Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham made a splash last year by hiring Dennis Erickson to be his co-offensive coordinator with Brian Johnson. After one season, he’s made another change, bringing in former Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen to run the show on offense and moving Erickson to running backs coach. Christensen took a few minutes this week to chat with the Pac-12 blog about his plans for fixing the Utes offense, the hierarchy of the coaching staff and his transition back to being a coordinator.
When you look at game film and the offense, what’s step 1?
Dave Christensen: What we’re trying to do first and foremost is identify where some of our strengths and weaknesses are, personnel-wise, and then when we implement the offense we do things that play to our strengths. We’re in that process. We have a base system that we’re putting together and we’ll have a chance to evaluate kids in the offseason process. Spring is going to be huge for us because that’s going to give us a chance to throw everything out there and get a feel for what best fits with the personnel we have, and we can start narrowing the scope after that. We’re in a position where we’re not sure on our starter at quarterback. We have different guys that have different skill sets. We have to have enough in the offense that all of them have an opportunity to show their skill set and we can fine tune from that point.
For some of these guys, this is their third offensive approach or philosophy or coordinator in three years. How difficult is it for them to keep everything together, and how different are things going to be from what they were doing last year under Coach Erickson?
DC: I think the exciting thing is there is a lot of carryover in some of the schemes that we’re using and the things we want to do, albeit a bit of a change in the terminology. Some for the kids, some for the coaches. I don’t think it’s as drastic of a change as people might think. I think there are a lot of similarities after watching the videos. I think there will be some adjustments made. Some additions, some subtractions. But overall I think the kids will be comfortable once they learn the terminology and once we get on the same page and package things how we want to use them. We’re certainly not starting over.
How do you go about evaluating quarterbacks?
DC: What we have to do is put them into game-like situations and see who handles the offense best. Who is going to make the best decisions with the football? Who is going to protect it? Who is going to execute the offense the way it’s designed? There is going to be a daily evaluation. In this offense, you have to play catch. You have to throw and catch, and at the end of the day, the guy who can throw and extend plays is probably going to be the guy that gives us the best chance to win.
The Pac-12 has always been known for its offense and its offensive skill players. But there are some pretty good defenses, too. What are your impressions of the league’s defenses as you watch game film?
DC: They are outstanding. It’s going to be a challenge. The good news is we get to face a great one every day in practice. Our defense has always been very good. It’s been very good since Kyle has been here, and I think that’s a plus for us to be able to face an attacking-style defense that will get in your face and play man coverage each and every day in practice.
What’s the transition been like for you so far going from head coach back to coordinator?
DC: It’s an easy transition. I spent more time as a coordinator than I did as a head coach. To come to a program that’s committed to winning with the high-level players that we have and a league that I think is one of the premier in the country, it’s exciting. It’s been an easy transition to go from that office where you have your phone ringing constantly and trying to put fires out to where I get to sit in there and do the things I love doing, which is watching football and scheming.
Between you, Coach Erickson and Coach Whittingham, you have three guys who have head coaching experience. At some point, are there too many cooks in the kitchen? What’s the hierarchy like?
DC: It’s very clear. This is Kyle’s program and I’m here to do whatever he wants, however he wants it. He gives me a lot of latitude with the offense. Dennis has done everything in football you can do. Having him in there is a great plus. We have a great working relationship and great respect for each other. I could not ask for a better situation. I am blessed to be in the situation I’m in to work with all of these guys here. I feel very comfortable. No egos. It’s been fantastic in the short time I’ve been here.
Last year Brian Johnson and Coach Erickson were co-offensive coordinators. Dennis called the plays. Have you guys figured out how that dynamic will work on offense?
DC: I’ll call the plays on offense and we’ll all work together as a unit to come up with the best plan that we can to put our players in position to be successful.