Meet the QB-turned-Eagles coach who’s sped up Jalen Hurts’ development — and his own career arc

PHOENIX. The background changes.

There was a time when Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Gardner Minshew missed a shot off the platform in practice. According to quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, he needed to push his core harder.

There was a time when third quarterback Ian Book needed to prepare for a possible game day activation just two weeks into the building. Johnson called Book into his office, determined which 10–15 plays he liked best, and then refined their nuances.

“If it’s a two-story [safeties]let’s read that paragraph here,” says Johnson, “and if it’s tall, let’s read this paragraph here.”

A number of computational decisions that would otherwise have slowed him down in the field were suddenly dissipated.

And then there are times when starting quarterback Jalen Hurts, in his breakout season, reconsiders the decision he’s waiting for on the pass option. Johnson deliberately not only What the information it provides, but also How he delivers it.

“If you are reading a player, for example, in the reading area, and I say, ‘If he can’t take you, pull him,’ that will get a different reaction than if I told you, ‘If he can’ Don’t grab your back, give her,” Johnson told Sportzshala Sports. “The way you shape things in their minds is, I think, very, very important to get the reaction you want.”

The reaction that Johnson’s coaching has elicited in the Eagles’ Super Bowl season is clear: Hurts plays faster, handles defense more effectively, and improves his offensive effectiveness in part because the quarterback coach has guided his fundamental development.

Because while the application of Johnson’s coaching is changing, his #1 goal remains the same: to make the game easier.

Eagles see results.

Even in a staff full of smart assistants, Eagles quarterback coach Brian Johnson stood out.  (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Even in a staff full of smart assistants, Eagles quarterback coach Brian Johnson stood out. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“What you always want from coaches is to make this game difficult, simple, because they make split-second decisions,” said head coach Nick Sirianni. “And it’s hard to play this game in your overcomplicated mind. You have to keep it simple so you can play fast. And Brian does a great job of just putting himself in the quarterback’s shoes because he was there, and then making it easy for them to read, making it easy to check, making it easier to defend, and putting the information together.”

So it’s perhaps unsurprising that the same players that Johnson made football easy for are the same players who see the future of their 35-year-old coach quite simply. His path to becoming an NFL head coach is not Ifthey say, but When.

“He’s going to be a star,” Herts of Phoenix said this week. “He’s going to be an outstanding head coach, I have no doubt.”

“You can’t… stay the same”

Before Johnson became Hurts coach, the family roles were reversed. Jalen Herts’ father, Averion Herts, was Johnson’s high school coach in Baytown, Texas, about 26 miles from Houston.

Understanding of Johnson’s possible tutelage in the NFL began to take shape. Jalen’s behavior is at times so eerily similar to his father’s that Johnson cut out the speeches of the younger Hurts and sent them to Averion.

“If that doesn’t sound like you,” he recently wrote to Averion, “I don’t know what it means.”

Johnson’s reputation for his first opportunity in the NFL goes beyond personal connections.

As a quarterback for Utah from 2004 to 2008, Johnson won a career-high 26 games for the school. He threw for 7,853 yards and 57 touchdowns with 27 interceptions, as well as 848 yards and 12 touchdowns. Johnson’s coaches so appreciated the mental acumen that fueled his game on the field that they hired him as quarterbacks coach within a year.

By 2012, at the age of 24, Johnson had been promoted to offensive coordinator, the youngest FBS offensive coordinator to date. Working alongside his own trainers, he has not yet mastered the teaching and communication styles he uses today.

“Night and day,” Johnson said. “At this point, you just don’t know what you don’t know. I have learned many lessons [like] just keep looking for ways to develop. The game is evolving, the game is constantly changing.

“One thing you can’t do as a coach is stay the same or stay put. Just as we ask players to keep getting better, we are no different: we must find ways to constantly improve ourselves as a coach.”

The Eagles ultimately hired Johnson as a quarterbacks coach after he worked in Mississippi State, Houston and Florida, where he managed quarterbacks including Dallas Cowboys starter Dak Prescott and Kyle Trask of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Jalen Herts became an NFL MVP nominee thanks in part to quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson.  (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Jalen Herts became an NFL MVP nominee thanks in part to quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Johnson is committed to constantly revisiting his training methods and focus on training for the players currently under his supervision, knowing that his job as an ex officio coach is to train the group and coach each of their strengths and styles at the same time. learning. Now in their second season with the Eagles, Johnson and Herts were looking to improve the quarterback’s consistency. The key to this goal is to consider each play independently, rather than making assumptions based on the defense’s past response to a given game challenge.

“You can’t be the guy who sees the roulette table and says, ‘Oh, 11 reds in a row? It should be black,” Johnson told Sportzshala Sports. “I think he did a great job building his play bank. [which] speeds up your vision.”

Hurts has improved his productivity this season, throwing 4.8% of his touchdowns compared to 3.7% in 2021, and his completion percentage has risen from 61.3% to 66.5%. Overall, Hurts’ steal percentage dropped from 2.1% to 1.3%, from 12th among league quarterbacks to fifth. The Eagles offense ranked 3rd in both footage and scoring this season, after finishing 14th and 12th respectively last season. And now they will compete in the Super Bowl on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen credits Johnson in part for the evolution of the Hurts.

“The way he goes about his business every single day to get Jalen ready for the game speaks for itself,” Steichen told Sportzshala Sports. “You see the product on the field, what he did to Jalen was amazing.”

Brian Johnson on a path that often spawns head coaches

Speaking in a high-top chair amid the opening frenzy, and two days later from a roundtable at the team’s hotel in Phoenix, Johnson this week focused less on long-term goals than on the keys to winning the Super Bowl.

His mantra to always “leave something better than you find it” requires him to fully prioritize his game plan, ensuring that Hurts, whose recovery from a shoulder sprain is in question, is as prepared as he can be against the Chiefs.

And yet, Johnson’s performance this season has propelled him towards eventual head coach goals, which he shares. A 2022 NFL Diversity and Inclusion Report detailed professional mobility trends, noting that over 20 years, 31.1% of new head coaches were hired straight out of a term as offensive coordinator.

Offensive coordinators have most often come from the role of quarterback coach, including 19 of 29 coordinators at the time of the report.

Another trend was evident among QB coaches who became coordinators: out of 109 such coaches over 20 years, 90.8% were white. Johnson black.

In the first Super Bowl with two black starting quarterbacks, the Eagles quarterback coach is also an exception, leading the way. All three of their influences are outside the scope of the job for which they were hired.

“No matter what field you work in or what you aspire to be when you grow up, seeing people like you at the top of the profession is something that I think is really inspiring,” Johnson said. “It’s no different than when I walked up and watched Warren Moon and Steve McNair play in Houston before they went to Tennessee. Made me want to play quarterback.

“To see this in the next generation is really inspiring.”

Johnson continues to outline his vision for a possible head coaching opportunity, a document on his iPad containing his responses to potential scenarios he will need to consider. Johnson thanks Sirianni for her support as he shapes this vision. Hurts is enjoying his time learning from a player-turned-manager he has long respected.

“Hopefully we can keep him here for as long as we can, but I’m proud of him nonetheless,” Herts said. “This is just the beginning for both of us.

Follow Jori Epstein of Sportzshala Sports on Twitter. @JoriEpstein


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