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Brad Rock: Former Ute coaches now with No. 1-ranked Mississippi State

SHARE Brad Rock: Former Ute coaches now with No. 1-ranked Mississippi State
There wasn’t a simple fix. It took a president. It took an athletic director, a student body, an entire university family is what it takes if you want to build a program. – Mississippi State head coach and former Utah assistant Dan Mullen

SALT LAKE CITY — It didn’t look like a mega-upgrade, but it was a face saver nonetheless. Brian Johnson, the Boy Wonder, left Utah last winter after four years as an assistant with the Utes.

Formerly the youngest offensive coordinator in America, at 25, he was demoted to quarterbacks coach after last season. So he took his Sugar Bowl ring and left. Longtime friend Dan Mullen — as longtime as it gets when you’re still only 27 — was looking for an assistant coach at Mississippi State, where mid- and low-range bowl games were the ceiling.

Now they might be looking at a spot in the national playoff.

This year the 6-0 Bulldogs upset Louisiana State, Texas A&M and Auburn to become the fourth team in history to win three straight games against top-10 teams. They are ranked No. 1 themselves, for the first time, while downstate Mississippi is rated No. 3.

So the former Utah coaches are doing fine in the Deep South, thank y’all kindly for inquiring. Mullen came with Urban Meyer’s staff to Utah, before leaving with him for Florida. Along the way he married Megan West, the former Fox 13 sports anchor in Salt Lake.

She’s not on-air anymore, but she’s surely walking on it.

As for the likable Mullen, he’s in full coachspeak mode.

"We haven't even guaranteed ourselves a winning record yet this season, so before we kind of get too far ahead out there, I'm proud of what we've accomplished the first half of the season," Mullen told The (Jackson) Clarion-Ledger. "But certainly, we have a lot more goals that we wanted to accomplish coming into this season."

Like, oh, beating Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss.

Still, it’s not out of the question. When Mullen took his first head coaching job, after running the offense at Florida, he went 5-7 in 2009, but hasn’t had a losing season since. He has taken MSU to four straight bowl games for the first time in school history.

"There wasn't a simple fix," Mullen told The Clarion-Ledger. "It took a president. It took an athletic director, a student body, an entire university family is what it takes if you want to build a program."

It took a coach who learned winning from the man who never sleeps: Meyer.

Meanwhile, Johnson not only landed on his feet after leaving Utah, he stuck the routine. Continuing the gymnastics metaphor, he should be blowing kisses to the crowd. When he left Utah, he didn’t talk to the media, but sent a Twitter post saying: “Thank you for all of the kind words. Utah will always have a special place in my heart. Looking forward to a new opportunity #HailState.”

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham issued a statement saying, “We wish Brian all the best in his new position. Brian has been a major contributor to the Utah football program as a player and a coach for many years.”

Mullen and Johnson met when the latter was a 16-year-old high school player in Texas. Mullen wanted him at Utah and it happened. Johnson went on to win more games than any quarterback in Ute history — including the 2009 Sugar Bowl — and Mullen nabbed two championship title rings at Florida.

Johnson’s coaching turn at Utah was mixed. After one year as the offensive coordinator, he shared duties with legendary coach Dennis Erickson. Quarterback injuries contributed to a stalled offense. Through it all, Johnson remained unflustered and confident. He didn’t skirt the media, make excuses or get defensive.

Just the kind of guy Mullen wanted.

Now Johnson is coaching quarterbacks in an offense that is 11th in both scoring and total offense, and ninth in passing efficiency. He and Mullen are in the heart of the Golden Triangle area of northeast Mississippi. If you don’t know where that is, it’s 68 miles from Choctaw Ridge, where Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge. And a country mile — as they say in Mississippi — from the big shot poll voters in New York, who are duly impressed.

From Utah it’s 1,700 miles.

That’s just far enough away not to appear smug.

Email: rock@desnews.com; Twitter: @therockmonster; Blog: Rockmonster Unplugged