Football and Family: How it all Connects for the Eagles

For the 2021 Philadelphia Eagles, there seems to be a few recurring themes: fathers, sons and childhoods shaped on football fields. Sons following in the footsteps of their fathers into the game they love and watching their fathers mentor others to greatness — with all of these paths leading back to the NovaCare complex.

Eagles Head Coach, Nick Sirriani and his brothers attended their father’s football practices as young boys, rambunctiously running around on the sidelines. Coach Sirriani’s new quarterback coach, Brian Johnson, was heavily influenced by his father who played quarterback at the University of Texas at El Paso. Johnson’s father may have passed his physical and mental gifts onto his son, but said son’s football pedigree is owed to another father, of yet another Eagle. 

Jalen Hurts, similar to Coach Sirriani, attended football practices at Robert E. Lee High School in Baytown, Texas, where his father, Averion Hurts, was the head coach. When Jalen was just four year old, Coach Hurts was coaching and mentoring an incredibly talented young man at the helm of his offense — a young quarterback named Brian Johnson. 

Johnson graduated early and was, strangely, not highly recruited for to play quarterback at the collegiate level despite passing for 2,900 yards and 33 touchdowns on 71.6% accuracy and tacking on an additional 540 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground as a senior.

Nonetheless, Johnson eventually committed to the University of Utah, eventually going from backing up Heisman finalist, Alex Smith, to leaving the program as the winningest quarterback in the school’s history. Active recruitment eluded Johnson, however, once again. 

A 2009 Sugar Bowl MVP, a win over undefeated and #1 ranked Alabama, and a total of 7853 passing yards, 57 touchdowns, 848 yards and 12 scores on the ground, was not enough for Johnson to be drafted. After bouncing around in the CFL as well as the UFL, Johnson eventually made the switch to coaching and never looked back. 

From being the star quarterback at Utah to becoming the youngest offensive coordinator in Division 1 football at 28 years of age, Johnson has shown an uncanny ability to pivot. And pivot extremely well at that.

Whether it’s getting middling prospect Dak Prescott ready to become an NFL superstar or breathing life into a dead offense at the University of Florida, Coach Johnson has proven time and again that he’s always up to a challenge.

Johnson has experienced a meteoric rise in the coaching ranks and brings to the Eagles franchise a certain youthful energy and ability to connect with players. These are qualities that were surely emphasized in the Eagles coaching staff search that occurred earlier this year. While Johnson’s relationship with Hurts is one of note, it is by no means the reason for his hire. In fact, many close to him believed that Johnson’s rise from the college coaching ranks was an inevitable. 

Dan Mullen, Johnson’s offensive coordinator from his playing days at Utah and most recently, colleague at the University of Florida said in 2020:

“I think Brian, if you look what he’s done, he’s obviously a great coach at his position, extremely smart, extremely involved in game-planning as far as an offensive guy goes as far as the ability to be a great play-caller and to design offenses…And he’s mature. Even though he’s young, [he’s] really mature guy for his age. I think he was 16 years old playing in the Fiesta Bowl, he played for me. So he’s always been a guy a very mature guy. He’s going to be a great head coach one of these days if someone gives him his opportunity.” 

Mullen’s faith and praise of Johnson from 2020 ended up being prophetic as Johnson became a highly sought after 2021 collegiate head coaching candidate and interviewed with both South Carolina and Boise State for their openings.

For Johnson, no matter the level of play, he has always had a mind for the game well beyond his time on the field. At the age of 23, Johnson was named the quarterback’s coach at the University of Utah after his playing career. At two weeks shy of 25, he became the youngest offensive coordinator for a DI program in the country. 

In his four years at Utah as a coach, he faced various hurdles on the field but adjusted to them with an ease that only a natural could. In each of his first three seasons, he had to manage a revolving door at the quarterback position due to a litany of injuries. His starter, Jordan Wynn was injured for part of or most of every season, so in between 2010-2012, Johnson coached up three different replacement quarterbacks. 

In both 2010 and 2011, despite injuries limiting the offense, Johnson led the team to recover and move past the adversity they faced, making two consecutive bowl appearances in the Las Vegas and Sun Bowl’s. 2012 ultimately became too much of a challenge to overcome due to three different starting quarterbacks and an injury to workhorse running back and the school’s all-time single-season rushing record holder, John White. 

In his final season at Utah, Johnson set his sights on the future of the team and anointed a true freshman, Travis Wilson, the starter for the final seven games of the 2013 season. Johnson was able to coach White to become the first back-to-back 1000-yard rusher in school history, as well as leading the Pac-12 in time of possession, averaging holding on to the ball for an impressive 32:07 minutes per game.

