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UCLA football: Mike Johnson in line to replace Norm Chow as offensive coordinator

January 12, 2011 |  5:15 pm

Johnson1 San Francisco 49ers assistant coach Mike Johnson appears set to become UCLA’s offensive coordinator, leaving Norm Chow’s future in doubt, according to a source inside the program who was not authorized to speak on the matter.

A UCLA official said Wednesday that, “no one has been hired,” but the source said that Johnson and Bruins Coach Rick Neuheisel have been in talks. Neuheisel did not respond to phone calls or text messages.

Johnson, the 49ers' offensive coordinator last season, would replace Chow, who agreed to a two-year contract extension last summer. Multiple sources in the program said that Chow would either be demoted or leave.

The contract extension, which is guaranteed, is worth about $1 million. A buyout remains a possibility.

UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero, when asked about paying off coach contracts, said, “I’m not talking about that issue. I'll put it this way, we will do what we have to do depending on the direction Rick chooses to go.”

Neuheisel fired defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough last month following a disastrous 4-8 season. Bullough has one year remaining on his contract at $325,000.

Johnson, 43, spent the past two seasons with the 49ers, as quarterback coach and offensive coordinator. He and Neuheisel worked together as assistants with the Baltimore Ravens in 2006 and 2007. Johnson has also coached in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons and San Diego Chargers. His previous college experience was at Oregon State from 1997 to 1999.

Chow was considered a coup for the Bruins when he was hired in 2008. UCLA immediately began selling Neuheisel, Chow and defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker as the trio that would bring an end to USC’s dominance and make the Bruins a power. The three were introduced in a coming-out ceremony during a UCLA basketball game in January of 2008.

Only Neuheisel remains. UCLA has a 15-22 record since he became coach.

UCLA made little effort to retain Walker, who left to become the head coach at New Mexico State after the 2008 season. Chow became the focal point of frustration by some high-end boosters after the Bruins lost six of their last seven games to finish the 2010 season.

UCLA's switch to the "Pistol" offense this season left Chow coaching philosophies different from his beliefs, most notably having the quarterback in a mini-shotgun formation four yards behind center. UCLA's running game improved, but the Bruins finished 116th nationally in passing offense and 118th in passing efficiency.

The Bruins averaged 17.7 points in 2008, 22.0 in 2009 and 20.2 last season, the three lowest scoring averages of Chow’s 26 years as an offensive coordinator on the college level.

Chow’s position has been tenuous since November, when Neuheisel refused to offer support when repeatedly asked during a news conference whether Chow would return as offensive coordinator. Neuheisel said he would “evaluate” the situation after the season.

Chow has had success at every other stop, winning national titles at Brigham Young and USC. He developed quarterbacks Ty Detmer, Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, all Heisman trophy winners. He also put North Carolina State’s Philip Rivers and BYU’s Steve Young, among others, on the path to the NFL.

--Chris Foster

Photo: Mike Johnson. Credit: Jeff Chiu / Associated Press