Cowboy Football Head Coach Jay Sawvel Announces Hiring of Jay Johnson as Offensive Coordinator
• Was a Broyles Award Nominee in 2021
LARAMIE, Wyo. (Jan. 10, 2024) – University of Wyoming head football coach Jay Sawvel announced the hiring of veteran coach Jay Johnson as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach on Wednesday morning. He has spent 28 years in college football with 17 seasons as an offensive play caller.
“Jay Johnson has proven himself to be a very good offensive coordinator at many different stops in his career,” Sawvel said. “He was a Broyles Award finalist in 2021 and has been an excellent quarterback coach for a very long time. His offense has been about balance and physicality, and we are excited for him to join our program.”
Johnson was a 2021 Broyles Award nominee for the nation’s top assistant coach and spent four seasons as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Michigan State prior to coming to Wyoming.
An experienced coach, Johnson has coached in national championship games along with a host of Bowl Games in his career including coaching three bowl game MVP quarterbacks. Johnson and Sawvel coach together at Minnesota in 2016.
“I’m truly excited to be a part of Cowboy football and the community in Laramie,” Johnson said. “I’m excited to get to work with the players and staff and continue to build on what has been built and look forward to a bright future for Wyoming Cowboy Football.”
At Michigan State, Four Spartans earned All-Big Ten honors on offense in 2022, including wide receiver Jayden Reed, a second-team selection who closed out his Spartan career ranked among MSU’s all-time leaders in receptions (sixth with 147), touchdown catches (tied for seventh with 18) and receiving yards (12th with 2,069). Reed was selected in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft (No. 50 overall) by the Green Bay Packers and became the fifth Spartan offensive player drafted over the last two years.
During his second season at Michigan State in 2021, Johnson oversaw a resurgent Spartan offense that ranked third in the Big Ten in scoring with 31.8 points per game and featured record-breaking performances at running back and quarterback, earning him a nomination for the Broyles Award. Kenneth Walker III became the first Spartan to win the Walter Camp National Player of the Year and Doak Walker Award after ranking second in the FBS and first in the Power 5 with 1,636 rushing yards (136.3 ypg). Johnson’s offense showcased the skills of Walker, who led the nation in carries of 20-plus yards (21) and ranked tied for fifth in the nation in rushing touchdowns (18) en route to earning unanimous first-team All-America and Big Ten Running Back of the Year honors. Walker went on to become a finalist for NFL Rookie of the Year in his first season with the Seahawks after rushing for 1,050 yards in 2022.
In addition, during his first year as the full-time starting quarterback, redshirt sophomore Payton Thorne set an MSU single-season record with 27 touchdown passes, surpassing Kirk Cousins’ mark of 25 in 2011, and also ranked among the school’s single-season leaders in total offense (second with 3,421 yards), passing yards (third with 3,240), passing efficiency (sixth with 148.1 rating), pass completions (sixth with 235) and pass attempts (seventh with 389). Thorne was named the National Quarterback of the Week by the Manning Award after throwing for 261 yards and four TDs in the win at No. 24 Miami on Sept. 18. He also completed a Spartan bowl record 29 passes and threw for a career-high 354 yards in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl victory over No. 12 Pitt.
Statistically, the Spartans had their highest offensive output in scoring (31.8 ppg) and total offense (429.3 ypg) since 2015, and those marks ranked among the best in school history (eighth in scoring, sixth in total offense). A staple of Johnson’s offense has been explosive plays – the Spartans scored nine touchdowns from scrimmage of 50-plus yards in 2021, and the 12 overall plays of 50-plus yards ranked third most in the Big Ten and tied for 13th in the FBS. Thorne threw 14 TD passes of 20-plus yards, tied for second in the Big Ten and sixth in the FBS.
A total of 11 Spartans garnered All-Big Ten honors on offense in 2021. Three players on MSU’s offense were selected in the 2022 NFL Draft – Walker (second round, Seahawks), wide receiver Jalen Nailor (sixth round, Vikings) and tight end Connor Heyward (sixth round, Steelers). Additionally, Reed earned first-team All-America honors by the AFCA as an all-purpose player after recording career-highs in receptions (59), receiving yards (1,026) and TD catches (10).
Johnson’s offense in 2019 at Colorado helped feature wide receiver Laviska Shenault, who earned second-team All-Pac 12 honors after leading the Buffaloes with 56 catches for 764 yards and five TDs. The multi-dimensional Shenault, who ranks eighth in CU history with 149 receptions, was a second-round NFL Draft selection (No. 42 overall) by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2020.
