Expect high energy from new Houston Gamblers head coach Curtis Johnson
New Houston Gamblers coach Curtis Johnson is thrilled to be in the USFL. "It’s an exciting, new league," he said. "I love the product."
A runner-up for the head coaching job when the New Orleans Breakers hired John DeFilippo, Curtis Johnson got a second opportunity when Kevin Sumlin stepped down as the head coach of the Houston Gamblers to take a college offensive assistant job at the University of Maryland.
So Johnson, the former head coach at the University of Tulane and receivers coach with the New Orleans Saints under head coach Sean Payton, takes over the helm as the head coach of the Gamblers.
"It’s an exciting, new league," Johnson said about his new job. "I love the product. I loved what they did last year. And so just having the opportunity to be able to coach again — because most of the time you don’t get a second chance — I’m over-the-moon excited."
Johnson will see a familiar face on his coaching staff, as offensive coordinator Eric Price served in the same role for Johnson at Tulane. Hired in December, Chris Wilson will stay on as Houston’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, as Johnson retained all coaches that were with Sumlin under contract on staff.
Johnson said he’s still working through whether he or Price will call the offensive plays on game days.
"I see us being multiple on offense," Johnson said. "I may be the only team that has a fullback (laughs). It’s going to be different. We’ve had these ideas before when we were at Tulane together. So, we’re going to be multiple, with a little slant on the West Coast offense and with some spread principles mixed in."
Johnson served as the head coach for Tulane from 2012 to 2015. He’s thankful for another chance to work as a head coach again, hopefully picking up a few things from his prior experience with the Green Wave.
"What I’ve learned is you can’t do everything," Johnson said. "I can’t be the water boy and the doctor. I’ve got to do a much better job of delegating stuff and not let stuff get to me and protect the staff. Everyday stuff is hard enough, but the staff must be good to work with and confident. That will get the players confident and ready to go. I thought I was a little bit uptight at Tulane.
"I just got to let the main thing be the main thing, control what you can control and all the rest will take care of itself."
Johnson said he looks forward to the USFL’s expansion to four different HUB cities, with the Gamblers sharing the Liberty Bowl with the Memphis Showboats in Bluff City.
"Love it," Johnson said. "The one-city thing was good for one year. I get it, but now I’m glad that we’re expanding a little bit. But it still will feel like home. We’ll be there for an extended period of time, and it will be fantastic."
The Gamblers finished with one of the stingiest defenses in the USFL at the end of last season. Johnson wants Wilson to continue the growth of that group in 2023, cultivating an aggressive but disciplined approach on defense. Former NFL defensive back Brett Maxie will serve as Houston’s secondary coach.
"I’m always upbeat and want to be positive," Johnson said when asked about his coaching style. "I want to put out a good product. I want the guys to give everything they can and be the best they can be. …. I want them to feel good about their improvements and I want the coaches to have an opportunity to grow and develop."
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.
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