According to VolQuest.com’s Austin Price, Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt has filled the final vacancy on his coaching staff, choosing Memphis wide receivers coach David Johnson to coach the same position at UT.
This is a big-time hire that should send shockwaves through the recruiting world and resonate with players already on the team. Pruitt interviewed former Florida State receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey, North Carolina State running backs coach Des Kitchings and JUCO head coach Joe Osovet, but elected to go with Johnson.
The former Louisiana high school head football coach has ties in that state and has proven to be a strong recruiter for Mike Norvell and the Tigers. He also has developed ties in the Bluff City in his time at Memphis. He spent time at Tulane before coming to Memphis and, prior to that, coached Tyrann Mathieu at St. Augustine High School.
Last year, LSU coach Ed Orgeron contacted Johnson for a job with the Tigers, and he turned it down, telling the Commercial Appeal‘s Tom Schad: “I just think Memphis is the best place for me right now, for me and my family,” Johnson said, citing Norvell as a key.
That speaks volumes about Johnson’s ability to teach, mold and convince prospects. Orgeron has long been known for his recruiting acumen. According to that article, it was a massive coup for the Tigers to keep him around.
“Johnson is arguably one of the most valuable recruiters on Norvell’s staff and played a pivotal role in attracting wide receivers Damonte Coxie and John “Pop” Williams, defensive lineman Jonathan Wilson and linebacker Nehemiah Augustus to Memphis, among others,” Schad wrote.
While at Tulane, Johnson coached and helped develop running back (and Tennessee product) Orleans Darkwa, who is now in the NFL. Since coming over to the Tigers, he’s been a dynamic recruiter and helped develop a dynamic passing game, led by senior Anthony Miller.
Miller came to Memphis as an unheralded prospect, and he’ll leave as a sure-fire NFL prospect. This season, Miller wound up with 96 catches for 1,462 yards and 18 touchdowns as Riley Ferguson’s primary target. He wasn’t the only exceptional performer, though.
Tony Pollard had 36 grabs for 536 yards and four touchdowns, Phil Mayhue had 35 catches for 521 yards and three touchdowns, and Damonte Coxie had 21 catches for 323 yards and three touchdowns.
That’s a massive need for the Vols, who have struggled for years developing receivers. The days of “Wide Receiver U” seemed long in the past during the Butch Jones era. After Derek Dooley’s tenure saw Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson and Da’Rick Rogers put up big numbers, Jones couldn’t have any pass-catchers break through until 2016 when junior Josh Malone had a big year.
This season, it was more of the same after Jauan Jennings went down in the opening game against Georgia Tech. Though Marquez Callaway and Brandon Johnson showed signs, the lack of quality quarterback play doomed UT. Also, it didn’t help that Jones made two awful hires in offensive coordinator Larry Scott and wide receivers coach Kevin Beard.
Johnson appears to be the opposite of that, and it’s going to be difficult to find anybody to poke holes in this hire. Pruitt’s top target was South Carolina’s Bryan McClendon, who Will Muschamp kept on in Columbia as the Gamecocks’ offensive coordinator, but once McClendon stayed, the search opened.
It yielded Johnson, and with UT looking to throw the ball more downfield in a Tyson Helton offense, hopefully it will wind up being a big hire for the Vols, on the field and in the living rooms.
Here’s some video of the Vols’ new coach mic’d up.