"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade."
That’s what the optimist says as he takes a sip from his half-full glass of citrusy refreshment.
Frankly I don’t like lemonade, and neither does coach Mike Johnson.
When football organizations hand Johnson a pair of lemons, he makes 1,000 yard receivers, career-peaking veterans, and Pro Bowl quarterbacks.
When the 49ers made former Baltimore Raven wide receiver coach Mike Johnson the new quarterbacks coach in San Francisco, they also employed a part time lemonade-making magician.
Unlike the four year, franchise quarterback disappearance act that defined Alex Smith’s early career development, Johnson makes something of his protégés.
Take NFL journeyman Doug Flutie for instance. Under Johnson’s guidance the then-San Diego quarterback put up single-season career bests of 3,464 passing yards and 294 completions in 2001. This was the most passing yards for a San Diego passer since Dan Fouts rocketed 3,638 yards in 1985.
In addition to his miracle working as quarterbacks coach for the Chargers from 2000 to 2001, Johnson unleashed (pun intended) the dangerous Michael Vick.
During his time as quarterbacks coach for the Atlanta Falcons in 2001, Johnson helped develop the run-happy Vick into a Pro Bowl passer.
Following the firing of head coach Dan Reeves, interim head coach Wade Phillips made Johnson the offensive play caller for the Atlanta Falcons for the final two games of the 2003 season. In those games, Vick and the Falcon’s offense performed tremendously. This included a 30 point performance against the Buccaneers and a 21 point contest against the Jacksonville Jaguars, two teams renown for their stingy defenses. In the Tampa Bay contest, Vick posted a 119.2 quarterback rating, his second highest of the season.
Johnson has been involved in all stages of the quarterback production chain. Prior to entering the NFL as a positional coach, he served as quarterbacks coach at Oregon State in 1999.
In addition to his background working with career-peaking quarterbacks, Johnson possesses experience coaching prime-performing wide receivers. This includes working as a wider receivers coach for Oregon State College from 1997 to 1998, the NFL Atlanta Falcon’s in 2002, and the NFL Baltimore Ravens from 2006 until 2007.
Although his receiving cores have primarily consisted of NFL journeymen, wide receivers coached by Johnson have experienced career bests under the multi-purposeful coach’s guidance.
While with the Atlanta Falcon’s in 2002, wide receiver Brian Finneran had a career best season, recording 56 receptions for 838 yards and six touchdowns.
In addition, under Johnson’s coaching, veteran Baltimore Raven’s wide receiver Derrick Mason posted an impressive 103 receptions for 1,087 yards. This was an incredible accomplishment for the aging veteran in the 12th year of his NFL career.
Mike Johnson’s coaching background and skill-set is complimented by his equally impressive playing experience as an accomplished collegiate quarterback. Johnson began his college career as a backup quarterback for Pac-10 Champion Arizona State from 1985 until 1986. In an attempt to land a starting job, Johnson transferred to Mesa Community College where he played in 1987, becoming a Junior College All-American.
After showcasing his abilities at the junior college ranks, he transferred to the University of Akron, serving as quarterback from 1988 to 1989. While there, Johnson was named Akron Athlete of the Year in 1990.
Upon graduating, Johnson pursued a five year professional playing career, which included a training camp tryout as a rookie free agent with the Arizona Cardinals in 1990, two seasons (1990 and 1991) playing for the San Antonio Riders of the World League, and four seasons quarterbacking in the CFL for the British Columbia Lions (1992 and 1993) and Shreveport Pirates (1994 and 1995).
Given his extensive and proven background as a player and coach, it’s no wonder that Johnson has found coaching success. Although some fans and analysts may laugh at the 49ers' unproven quarterback crop, Johnson’s track record suggests San Francisco passers will be getting the last laugh come next season.
With the highly experienced Mike Johnson on board, 49er fans can rest assured that their vitamin C infusions will go down easy. Just in time for swine flu season.