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MSU football completes staff assignments


Matthew Stevens



STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State announced the finalized football coaching staff Monday for the 2014 season. 


As reported last week by The Dispatch, MSU head coach Dan Mullen hired former Utah quarterback and assistant coach Brian Johnson as the Bulldogs quarterbacks coach. Johnson was in Starkville last Thursday to interview with MSU head coach Dan Mullen and discuss his role to fill the vacancy on the coaching staff.  


Johnson, who will turn 27 Sunday, has been identified as the leading candidate to fill the MSU coaching staff vacancy left when Les Koenning left Starkville to become the new wide receivers coach at Texas on Jan. 15.  


"I've known Brian since I recruited him at Utah, and he is an excellent fit to our staff with his experience and knowledge of the quarterback position," Mullen said in a university release. 


Johnson served as the Utes offensive coordinator at his alma mater last season for a disappointing 5-7 season that saw his offense average 29.2 points per game, good for just ninth in the Pac-12 Conference. Subsequently, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham hired former Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen as its new offensive coordinator and reassigned Johnson back to just coaching the Utes' signal callers. 


In his National Signing Day media conference, Mullen made no secret about how the offensive play calling happened during the 2013 season and will continue to operate in the future.  


"I called all the plays for us last year. I spent a lot of time with the quarterbacks," Mullen said Wednesday. "The two quarterbacks who are coming in know that I was sort of the quarterback coach anyway. They didn't have to wait and see who it may be. Fortunately how that worked out it allowed us to take our time. Hopefully within the next week we'll have something in place."  


Johnson was the starting quarterback for the Utes in a 31-17 upset win against Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. Johnson led then No. 7 Utah with 336 passing yards and three passing touchdowns and was named the 2009 Sugar Bowl Most Outstanding Player. 


"Thank you for all of the kind words," Johnson said on his Twitter account, @BDJohnson3. "Utah will always have a special place in my heart. Looking forward to a new opportunity." 


The last time Billy Gonzales split the offensive coordinator duties was with Chris Beatty at Illinois program for the 2012 season. The Illini, who finished 2-10 in that season, had the worst offense in the Big Ten Conference at just 16.7 points per game and 296.7 yards per game. Gonzales being allowed to look for other employment options by 


Illinois coach Tim Beckman, who had also worked with Mullen and Gonzales at Bowling Green, was part of major staff changes following a more than disappointing first season in Champaign. 


"It's easy to point back and say this didn't work and that didn't work," Gonzales said of his only season with Illinois. "Everything is not always going to be a cakewalk. If anything, it leathers your skin a little bit, so next time you're in that situation you know how to prepare yourself a little bit harder." 


MSU running backs coach Greg Knox was also given the special teams coach tag for the 2014 season. For the first five years of Mullen's tenure at MSU, the Bulldogs head coach had never designated such a position and taken full responsibility for the entire staff having a hand in special teams. 


"Along with Brian's addition, Billy and John will continue to develop our offense, which was the most explosive in school history last season," Mullen said. 


Hevesy and Knox are two of the three remaining staff members, with associate head coach Tony Hughes, that have been on Mullen's staff the entire time in Starkville.  


"Greg is well respected and has over 20 years of coaching experience that will enhance our special teams production," Mullen said. "We are thrilled about the staff we have in place. The 2014 season promises to be an exciting one for our team and fans."  


Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.



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