Houston (CBS Houston) – For coaches in college football choosing your staff is as vital as any other part of the job. A good staff can cover up a head coach’s weaknesses, and highlight their strengths.
Four assistant coaches in Major Applewhite’s first ever staff at the University of Houston were introduced to the media today, and while only time will tell their worth, on paper it looks like Applewhite has put quality assistants around him.
For starters there is new offensive coordinator, Brian Johnson. Johnson returns back to his high school roots where he played quarterback at Baytown Lee. Johnson would then head to Utah to play his college football, and backed up Alex Smith as a freshman. In his senior year, Johnson would lead the Utes to a Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama. Johnson’s biggest claim to fame was gracing the cover of the NCAA Football 10 video game.
Johnson would start his coaching career at Utah, where at the age of 24 he was named the program’s offensive coordinator. He then spent time at Mississippi State as the quarterback’s coach where he was instrumental in the development of Dak Prescott. As the UH offensive coordinator there will be a few wrinkles, but overall the offense will have the same look.
“The system that we ran at Mississippi State the last three years is very similar. Obviously it comes from the same tree of offensive terminology and alignment. I don’t foresee much changing as far as what we are doing scheme wise,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s tight ends coach, James Casey, is the biggest name that met with the media Tuesday afternoon. Casey comes from NFL fame after spending time with the Texans and the Eagles. In college, Casey was a standout at Rice, UH’s crosstown rival.
Casey, who was a triple major at Rice, is in just his second season as a college football coach. Last season he was an offensive analyst at UH.
“Being at Rice first and then going to the Texans for a while and living here, having a house here, having me family here and being able to stay here and not having to move. I understand in the coaching profession it’s not always like that,” Casey said.
Then there is Clay Jennings, the co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach for UH. Jennings has coached at six different Texas schools in his nearly 20 years in the coaching business. Jennings spent two seasons at Houston in 2005 and 2006 as the team’s safeties coach, and it’s a good thing he listens to his mom’s advice.
“My mother always told me, if you don’t burn any bridges you can always go back. I’m glad to be back for a second time,” Jennings added.
A.J. Blum is the new defensive line coach for UH, and it’s a hire you don’t see often in college football. Blum comes from Westfield high school in north Houston. The same Westfield that produced the Oliver brothers (Ed and Marcus), the same school that produced former UH tight ends coach, Corby Meekins.
It’s not uncommon for coaches to make the leap from high school to college, but it’s uncommon for a high school non-head coach to make the jump like Blum has. Blum was the defensive coordinator and defensive line coach at Westfield where he built a tight bond with Ed Oliver. It’s a bond that will make the transition to Houston much easier.
“Having known him since he was in seventh grade, and then basically coaching him all through of his high school career,” Blum said. “It was a blessing for all of this to work out the way that it has.”