Friday, January 21, 2011
Sources: UCLA hires Mike Johnson
By Ramona Shelburne ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mike Johnson has been hired as an assistant football coach at UCLA and has been out recruiting at area high schools the past few days, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
Offensive coordinator Norm Chow's status with the Bruins remains unclear. As of late Friday afternoon, he was still on the Bruins staff. But head coach Rick Neuheisel said earlier this week that the "likelihood is that [Chow] would take a different role."
Another source with knowledge of the situation said that UCLA has reached out to Chow's representatives, but the status of those discussions is unclear at this time.
Though Johnson's involvement with UCLA has been widely rumored the past two weeks, he did not sign employment papers until the middle of this week. He has since taken and passed the NCAA mandated recruiting test, met with severals Bruin players on campus and gone out on the road recruiting for UCLA, sources said.
Chow agreed to a two-year extension worth approximately $1 million in July, but it had not been prepared for him to sign until the middle of December. That extension does not kick in until his previous contract expires on Feb. 14.
Under the terms of his previous contract, obtained by ESPNLosAngeles.com, UCLA is contractually obligated to employ Chow only as an "Assistant Coach, Men's Football Team."
Though his contract contains a provision that says "At no time during the Term shall Coach be reassigned to any other position within the University other than Assistant Coach of the Team," it does not preclude UCLA from changing the duties he is asked to perform.
The Salt Lake Tribune has previously reported that Utah, Chow's alma mater, had contacted him about joining its staff. He also would likely draw interest from the NFL, where he previously served as offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans.
If Chow does not return to UCLA, it will end an era that began with much fanfare in December 2007 as Neuheisel convinced both Chow and defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker to join his staff when he was hired as UCLA's coach.
But Walker left after one season to become New Mexico State's head coach and Chow failed to jumpstart UCLA's offense in his three seasons as coordinator.
UCLA ranked 99th in total offense and 104th in scoring in an injury-plagued 2010 season.
"I have the utmost respect for Norm," Neuheisel said in an interview with ESPNLosAngeles.com earlier in the week. "But it hasn't worked. That's why we're going to need a reorganization.
"We've tried a number of things and certainly you can make the case for 'If this guy had stayed healthy or that guy stayed healthy,' but putting that aside, we just haven't been as clean an operation as we need to be, to be successful at this time in the Pac-10 and soon to be the Pac-12. There's ways to clean that up and that's my goal, to clean up the pieces of our operation that have kept us from being at the top of our game."
Johnson, who is from Los Angeles, served as the 49ers quarterbacks coach in 2009 and offensive coordinator in 2010. He played collegiately at Arizona State and Akron.
He then played five years of professional football, in the World League and Canadian Football League.
The relationship between Johnson and Neuheisel goes back to their time as assistant coaches for the Baltimore Ravens in 2006 and 2007. Neuheisel was the team's quarterbacks coach in 2005-06 before being promoted to offensive coordinator in 2007, and Johnson was the wide receivers coach.
UCLA famously switched its offense to the Pistol in 2010. Asked earlier this week whether UCLA would continue to run the Pistol, Neuheisel said, "We're going to run the UCLA offense. I'm not giving it a name anymore. Giving it a name draws too much [speculation about] 'Is this right or is this wrong?'
"We're going to do a lot of things. There are certain things of the Pistol that we'll keep, because they worked great. But we're not going to be just from the gun. We're going to do lots of things and borrow on all the coaches' experiences and give our players a great chance to be successful."
Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.