UT Vols: For wide receivers coach David Johnson, it's all about honesty

October 2, 2018

Tennessee Volunteers wide receivers coach David Johnson arrived at the Touchdown Club of Memphis just minutes before his scheduled speech on Monday night.

 

For a brief moment, Johnson settled in his seat located just to the right of 2019 Vols commit Melvin McBride, but the eager group quickly invited him on stage just minutes later.

 

The position coach wasn't naive. In a room predominantly made up of knowledgeable SEC fans ready to pepper him with questions, he couldn't hide the fact that the Vols haven't lived up to the program's standards in recent years. So he didn't, and while that's not his own fault – this season is Johnson's first in Knoxville – he captured the attention of the 50-or-so people in the audience with his honesty.

 

"(Recruits) can understand the history of Tennessee football when you explain it to him, but in this day and time, like anyone, they are really just looking for someone to be honest with them," Johnson said. "We are not where we want to be at this time. So I don't sell them dreams or anything like that."

 

What's said by Johnson is often followed up by Tennessee first-year coach Jeremy Pruitt, who bluntly tells prospects, "Look, we need you to get to that next level."

 

So for Johnson, there's no reason to be unauthentic in a room full of football fans, either.

 

The coach made it clear he knew what he was signing up for when he left the University of Memphis for the Vols in January.

 

It was going to be part of a rebuild. It was going to be bold. But it was nothing he hadn't already done before.

 

When Johnson took over as the coach of New Orleans area high school St. Augustine in 2009, the team had won four games in five years. Nine people had turned down the job.

 

"But on that team, I had a senior, he was 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds. His name was Tyrann Mathieu," Johnson said. "And I had an eighth grader by the name of Leonard Fournette. Sometimes you have to see that when God gives you an opportunity, you take advantage of it."

 

Two future Heisman trophy finalists and NFL stars later, the coaching position nobody wanted looked completely different.

 

Eight years after that, Johnson had a similar situation again when former walk-on receiver Anthony Miller developed into Memphis' all-time leading receiver, and a second-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears.

 

Lesson learned.

 

So when an opportunity came knocking like a chance to work with Pruitt at Tennessee, Johnson took it. Nevermind the Vols (2-3, 0-2 SEC) have an extraordinarily young team and a gauntlet of conference games against top 10 teams like Georgia, Alabama and Auburn.

 

"It's just another thing that we can't run from," Johnson said. "If you want to catch up to everyone else, you have to accept the challenge and play hard. That's why we're here. That's why you want to be in this league."

 

After 30 minutes of speaking the coach exited the room in the same rush that he entered, declining a formal interview. Because when the Touchdown Club gives you another opportunity to recruit in Memphis, you take it.

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