Every Monday, Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner would call Dick Johnson, his former coach in high school and Gophers offensive coordinator Jay Johnson’s father.
Dick Johnson would give Leidner advice, tell him things to work on and wish his family well.
“[This Monday] was a little bit different,” Leidner said.
Dick Johnson died Saturday before the Gophers game against Penn State.
Jay Johnson found out after the game when his mother called him, head coach Tracy Claeys said.
On Tuesday, Jay Johnson was at practice and jogged over to a group of reporters afterward to talk about the impact his father left.
“He's pretty special so it's been hard,” Jay Johnson said. “People have been great. You figure out what an impact he had on people and that's been really special.”
Leidner and Dick Johnson had a close relationship. He was Leidner’s quarterback coach at Lakeville South High School for all four years of Leidner’s career. He retired the year Leidner left, but the two kept in touch and talked over the phone every Monday.
The coach would occasionally sit in on Minnesota football meetings, Leidner said, and would also be a frequent visitor at practices.
Lakeville South football head coach Larry Thompson and Leidner talked on Sunday and reminisced on their favorite memories of the late coach.
“We’d be in the wet grass and doing quarterback center exchange and a guy would fumble a snap and [Dick Johnson would] get down there on his hands and knees and stomach and get down there under center to see what the problem was,” Leidner said. “There are so many different stories, I could go on.”
Sadly, this isn’t a first for Gophers coaches this season.
Defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel’s father died two weeks before the start of the season.
“The hardest day for me is actually Saturday … I always talked to my dad after games,” Sawvel said. “It is tough, but at the same token we all understand that we have jobs to do. You have those things.”
Sawvel and Jay Johnson had only worked together for under a year, as Jay Johnson joined the staff in January, but Sawvel said Jay Johnson was offering him comfort when his father died back in August.
“A lot of times when people go through that you don’t know what to tell them. You don’t know what to say,” Sawvel said. “‘Do I even text him? Do I even say anything to him?’ When [Jay Johnson] did, [he] reached out. It’s something … [where] you see the true character of people show through. The heart of people show through. Jay Johnson has a big heart. Jay Johnson is a good person.”
For Saturday’s game, Jay Johnson will be back up in a booth during the matchup against Iowa and will coach the offense through a headset.
Leidner said Dick Johnson would’ve loved nothing more than to beat the Hawkeyes, knowing life and the game must go on.
Jay Johnson choked up a few times when bringing up his dad,but afterward kept talking about football and the positives from the game against Penn State.
“I keep it in context with what he would want me to do,” Jay Johnson said. “That is to work hard, keep challenging and take care of those quarterbacks and our offense and to take care of the coaches and just do it the right way. That's constantly in the back of my mind.”