Taver Johnson gave his new players some simple advice in his first meeting as Arkansas linebackers coach: Simple isn't easy.
Johnson will be on board as new defensive coordinator Paul Haynes installs the technique and principles that made Ohio State one of the nation's best units. Haynes described his approach as "simple" as he began to give the Razorbacks small doses of it in the Cotton Bowl preparations.
In Johnson's introduction to the media Tuesday as Bobby Petrino's assistant head coach/linebackers coach, the Cincinnati, Ohio native stuck with the Haynes doctrine.
"When I met with our players, I told them that what we do is very simple," Johnson said, "but I told them simple was not easy."
Haynes coached safeties at Ohio State. Johnson was at his side coaching the cornerbacks the past five seasons. They've been good friends since they found themselves sitting in the same seminar at the 1994 coaching convention.
"That was the first year I went to the convention," Johnson said. "I was coaching the defensive line and I remember it was the first time I'd heard the phrase cover four. I turned to the guy next to me and said, ‘What is this cover four.' It was Paul. We've been really good friends since."
Apparently, they brother-in-law it pretty well as assistant coaches. Johnson said they provide "balance" in their approach to their on-field craft.
"Paul is cerebral," Johnson said. "He has an intelligent approach to it. I think he wants to understand how it works. He has high expectations, wants accountability and thinks things through.
"I think I bring some energy. I wear energy on my sleeve, with no facade."
Later, Johnson called his good friend "more mild mannered" than himself.
"He'll get excited, too," Johnson said. "But I know him really good and I'm probably more (excitable)."
Johnson said he had not met Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino before interviewing the past few days, but did match wits with the Arkansas coach in the 2003 GMAC bowl. Johnson was defensive coordinator of the unit that helped beat Louisville, 49-28. Obviously, Johnson was part of the Ohio State staff that played against the Hogs in last year's Sugar Bowl, too.
"I admired the way (Petrino) coached," Johnson said. "He had a tough attitude, like a defensive coach. You could see that on the sideline."
It's clear that Haynes had an influence in Johnson's move from Ohio State. He was coveted by new coach Urban Meyer. But the chance to be an assistant head coach helped the process for the move to the Ozarks.
"Asistant head coach?" Johnson said. "When that came up, I said, ‘Wow.' That could help you become a head coach on down the line.
"I really hadn't thought much about that. But of late, some of my colleagues have started to suggest that. It got me to thinking on that line again. Maybe it is time for me to start thinking about becoming a head coach."
As an assistant coach, sometimes there is the thought that it's good to just be an assistant.
"I think what you think is that you don't want to do some of those things that fall on the head coach," he said. "And more than anything you just want to make sure your players are not in the office of the head coach."
There's another line of thinking, too. Arkansas has made a steady climb towards the nation's elite programs. The Hogs finished No. 5 this past season with a lot of returnees for 2012.
"It's a great relationship with Paul Haynes," Johnson said. "But it's also about coaching with Coach Petrino and the opportunity here with the way the train is rolling. It's definitely going pretty fast and I didn't mind hopping on board."
Coaching linebackers again was an appeal, too. He coached linebackers at three other stops in a career that has included NFL and defensive coordinator work.
"I think that's my natural position," Johnson said. "It's an opportunity to get back in the front seven. I enjoyed my time at cornerback and in the secondary. It helped my overall knowledge, but I wanted to get back to linebackers, in the middle, where you grit your teeth and get down into it.
"I'm probably a little rusty (at coaching linebackers), but I'm looking forward to it."
Johnson watched his friend coach the Cotton Bowl. He's already studied Arkansas tape and has a handle on what's going on with the Razorbacks.
"I saw them play and I remember them from the (Sugar Bowl)," he said. "I saw a lot of exciting things. I saw a lot of energy.
"When I met with the linebackers after our team meeting (Sunday night), I told them they have an awesome team and nothing is wrong. I just want to get on board. I'm impressed."
Haynes said he didn't know any other members of the staff before arriving in Fayetteville, but has a good understanding on most after fielding many phone calls from friends across the country.
"I took a lot of calls the last couple of days from coaching friends," he said. "Most everyone knew at least someone on the staff and they all gave me messages for their friends. It was, ‘Tell Coach (Tim) Horton hello for me.' Or, 'Tell Coach (Steve) Caldwell hello.' Someone was good friends with all of them."
Johnson's reputation is as a dynamite recruiter. Will he go back to Ohio for players?
"I'm from there, so probably so," he said. "Paul and I know Ohio from the top of the state to the southwest corner. We will definitely try to go back there."
Johnson said he'll get on the road recruiting in quick fashion.
"My job right now is to learn this university as fast as possible and get on the road this next two weeks," he said. "It's an exciting time. I'm excited to be at this university and to be in the SEC."
Johnson said it's not going to be a tough sell.
"I think everyone knows about the SEC," he said. "I think they know about the SEC West. You just say, ‘Come lets go. Lets do this.' You don't have to sell too much."
Johnson thought the Cotton Bowl exposure did a good job of selling the Arkansas program, too.
"I thought it was very impressive," he said. "There was a lot of energy, the sideline had a lot of energy. I thought (the defense) was hard hitting. It was exciting. I thought the (Cotton Bowl) did a great job of representing the university, the SEC and showed there was a special senior class."
Taver Johnson: Nothing Easy
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