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Next Man Up Mentality: The Start of the Curtis Johnson Era in the USFL

Updated: Feb 17, 2023

Kevin Sumlin has stepped down as the Houston Gamblers head coach to move back to the Fall football scene, and make his move back to the college level. This news is yet another reminder that the USFL is not just a league to help players reach their goals, but also coaches. The Gamblers organization and fans will be forever grateful to Coach Sumlin for all he has done, and wish him all the best on his new endeavors.

A quote from Executive Vice President of Football Operations, Daryl Johnston:

“We’re grateful to Coach Sumlin for his time and effort standing up the Houston Gamblers and helping the USFL become the first major professional spring football league in nearly 40 years to complete a successful inaugural season and return for Season 2".

With a coach stepping down, the next question is always who will be stepping up? The answer to that question is Curtis Johnson.

Head coach Curtis Johnson of the Tulane Green Wave leads his team onto the field before playing the Mississippi Rebels at Louisiana Superdome

Curtis Johnson is a University of Idaho alumni, who moved quickly through the coaching ranks from high school, college, and eventually the NFL. While at San Diego State he was the recruiter who snagged the future hall of famer, Marshall Faulk, proving he knows talent at its earliest stages.

Winning was the norm for Coach Johnson as he was the wide receivers coach for Miami the U when they won the 2001 national title, and also wide receivers coach for his hometown New Orleans Saints when they won the Super Bowl in 2010. This brings the total Super Bowl wins on the Gamblers staff to two, which is two more than season 1.

Head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints is flanked by quarterback coach Pete Carmichael Jr. (L) and wide receiver coach Curtis Johnson (R) as they lead their team against the Denver Broncos during NFL action at Invesco Field at Mile High on September 21, 2008

This is Coach Johnson's second stint as a head coach after leading the Tulane Green Wave from 2012 to 2015. Leading the team to a 15-33 regular season record over the three seasons, he is looking for a fresh start to prove he is an NFL caliber head coach with the USFL.

While the Gamblers are a new endeavor, there is already a familiar face on staff in Coach Eric Price. Price was Johnson's offensive coordinator at Tulane for all three years, and joins him again with his move to the USFL. Under Coach Sumlin, Eric Price was set to be the wide receivers coach, but under Johnson, he will be promoting to offensive coordinator and QB coach, while Johnson takes over receivers on top of head coaching duties. This move for Price makes too much sense as he has already been OC under Johnson, and in his hiatus from coaching was traveling the country holding QB camps for young quarterbacks preparing for their division 1 opportunities. It is exciting to think of what Coach Price can do with Bahar, Wilson, and Cozart.

The offensive coaching staff is falling into place after some uncertainty in the offseason. Coach Andy Townsend will remain as the offensive line coach, and Coach Ray Rychleski will remain as special teams coordinator and tight end coach. With the unfortunate news that Coach Tony McClain stepped away to stay closer to home, Curtis Johnson has a wide open running backs coach position to fill with his choice. His running backs coach at Tulane was David Johnson, maybe he can snag him from Florida State and get the band back together?

As far as defense is concerned, it remains some what the same as was announced in the Gamblers Coaching Staff article previously posted on the USFL Network website with Chris Wilson as defensive coordinator and Brett Maxie as defensive backs coach. ( Coach Chris Wilson and his crew he brought with him are holding things down on the other side of the ball. Coaches Phillip Daniels and Jeff Smart have both stepped away to pursue other opportunities. Coach Curtis Johnson brings a defensive line coach with him to replace Phillips who's name will be announced upon contract signing, while they search for a replacement at linebacker coach in Jeff Smart.

Tulane Green Wave head coach Curtis Johnson looks on as his team took on the Houston Cougars

When asked how he plans to change the Gamblers offense as well as maintain defensive dominance he said:

“I’m going to bring football that is exciting and fast by airing it out while also running the ball. On defense, the Gamblers will always be focused on being physical and creating turnovers. I’m excited to get to work building a winner for Houston football fans." - Curtis Johnson

Daryl Johnston had nothing but kind words about Coach Johnson:

“We’re very excited for Coach Johnson to bring his 35 years of experience improving players at the professional and collegiate levels to the USFL family as the new Houston Gamblers Head Coach,”

“Coach Johnson has been on the USFL head coach radar, so when Coach Sumlin recently informed us that he would be stepping down, I immediately called Curtis. We’re thrilled that he enthusiastically embraced the challenge to be the Gamblers Head Coach. As a former assistant coach for the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints team, Coach Johnson knows what it takes to build a winner, so Houston fans should be excited about the brand of football he will bring to the USFL.”

The future is bright for the Houston Gamblers. They have proved that vertical movement for both players and coaches is not only a possibility, but a reality. The team is in great hands with Curtis Johnson and the staff with him who know what winning looks like, and how to achieve it. The stage is set for the Gamblers to run the south in season 2.

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