From Utah, Johnson signed on to become the quarterback’s coach at Mississippi State, reuniting with his offensive coordinator and recruiter from his playing days, Dan Mullen. As Mullen’s right hand man, in addition to his responsibilities as a quarterback’s coach, Johnson also went on various important recruiting visits — one of these being with a young Jalen Hurts. Unfortunately, the time wasn’t right for Jalen and Johnson to work together as Hurts obviously ended up choosing Alabama and later Oklahoma. 

Johnson, most famously mentored Dak Prescott at Mississippi State. In Johnson’s first two seasons at MSU, his offenses were able to produce the highest single-season passing totals in school history. In fact, in only those seasons 17 other single-game or season total offense, scoring, and passing records were broken. The catalyst for this exponential improvement was straightforward–  the seamless collaboration between Prescott, Johnson, and Mullen. 

In 2015, after Johnson continued to work closely with Prescott to prepare him for the season and the NFL, Prescott had a historic senior year in which he was a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Awards, broke nine single-season passer records, threw for 3793 yards on 66.2% accuracy for 316 completions and 29 touchdowns, and had seven 300 yard passing games. In 2016, Johnson’s disciple finished his career as the first two-time All-SEC quarterback at MSU since 1956-57 and became the highest SEC quarterback drafted since 2013.

After a brief stop in Houston as the offensive coordinator and play-caller in which Houston averaged 436.1 yards a game and ranked number 35 in the nation despite of playing with three different quarterbacks, Johnson found himself reuniting once again with his mentor, Dan Mullen, at the home of the Gators, the University of Florida. 

At Florida, Johnson faced the daunting task of attempting to revitalize a program that had no semblance of an offense for years — a once proud powerhouse that had now become a shell of its old self. Right away, the Gator offense began to be on the path towards looking like its old self again, with Johnson coaching the quarterback Felipe Franks to a bounce-back redshirt sophomore year after a disappointing redshirt freshman campaign. 

The real magic at Florida occurred after yet another quarterback change that Brian Johnson oversaw. In 2019 after struggling incumbent starter Felipe Franks went down, Kyle Trask was thrust into action and the Gators never looked back. 

Making his first start since his freshman year of high school, under Johnson’s tutelage, Trask completed 20 of 28 passes with two touchdowns and two interceptions for a win over Tennessee. Soon Trask followed with a breakout 363 yard performance in a 56-0 win over Vanderbilt. It became obvious for all those in Gainesville that both the coaching staff and quarterback room were truly bringing something special back to The Swamp. 

2020 was an exceptional year for the Johnson and Mullen led Gator offense. Trask saw his completion percentage increase from 66.9% to 68.9% as a senior. Trask threw for 4283 yards, with an eye-popping touchdown to interception ratio of 43 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

In yet another incredibly called game to add to Johnson’s resume, Trask threw for 416 yards and six touchdowns in the first game of the season against Ole Miss. Later on in the season, Trask threw for 474 yards and four touchdowns against then #4 ranked Georgia. Following this game, Trask became the first quarterback in SEC history to throw four touchdowns in five consecutive games. 

As the season continued, Trask found himself on the ballot for the Heisman trophy, broke UF’s passing touchdown record, and was the FBS passing touchdowns leader. An important thing to note here is that various players, not just Trask, on Florida’s historic offense credit Coach Johnson for their success. In an offense that was the #1 ranked passing offense in the nation that put up 376.7 yards a game, Johnson has been lauded as a “natural leader and teacher,” by Kyle Pitts, who in Johnson’s offense was a Biletnikoff, Mackey, and Maxwell Award semi-finalist.

“He has a great relationship with everybody,” Pitts said.

“He’s a teacher of the game because he knows so much and his knowledge of the game, everyone feeds off his energy…I feel like he would be a great leader to any team,” he said.

Johnson, just days ago, mentioned that he has known Jalen Hurts for a long time but has, unfortunately, not had the chance to work with him. Until now. His excitement to start working with Hurts is evident, as is his respect for Jalen’s work ethic and what he brings to the game. 

From being overlooked as a recruit, to being on the cover of the legendary NCAA video game, and later going undrafted and pivoting to coach, Coach Johnson has seen it all and is ready to impart wisdom gained from his experiences upon Jalen, as Averion Hurts had done for Johnson all those years ago as a young Jalen played on the field nearby. 

If Johnson’s history as a coach is any indication of what’s to come for Jalen and the Eagles, the future is incredibly bright and the fans should be ecstatic. And a father, a coach and a son on a practice field somewhere might daydream about parallel lives intersecting again in uncanny ways.

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