Denver Johnson is in his second season as Colorado's offensive line coach, having joined Dan Hawkins' staff on February 18, 2009. A nationally respected veteran coach, his resume includes nine years as the head coach at Illinois State University prior to coming to CU.
Johnson, 51, summed up his love for coaching offensive linemen the day he was hired. "I have been a head coach for 12 years, but I'm an offensive line coach by trade," he said. "That's my passion."
His first CU line was youthful ... to the point that it was the first offensive line at Colorado that did not have a single senior at any of the five positions in school history, and the first time one of the starters wasn't a senior since 1998.
Johnson resigned as ISU head coach following the 2008 season, announcing the move after the Redbirds' season-ending 17-10 loss to Southern Illinois that dropped Illinois State to 3-8. The Redbirds had winning records in five of his nine years, including a 9-4 mark in 2006, the second most wins in school history
He was the Redbirds' head coach for the 2000 through 2008 seasons. He posted a 48-54 record, highlighted by reaching the quarterfinals of the 2006 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (I-AA) and a season-ending No. 8 national ranking. Johnson's teams produced some of the most prolific offensive campaigns in the program's history by establishing 28 offensive school records, including the most points and the most rushing, passing and total yards in a season.
His ISU teams produced 34 players who were afforded some kind of All-America honor and 62 first-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference selections, including the MVC's first-ever three-time defensive player of the year, Boomer Grigsby; and the offensive and defensive players of the year in 2005 with Laurent Robinson and Brent Hawkins, respectively. During his tenure, the Redbirds also boasted the Valley Football Defensive Player of the Year for five straight seasons, from 2002-06, with Grigsby winning the honor three times, followed by Hawkins and Cameron Siskowic.
Johnson had originally joined the Illinois State staff after a three-year head coaching stint at Murray State, where he compiled a 21-12 mark. He owned a 69-66 career record in his 12 seasons as a head coach.
Johnson graduated with a degree in Business Management from the University of Tulsa in 1981. A four-year letterman at offensive tackle, he helped the Golden Hurricane to the 1976 Independence Bowl as a player and was a two-time All-Missouri Valley Conference offensive lineman under former Ohio State and Arizona State head coach John Cooper. He was also an academic all-conference pick.
He was drafted in the eighth round of the 1981 National Football League Draft by the Tampa Buccaneers, and was with the club for two seasons. He then joined the Los Angeles Express of the now-defunct United States Football League for the 1983 and 1984 seasons and wrapped up his professional career with the USFL's Houston Gamblers in 1985. His USFL playing days included playing stints with quarterbacks Jim Kelly and Steve Young, both of whom went on to stardom in the NFL.
Following the 1985 USFL season and after four years of playing professional football, he made the decision enter the coaching ranks and began his climb in the fall of ‘85 as a graduate assistant at Oklahoma State. The Cowboys went 8-4 that season, were at one time ranked as the No. 5 team in the nation and earned a spot opposite Florida State in the Gator Bowl. He traveled with OSU to Boulder that season when the Cowboys eked out a 14-11 win over Bill McCartney's Buffaloes, which were on the rise at the time.
His first full-time coaching job came at Tennessee-Martin, where he was assistant head coach and coached the offensive line for three seasons (1986-88) under head coach Don McCleary, whom Johnson met as a player when McCleary was on the staff of the USFL's Express. His last year there, UTM featured an explosive offense and advanced to the quarterfinals in the NCAA Division II playoffs before finishing the year with an 11-2 record.
Johnson then returned to Stillwater where he would coach the offensive line for Oklahoma State for the next four seasons (1989-92), and was on the sidelines for the '91 game when CU called perhaps its most famous trick play in its history, a fake field goal trailing 12-10 with 12 seconds remaining. With the winds howling as they often do in the plains in November, holder Robbie James completed a 20-yard pass to tight end Christian Fauria and CU won, 16-12 (missing the PAT kick into the wind).
He then joined the staff at Mississippi State where he spent the next three years, also as the offensive line mentor. The 1993 Bulldogs earned a spot in the Peach Bowl, and in 1995, Johnson was recognized as one of the top assistant coaches in the Southeastern Conference. He then returned to Oklahoma for a third time in his coaching career, but this time with the University of Oklahoma for the 1996 season.
Early in 1997, he was named head coach for Murray State. A late hiring process and the loss of several key players from the previous year's team appeared to have Johnson poised for a slow start at MSU, but that was not the case. The Racers responded with a 7-4 mark, the same record they would post in the 1998 and 1999 seasons before Johnson moved on to Illinois State. His first ISU team opened 1-4 and then caught fire, winning its last six and was one of the better teams in I-AA by the end of the year.
He was born October 17, 1958 in Seminole, Okla. He is married to the former Danita Kay Powell, and the couple has two grown daughters, Taylor and Kelsey. He collects vintage cars and guitars, has skydived and lists water skiing as one of his hobbies. Johnson's father, the late Luke Johnson, was a decorated veteran of World War II, and his mother, Claudia, still resides in Seminole, Okla., near the farm on which the family lived. Throughout his career, he has been a public speaker in high demand, as he is known for an interesting delivery style featuring home spun humor with his natural southern drawl.
TOP PLAYERS COACHED-All-Big 12 Conference Performers (1): Nate Solder. All-Missouri Valley Conference Performers (67; too numerous to list). NFL Players/Draft Picks (7): Boomer Grigsby, Brent Hawkins, Laurent Robinson (SIU), Brian Anderson, Melvin Hayes, Pervis Hunt, Jesse James (MSU).
RECORD-He has been a part of 285 game days in the collegiate coaching ranks across three divisions. He has coached in 101 Division I-A games as a full-time coach (15-17-2 at Mississippi State, 12-30-2 at Oklahoma State, 3-8 at Oklahoma, 3-9 at Colorado); OSU was 8-4 the year he was a graduate assistant (1985). He has coached in two bowl games (one New Year's Day). He was head coach for 135 Division I-AA games, guiding Murray State and Illinois State to a 69-66 record, and UT Martin was 22-15 in three seasons there, reaching the D-II quarterfinals in 1988.