Vols RB coach David Johnson moves on to FSU despite Tennessee counter offer
Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt has a vacancy to fill on his coaching staff, as Vol running backs coach David Johnson has accepted the running backs job at Florida State under new head coach Mike Norvell.
Tennessee made a counter offer to get Johnson to stay on Friday morning before the team boarded a plane home from their bowl win in Jacksonville. After consulting with his family, Johnson decided to make the move in the best interest of his family.
"I just really appreciate everything that Tennessee did for me," Johnson said. "They have a support base and not a fan base. They support like nobody else. The biggest thing it came down to me was I needed to put my son in the best position and it's closer to home for my wife. She can get home much easier at FSU.
"I'll always cherish the memories I made at Tennessee. The walk in the stadium was priceless. Even in tough times, the people never left us. It will always stand out to me. Those are the things that I will remember."
Johnson came to Tennessee in 2018 from Norvell’s staff at Memphis, where he was the receivers coach for two seasons with Norvell.
In his first year at Tennessee, Johnson coached receivers but was moved to running backs in 2019 when Tee Martin arrived on campus.
Johnson played a pivotal role in the Vols landing a Top 10 class during the early signing period. The Louisiana native was the lead recruiter for the trio from Whitehaven High School in Memphis (Bryson Eason, Martavius French, and Tamarion McDonald), and Johnson also was key in landing 4-star DL Omari Thomas and tailback Jabari Small.
He reached out to each on Saturday afternoon to make sure they knew he hoped to see them have big career's in orange.
"You have to make those calls," Johnson said. "I wanted to be up front and honest with them. I told them that Tennessee was the best fit for them. It's not about a position coach. It's about the school you are attending and I'm looking forward to watch them grow and off the field. I think they will be a big benefit for Tennessee."
Tennessee’s run game was improved from Year 1 to Year 2 as well. The running backs helped by eliminating as many negative plays in 2019, an emphasis by new OC Jim Chaney and Johnson. In 2018, the Vols lost 171 yards on designed runs (14.3 ypg). In 2019, they lost just 84 yards (7 ypg) on designed runs.
Johnson’s contract with the Vols expired on January 31, 2020, meaning there is no buyout for him to leave. He was making $500,000 a year with the Vols.
With Johnson gone, the question is where does Pruitt and Chaney turn for a running backs coach? One wonders if former Vol Jay Graham is not at the top of that list. Pruitt and Graham worked together at Florida State. Graham and Chaney were on staff at Tennessee together in 2012.
Graham is currently at Texas A&M where his listed salary is $475,000.
Another candidate could be Brian McClendon at South Carolina. McClendon was demoted from his role as offensive coordinator after this past season. He and Pruitt worked together at Georgia.
Other possible names to watch are former Vol running back Montario Hardesty at Charlotte, Tennessee staffer Joe Osovet and Des Kitchings of NC State.
Pruitt could also elect to move someone on his current staff to coach running backs like Brian Niedermeyer and then hire someone to fill that spot.