ATHENS – Jay Johnson doesn’t have a big presence at Georgia’s practices, at least when the media is out there, mainly because Johnson isn’t supposed to have one. The man who was calling plays in the Big Ten last year is now holding a low-profile position at Georgia, where he’s a quality control analyst.
Behind the scenes, however, Johnson may be having a big impact.
Georgia’s offense clearly needed work after the struggles of the last two season. That’s why when Johnson became available earlier this year, head coach Kirby Smart scooped him up, upon the recommendation of offensive line coach Sam Pittman, who knew him through coaching circles.
“We had an opportunity to bring someone in that we thought could generate ideas,” Smart said. “And help us from an ideas standpoint, whether it’s offensively, whether it’s me, team practice, how to practice different guys, how to practice different situations. So that was a really good position to hire, because he’s been a really good asset thus far for us from a quality control standpoint. Decision-making, offensive gameplanning.”
Of course the natural question is what offensive coordinator Jim Chaney thinks about that. Smart seemed to anticipate that part of the question.
“I think anytime you’re an offensive coordinator and you get assistants that help, it helps. It’s like me with the defense, I’m not the defensive coordinator, but I help Mel with ideas. They didn’t get that person last year that would help with those ideas. And I think bringing in new ideas and new energy over there, I think that helps.”
Chaney isn’t available for interviews. But it bears noting that Chaney and Pittman are very close and have worked together often during their careers. So if Pittman recommended Johnson, then it stands to reason that Chaney is OK with it.
Minnesota’s offense improved slightly last year under Johnson, who wasn’t retained when head coach Tracy Claeys was unexpectedly fired in January. Johnson had led a prolific offense at Louisiana-Lafayette, and upon his hiring at Minnesota last year indicated a willingness to work with his staff and consider all viewpoints.
“I really see our approach as being molding things together and tweaking a little bit of what they have and adding some things that we feel best fits our personality,” Johnson said in an interview with Minnesota’s web site. “At the end of the day, we are trying to get the 11 best players on the field and want to put them in situations where they can succeed.”
The Bulldogs also recently hired a new member to the strength and conditioning staff. Jamil Walker had been on the strength staff at Wisconsin, where he played tailback in the 2000s, at one point going up against Georgia in a bowl game.
Walker said several things in his interview that were new ideas, according to Smart, that also impressed Scott Sinclair, Georgia’s strength and conditioning coordinator.
“I’m super-excited about Jamil Walker,” Smart said. “He was unbelievable in the interview. … He’s very intelligent. He relates to the players very well. He was a very good football player. Played against Georgia in a bowl game apparently awhile back, back when Odell Thurman was thumping im a couple times at tailback. He has done a great job transitioning to our players. He’s going to be a huge asset to our program.”