Johnson spent two seasons as an offensive analyst at Georgia (2017-18) and was instrumental to the Bulldogs’ success, as he assisted in all off-field phases of game planning and recruiting on Kirby Smart’s staff. During Johnson’s time at UGA, the Bulldogs posted a 24-4 record, including the 2017 SEC Championship and an appearance in the College Football Playoff. The Bulldogs ranked third in the SEC and No. 20 in the FBS in scoring offense (35.4 ppg) during the run to the CFP National Championship game, and also featured the SEC’s top-ranked rushing offense (258.4 ypg), which was No. 9 in the nation. In 2018, Georgia again had the SEC’s No. 1 rushing offense (238.8 ypg) and ranked No. 2 in the SEC and No. 14 in the FBS in scoring offense (37.9 ppg) while ranking No. 18 in the country in total offense (464.9 ypg).
Johnson has previous coaching experience in the Big Ten at Minnesota, where he was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Gophers in 2016 under head coach Tracy Claeys. Minnesota’s offense averaged nearly 30 points a game (29.3 ppg), the fourth-highest scoring average in the Big Ten, en route to a 9-4 record that included a win over Washington State in the Holiday Bowl.
As Louisiana’s (former UL-Lafayette) offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for five seasons (2011-15), the Ragin’ Cajuns consistently ranked near the top of the Sun Belt offensive leaders as the program posted four consecutive winning seasons and four straight wins in the New Orleans Bowl. Louisiana was especially potent in the red zone, ranking among the FBS Top 10 in offensive red zone efficiency three times under Johnson (No. 5 in 2011; No. 2 in 2012; No. 10 in 2014). He coached quarterbacks Blaine Gautier (now an offensive analyst for the Spartans) and Terrance Broadway to top 20 finishes in passing efficiency and was part of 40 victories overall.
In one season as Central Michigan’s quarterbacks coach in 2010, Johnson tutored Ryan Radcliff, who led the Mid-American Conference and ranked No. 12 in the FBS in passing, averaging 279.8 yards per game. Overall, CMU ranked No. 17 in the FBS in passing (284.0 ypg).
Johnson was one of the first in the nation to work in quality control in the collegiate ranks, joining Louisville’s offensive staff in 2008. He returned to the field in 2009 as the Cardinals’ tight ends coach, also assisting in all facets of special teams.
Johnson was a three-time All-Gateway Conference performer at quarterback for Northern Iowa, leading the Panthers to a 31-8 record, three conference titles and three Division I-AA playoff appearances (3-3 record) his sophomore through senior seasons (1990-92). Playing for Coach Terry Allen, Johnson set numerous school records at the time in completing 504-of-970 passes for 8,341 yards, with 60 touchdowns against 35 interceptions (a 137.4 NCAA rating). He still ranks among the all-time leaders in Panther history in passing yards (fourth with 8,341), passing TDs (fourth with 60) and pass completions (fifth with 504). UNI was 12-2 his senior year, reached the I-AA semifinals and was ranked No. 3 in the final coaches poll of the season. A captain for the Panthers as both a junior and senior, Johnson’s teammate was Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, who took over for him for the 1993 season.
After his collegiate playing days at UNI, he moved to Columbia, Missouri, to attend graduate school at Missouri and simultaneously began his coaching career in 1993 as an assistant coach at the city’s largest high school, Hickman. The following spring, he was a graduate assistant for the Tigers while finishing his degree.
His first full time position was the offensive and recruiting coordinator at Division III Augsburg (Minn.) College in the fall of 1994. He would spend the next two seasons (1995-96) back in the state of Missouri as the offensive coordinator at Truman State, where the Bulldogs were prolific on offense, averaging over 400 yards and 30 points on offense during his two years in Kirksville.
He became a graduate assistant at Kansas for the 1997 and 1998 seasons, where he was reunited with his college head coach at UNI, Terry Allen; he had the responsibility of developing the quarterbacks and helping KU in the area of breakdowns and analysis. Allen promoted him to a full-time coach in charge of the quarterbacks in 1999, and in 2001 switched him to running backs coach, with Johnson also working heavily with the special teams all three seasons in Lawrence.
After taking a year off from coaching in 2002, he was named tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator at Southern Mississippi under its longtime head coach, Jeff Bower for the 2003 season. Johnson then coached the running backs in 2004, and in 2005, he took the reins as offensive coordinator for the next three seasons, the final three years of Bower’s 18-year run as the Golden Eagles head coach. In his final season there, USM established a school record for total offense, eclipsing the 5,000-yard mark for the first time in finishing with 5,066 yards.
Johnson is a graduate of Northern Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in science (minor in coaching) in 1992, earning his way on the Dean’s List. He received his master’s in exercise sciences with an emphasis in exercise physiology, earning the Superior Graduate Achievement Award with a perfect 4.0 cumulative grade point average at Mizzou.