Over the weekend, comments made by former Tennessee assistant coach and current Florida State running backs coach David Johnson took Tennessee social media by storm.
Speaking at an FSU event, Johnson was detailing how he found his way to Tallahassee and why he came to coach under head coach Mike Norvell once again. Johnson discussed working under Norvell previously at Memphis and how he had offers to leave to coach LSU but didn’t take them. But when Jeremy Pruitt called to take him to Tennessee, he took that opportunity.
It was at that point that Johnson’s comments rubbed Vol fans the wrong way.
“I went there for two years, and it didn’t fit me,” Johnson said at the event. “It’s hard for me to recruit somewhere when I don’t really trust what’s going on. I trust this guy (Norvell).”
To Vol fans, it sounded as if Johnson was saying he didn’t trust the process at Tennessee and that it was “hard for me to recruit” to Knoxville when he didn’t really trust what was happening at UT. Needless to say, Vol fans were slightly up in arms about the comments over the weekend, and Johnson wanted to try and clear the air.
Johnson appeared on The Swain Event — a morning sports talk radio show hosted by former Vol wide receiver Jayson Swain — on Monday morning to explain his comments.
“First of all, probably the way I said it wasn’t in a good light. But it was no intent on Tennessee or anybody else,” Johnson explained. “I just did interviews saying how I enjoyed being at Tennessee and how I enjoyed the process. And that’s what I want to apologize for, for the way it came out. I’ve never been a coach to take a shot at anybody. I don’t gain anything with that. Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve always been a good guy on the field and off the field, got along with everybody in the building. That’s why I’m glad you reached out to me, so I can explain my side of it.”
Johnson clarified that he did, in fact, trust what was going on at Tennessee, and he’s grateful for head coach Jeremy Pruitt for helping him out.
“I was just saying I trust the process. Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve shown that,” Johnson said. “Every coach I’ve been with, I trust the process and whatever vision that they had, and I was able to recruit. That’s the same thing I did at Tennessee. That’s the same thing I said about Pruitt in those interviews. This guy helped me out more than most people know.”
When Johnson first joined Pruitt’s staff, he was hired on as UT’s wide receivers coach. But after the 2018 season, Pruitt went out and hired former Vol Tee Martin to his staff, and Martin was moved to receivers coach. That move pushed Johnson to another role as Tennessee’s running backs coach.
Johnson said he had no ill will toward Pruitt for that move. In fact, he completely understood it and was fine with it. That didn’t disrupt his trust in UT at all.
“When Pruitt asked me to move to running backs, it was no problem,” Johnson explained. “I was going to do whatever to help the team, and I didn’t hesitate to do that. I know we needed to bring Tee back to really help us out in recruiting, and he’s a Vol for Life, so why wouldn’t I want to move to a different position to help us out? So when I said that, I was just talking about the process I was in at that point.
“Right now, Mike Norvell is a guy that I knew, that I could trust, and it was another situation where I could trust the process and be able to recruit. There was no intent towards Tennessee or Pruitt. I don’t gain anything from that.”
After the video came out showing Johnson’s comments at the event, Johnson said he didn’t understand the backlash because he wasn’t trying to take a shot at Tennessee.
“When it first came out, I was like ‘I didn’t say anything about Tennessee.’ But looking at it now, I can see how people thought I was taking a shot at Tennessee,” Johnson stated. “But there was no way I would do that. I don’t have a reason to do that.
“I enjoyed myself at Tennessee, thought I worked extremely hard, and I never had any problems or anything negative. I did whatever they asked me to do from a recruiting standpoint to a coaching standpoint.”
Johnson stated that it was his wife who first pointed out to him that the comments came off the wrong way, and it was because of her that he realized he needed to apologize for what he said.
“For this to come out, and I know the way it sounded, that’s why I’m glad you allowed me (to come on here),” Johnson said to Swain. “That’s why I didn’t respond on Twitter or anything like that. My wife told me the same thing. She said, ‘It just didn’t sound right. You need to clear it up.’ So I’m glad you’ve given me this opportunity to apologize for the way it sounded. I didn’t put it in the right light, and that’s why I wanted to come on and make sure people understood that there was no intent to take a shot at anybody.
“I wouldn’t be in this position without Coach Pruitt. It’s just that simple. He gave me this opportunity. I enjoyed myself at Tennessee.”
Johnson said he hasn’t spoken to Pruitt about the comments because he believes Pruitt probably didn’t think he was taking a shot at him and UT. Johnson also explained that money wasn’t an issue for why he left Tennessee to go to Florida State; the big reason was because of family and moving closer to where his extended family could see his son in high school more easily.
To hear the full interview Johnson gave on The Swain Event, follow this link.