Can Jay Johnson earn his stripes as a championship Offensive Coordinator?

Most Spartan fans are unfamiliar with the name Jay Johnson, so let’s get reacquainted.

I wrote about Jay Johnson on April 15, 2020 (16 months ago) shortly after he was hired as Michigan State’s Offensive Coordinator, but most readers didn’t give that article much attention because they were told Jay Johnson had the experience and wherewithal to “fix” the Spartans broken Offense, and so fans and stakeholders simply accepted that premise at face value and turned the page.

But let’s remember exactly “what” Jay Johnson was hired to “fix”.

The Offense during Mark Dantonio’s final season was awful. In fact, when measured against 130 D-1 Schools, the Offense ranked near the bottom in every major statistical category. The Rushing Offense averaged just 127 Yards per game (ranked #113 in the land)…the Offense scored just 22 Points per game (ranked #105) and the Spartans stumbled to a 6-6 regular season record including lop sided losses to Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan.

So, exceeding the offensive production of Mark Dantonio’s final season should have been an easy mark to surpass, yet Jay Johnson fell short, way short.

The Spartans dismal Rushing Offense declined to historic lows under Jay Johnson, just 91 Yards per game (the worst in Spartan football history) and therein, not a single Spartan Running Back scored a Rushing Touchdown.

Moreover, the Offense committed 20 Turnovers in 7 games, or said another way, the Offense committed 20 Turnovers on 102 Drives which diminished scoring opportunities, consequently the Spartans averaged just 18 Points per game (the worst in the Big Ten).

With that as a backdrop, it’s time to revisit the Jay Johnson profile and in so doing, we will try to determine if Jay Johnson has the wherewithal to build a championship offense at Michigan State.

If you are so inclined to read the article I wrote about Jay Johnson on April 15, 2020, then you can click on the following link. Otherwise, you can simply read along as we revisit the Jay Johnson profile below.

Can Jay Johnson resurrect the Spartans Offense?


The Jay Johnson profile:

Jay Johnson was a Quarterback at University of Northern Iowa from 1989 to 1992.

During his tenure, Northern Iowa proudly earned 3 consecutive trips to the NCAA 1-AA Playoffs in 1990, 1991 and 1992 and that was a meaningful achievement by any measure. Yet, it’s uncertain how much Jay Johnson contributed because he shared the stage with 2 time NFL MVP Kurt Warner who was at Northern Iowa from 1990 to 1993.

In that regard, a search into the archives for Jay Johnson stats at Northern Iowa came up short, but it would be fair to say Jay Johnson’s offensive production and/or leadership capability at Northern Iowa did not catch the attention of the NFL scouts inasmuch as he was never selected in the NFL draft or as a free agent, so after graduation, Jay Johnson embarked upon a coaching career.


Jay Johnson coaching odyssey:

After graduation from Northern Iowa, Jay Johnson took his first job in 1993 at Hickman HS in Columbia, Missouri.

After just one season at Hickman HS, Jay Johnson turned his attention to college, and he has coached college football for 26 years, from 1994 to 2020, and during that time he has been Offensive Coordinator at 7 different schools, spanning 14 of his 26 year career.

Immediately below is a summary of Jay Johnson’s coaching credentials as Offensive Coordinator.

Offensive Coordinator D-II & DIII:

  • 1994, Augsburg University (D-III)
  • 1995, 1996, Truman State (D-II)


Offensive Coordinator FCS:

  • 2005-2007, University of Southern Miss (FCS)
  • 2011-2015, University Louisiana Lafayette (FCS)


Offensive Coordinator FBS (Power 5)

  • 2016, University of Minnesota (FBS-Big Ten) Offensive Coordinator
  • 2019, University of Colorado (FBS-PAC 12) Offensive Coordinator
  • 2020, Michigan State (FBS-Big Ten) Offensive Coordinator


You might ask, what is the takeaway from the preceding coaching summary?

For one, we can disregard everything prior to 2016, because Jay Johnsons coaching experience from 1994 thru 2015 is essentially irrelevant, because it includes coaching history at D-II, D-III and FCS schools. That may be interesting to some, but it’s irrelevant to this missive.

In that regard, we will focus upon Jay Johnsons experience as Offensive Coordinator at Power 5 schools of which there are just two years prior to arriving at Michigan State and that is Minnesota 2016…followed by Colorado in 2019.

That is striking in it own regard, because at 50 years old, Jay Johnson has only been an Offensive Coordinator at Power 5 schools for just 2 seasons prior to taking the job at Michigan State.

Moreover, Jay Johnson’s resume at Power 5 schools is strikingly modest in terms of tenure and accomplishments. Let’s take a look:

  • 2016: Minnesota offense averaged 357 Yards (ranked #107 Nationally) and finished #7 overall in Big Ten standings.
  • 2019: Colorado offense averaged 389 Yards (ranked#83 Nationally) and finished #9 overall PAC 12 standings.

And if we take the average Offensive production at Minnesota and Colorado under Jay Johnson, the average was just 373 Yards and 27 Points per game, which is commensurate with two teams that finished in the bottom half of their respective conference standings.

Of course, Mel Tucker was “hoping” that Jay Johnson would improve the Spartans sputtering offense. But something went wrong…Michigan State offense got worse.

Under the guidance of Jay Johnson, the Spartans Offense sputtered and spewed and averaged just 330 Yards of Total Offense (ranked #109 Nationally) including an “eye glazing” 20 Turnovers in 7 games. Of course, Turnovers seriously diminished scoring opportunities, and the Spartans averaged a meager 18 Points per game, which led to a dismal record of 2-5 and #13 Big Ten finish overall.

By every measure, after 3 years as Offensive Coordinator at Minnesota, Colorado and Michigan State, Jay Johnson has not generated Championship caliber production, and of course his teams finished in the bottom half of their respective conference standings:

Minnesota #7 Big Ten (2016)

Colorado #9 PAC 12 (2019)

Michigan State #13 Big Ten (2020)


At the bottom line (what should we expect from Jay Johnson as Michigan State’s Offensive Coordinator?):

Is Jay Johnson capable of building a championship caliber Offense?

After all, Michigan State has hung their Offensive fortunes on an Offensive Coordinator with just two years calling plays at the Power 5 level prior to stepping into the job at Michigan State.

By comparison, Joe Rudolph, Offensive Coordinator at Wisconsin has been calling plays at a championship level for 10 years under Head Coach, Paul Chryst (3 years at Pitt and 7 years at Wisconsin).

By another measurement, Kevin Wilson, the OC at Ohio State, has plied his trade as an OC for 37 years including championship stints at Ohio State, as well as Oklahoma and Northwestern.

Meanwhile, history tells us the Big Ten is not a place to seek “on the job training”, yet  it would be fair to argue that Jay Johnson, at 50 years old, is still in the learning mode because his Offensive credentials at Minnesota and Michigan State do not reveal anything close to Championship caliber production!

Nevertheless, the first year Honeymoon is over, the chaos of the pandemic is subsiding, and Jay Johnson has the “keys” to Michigan State Offense.

This is the Big Ten and Jay Johnson needs to step up his game and prove he is capable of building a championship Offense, and that means improving his capability of calling plays at the feverish pace of Big Ten games, and generally guiding a championship caliber Offense.

Jay Johnsons Offense last season was totally unprepared and his play calling raises more questions than answers.

Nevertheless, the 2021 Big Ten season is about to start and we’re about to find out if Mel Tucker picked the right man for the job, because if Jay Johnson is under scrutiny, then so is Mel Tucker.


Thank you for reading.