year coaching the receivers, will also serve as the passing game coordinator.
Sitake, 36, has become a hot defensive coordinator since being promoted from linebackers coach in 2009. Roderick was the Utes' co-offensive coordinator before Chow arrived, and he applied for the job that went to Johnson.
Dan Finn, a Utah graduate assistant from 2004-06, has been hired to coach the centers and guards. Finn spent last season as the offensive line coach at San Diego State, and the previous four years as the offensive line coach at Idaho (2007-10). Tim Davis, Utah's offensive line coach in 2011, will now concentrate on coaching the tackles and tight ends.
Jay Hill, in his eighth season as a full-time assistant, takes over the running backs for Dave Schramm, who was hired as Fresno State's offensive coordinator. Hill has served two different stints as the cornerbacks coach, most recently in 2010 and 2011, and oversaw the tight ends from 2007-09. He remains Utah's special teams coordinator.
Sharrieff Shah, a starting safety for the Utes from 1990-93 and a three-year team captain, returns to his alma mater to coach the cornerbacks. Shah, a Salt Lake City attorney since 2001, was a certified NFL agent from 1996-2002, representing players in the NFL, CFL and NFL-Europe. He received his bachelor's, master's and law degrees from the University of Utah. Shah has also served as the team's sideline reporter for ESPN 700 radio for the past 12 years.