UCLA hires Johnson as offensive coordinator

UCLA hired Mike Johnson as offensive coordinator Saturday, several hours before Norm Chow officially left for the same job at Utah.

Chow is a respected coaching veteran who built powerful offenses at BYU and USC, but struggled through the last three seasons with the Bruins. He even received a lucrative contract extension a year ago when the Trojans showed interest in rehiring him, but split with Neuheisel after UCLA finished 116th in passing offense last season while going 4-8.

Chow had two years left on his UCLA contract at $1 million in his extension, which was finalized in November even while the Bruins foundered. Negotiations on Chow's buyout apparently delayed the biggest change to Neuheisel's staff before what might be a make-or-break season at his alma mater.

Neuheisel's housecleaning began Dec. 18, when he fired defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough and receivers coach Reggie Moore.

"I think we've always had good coaches, we've always had good people, but sometimes the chemistry of the staff isn't exactly right," Neuheisel said. "I think dysfunction may be too strong of a word, but when it's not functioning at the highest level, it leaks down into the program. I've been working to put back together what I think will be a formidable staff."

Johnson also will coach the Bruins' receivers, and Neuheisel will coach UCLA's quarterbacks while endeavoring to put his own stamp on the offense. Neuheisel is 15-22 after losing six of the final seven games last season, and the coach has led the Bruins to just one minor bowl game in three seasons since returning to Westwood.

"I certainly have zero problem in turning the keys over to Mike, and he gets it done," said Neuheisel, who isn't sure whether he'll call every play.

UCLA didn't even wait for Chow to leave before replacing him with Johnson, the up-and-coming coach who ran the San Francisco 49ers' offense for most of last season. UCLA also is expected to interview former Miami coach Randy Shannon on Sunday for its vacant defensive coordinator job.

Johnson agreed Thursday to reunite with Neuheisel, his fellow assistant with the Baltimore Ravens from 2006-07.

"I'm a believer that you look at the personnel you have, and then you develop an offense around the people," Johnson said. "I think the talent level here is good. My goal as the recruiter in Los Angeles is to make sure we upgrade that and make it better, but there's the talent here to do some positive things."

Johnson immediately planned to contact several recruits in Los Angeles, where he was born. Johnson's recruiting prowess caught Neuheisel's attention at Washington a dozen years ago when Johnson landed several prized Los Angeles prospects as an Oregon State assistant.

Since-fired San Francisco head coach Mike Singletary promoted Johnson, then his quarterbacks coach, to his first coordinator job on Sept. 27, early in the 49ers' eighth consecutive non-winning season. Johnson was moderately successful with San Francisco's talent-laden offense, but wasn't retained by new coach Jim Harbaugh.

Shannon is an intriguing candidate to take over the Bruins' middling defense. He was fired by Miami in November after going 28-22 over four seasons at his alma mater, but he is a respected defensive coach and an outstanding recruiter.

The Bruins' biggest problem has been their offense, which was pathetic for most of last season. UCLA ranked 100th out of 120 FBS teams in total offense, passing for just 141 yards per game.

UCLA spent the past offseason installing Nevada's pistol formation, which was seen as a surprising admission of desperation by Chow and Neuheisel, two experienced coaches who couldn't build a consistent Pac-10 offense.

"I think we all bought into the pistol offense," Neuheisel said, the apparent driving force behind the experiment that improved UCLA's running game, but crippled its passing game. "There's no finger-pointing at all with regard to that. I think retrospectively, we'd wonder if it was exactly the thing to do, but we all bought in."

Although it's still early, Neuheisel and Johnson appear ready to retire the pistol for the upcoming season.

"I don't know that we'll have the flashy name for our offense, but hopefully we'll develop one as it starts producing," Neuheisel said. "We feel we can put together something that's special."


AP Sports Writer Beth Harris in Los Angeles contributed to this report.