PHILADELPHIA – Brian Johnson wanted to coach football in the NFL, the highest level of professional football in the world.
“I was excited for a new challenge, and I felt like at this point of my career, in terms of myself and my family, it was a great decision to get a chance to make the jump,” said Johnson.
He could have interviewed for the head coaching jobs at Boise State and the University of South Carolina. Instead, he interviewed with Eagles coach Nick Sirianni, and it was, really, a match made in heaven.
Sirianni hired the 34-year-old Johnson to be his quarterback coach right off the campus of the University of Florida, where Johnson ran a high-powered offense for the Gators in 2020 with two first-round draft picks in tight end Kyle Pitts and receiver Kadarius Toney.
“He's just super sharp,” said Sirianni in his intro presser on Jan. 24. “Then on top of that, he gives us the ability to take some things from the college game to make our offense just become a little bit more difficult to defend. That was another thing that was really attractive about Brian.”
Indeed, Johnson is more than just somebody who happens to know the Hurts family and is the mentor to the Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts.
The relationship between Johnson and Hurts dates to when Hurts was a toddler. It is a storyline that has been ridden hard these past couple of months.
Johnson, though, is much more than Hurts’ groomer.
He is a sounding board for Sirianni, offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, and passing game coordinator Kevin Patullo.
“It's good to have a guy on the staff that knows what's going on and what's the new trends in college and some new things we can add,” said Patullo. “To have somebody else you can bounce ideas off of and go to and say 'Hey, could we do this? How have you done this before? Oh, you have? OK, let's watch that.’
"Let's try to use that at this level because it's all about being cutting edge, and the quicker you can beat somebody to the punch and you're the first one to do it and put it out there on tape, defenses have to stop it. Everybody knows it's a copycat league so if you can get out in front of things, you got a big advantage. So, Brian's done a great job with that kind of stuff."
Sirianni said that he liked the idea of finding a college coach with college ideas and college trends because, in 2018, his first season with the Colts, Tom Manning was brought in from Iowa State to coach tight ends. Indy finished with the fifth-best offense overall and sixth-best passing offense in the league that season.
“The things that he brought to us to open up our offense a little bit more that we still run to this day really helped us become harder to defend,” said Sirianni of Manning, who is now back at Iowa State but as the offensive coordinator this time around.
“It helped us fit our players. This player fits this scheme from the college game. That was really important to us in our first year and the years moving forward in Indianapolis.”
So, Hurts is just a small piece of the coaching equation Johnson brings, but still an important piece.
“Obviously having that previous relationship before and knowing him, and the majority of his life, I have followed him from afar and he’s done a fantastic job,” said Johnson. “Now I’m looking forward to the opportunity to work with him.”
The two haven’t worked together before, though Johnson tried to recruit Hurts to Mississippi State when he was the QB coach there from 2014-2016 when now-Cowboys QB Dak Prescott was his star pupil.
Hurts isn’t the only quarterback.
There is one more. Only one more, a shockingly low number made even more shocking because there is no previous June in recent memory when the Eagles had just two passers on their roster.
And they are the only team with just two rostered QBs right now.
Veteran Joe Flacco is the other, of course.
“Joe’s been great,” said Johnson, who is two years younger than the 36-year-old Flacco. “I’ve obviously watched him for a really long time. He has a ton of experience. I always say that experience is life’s best teacher.
“He has a lot of intellectual property that he’s willing to share with our room, and it’s been great for our room just to hear some of his shared experiences throughout his career in the league. He’s just as smooth as they come.”
Johnson, though, has more on his plate than just Hurts and the other QB.
He's here to try to give the Eagles offense a leg up, one an opposing team may not be familiar with and have a challenge stopping.
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.