There is no escaping the genius of Norm Chow. The long-time coach arrived at Utah, his alma mater, with critics saying "he's seen better days" and wondering if the the game had passed him by. His 2011 submission to those claims were silencing and should have received more acclaim. ("I went 8-5 with Jon Hays" should about do it.)
But after 35 years of coaching football, Chow has finally landed himself a head-coaching job for the first time (at Hawaii), and Utah has hired from within to replace him. The Utes have made Brian Johnson the youngest coordinator in Division I football.
It's quite the bold move. Johnson has just two years of college coaching experience, both as quarterbacks coach under Kyle Whittingham there at Utah. The 25-year old (24 at the time of his hire) will call plays for the first time this season. (That's crazy to read, isn't it? I consider myself to still be fairly young, and Johnson is younger than me.)
He's no stranger to success, of course. This isn't news to BYU fans, but Johnson quarterbacked the 2008 Utes to a 13-0 record and a Sugar Bowl shellacking of Alabama. Of the questions surrounding him, one is, can he help Jordan Wynn develop the moxie with which he played? That could still be something in progress, as Wynn hasn't been healthy for the entirety of either of Johnson's two years as QB coach.
Another issue, while not extremely important, is the style Utah will employ offensively. Johnson played and coached under Mike Sanford, Andy Ludwig, and Norm Chow. The result could be an interesting mix as Johnson calls upon each system for his own style.
The biggest question will be if Johnson is ready to call plays as an offensive coordinator. We saw Brandon Doman -- 10 years Johnson's elder -- struggle early to get a feel for playcalling. Doman also had several more years under his belt as a quarterback coach than Johnson did at the time of being named offensive coordinator. None of that is to say that years of coaching experience is the only factor in the ability to successfully call plays, but any coach calling plays for the first time will have at least some growing pains.
With the return of Wynn, Utah fans hope Johnson can break himself in with a stable quarterback -- but Wynn has proven to be anything but stable. After a strong freshman outing in 2009 in which he took over mid-way through the season, Wynn has been sidelined each of the last two years with shoulder injuries. Utah's second biggest offseason storyline, the quarterback position, will be closely intertwined with the first. If Wynn's arm still hasn't recovered or if he gets hurt again, it seems Utah is prepared to call upon freshman Travis Wilson. First-year OCs can win, and freshman QBs can win, but it would be a surprise if many wins came if both of those things must happen together.
So Utah's gambling here. I wouldn't be altogether surprised if it pays off, it might just take a bit for things to come together. Either that, or Utah has a prodigy on its hands.