QUESTION: We hear USC quarterback Mark Sanchez often refer to you and your dad as his long time quarterback coaches. What is your relationship to Mark?
Bret Johnson: I started working with Mark Sanchez when he was in the 8th grade and came to me for private quarterback coaching. My Dad and I run a camp called Johnson’s Camp Quarterback and Mark has been a camper for years. Once he was playing at USC, he came back to our quarterback camps to help young quarterbacks as a volunteer “camp counselor”. Over the years we’ve become great friends. He’s one of those quality people you want to keep around. He comes from a great family.
QUESTION: I hear you’ve had quite a laundry list of amazing young quarterback start with Johnsons Camp Quarterback. Can you do a little name-dropping for us?
Bret Johnson: I’m really proud of the kids we’ve coached over the years. I believe in what I do and I’m a big believer in being honest with parents and letting them if they’re kid has potential. I think because of that we weed out the riff-raff and work with the best kids from supportive families. We’ve been lucky enough to have worked one on one with Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer, his younger Jordan Palmer, Mark Sanchez, Blaine Gabbert (the projected starting quarterback for Missouri next year), Colt Brennan, currently with the Redskins, Matt Cassel with the New England Patriots, Cody Hawkins of University of Colorado and Gregg McElroy of Alabama. Gosh, I’m missing a bunch, but those are the ones that pop into my head.
QUESTION: You say you’re still in touch with Mark. Have you talked to him about his decision to come out early, forgo his last year at USC and enter the NFL draft?
Bret Johnson: Yes. Actually, we’ve been on the phone everyday since the Rose Bowl. The poor kid was really torn. I mean he was getting advice all over the board, so he really struggled with this decision. I really think Mark liked bouncing his thoughts off of me because he knows he can trust me and I just want what’s best for him. I have no vested interest in whether he stayed or came out early. I love Mark. He’s the best kid you’ll ever meet. He has a huge heart. He’s humble. He’s kind. He’s polite. He worries about everyone else first. He’s just top notch all the way around. I only wanted him to do what was best for him.
QUESTION: So, does that mean you suggested he come out early?
Bret Johnson: No. I told Mark, “listen to your gut.” I told him only one person knows where your heart and your head are and that’s you. There are no guarantees either way. He could have a terrible year next year or a career ending injury in his first game back at USC. He could also come out now for the NFL draft and the NFL scouts may have him projected lower than most speculate. No one has a crystal ball, but most people suggest he’s a top ten draft pick in this years NFL. It’s a gamble, but it’s not a coin flip. He needs to follow his heart. I think Mark’s made the right decision for his future.
QUESTION: So Mark Sanchez has been a part of Johnson’s Camp Quarterback since he was a little guy. I’m trying to picture an 8th grade Mark Sanchez. Tell me about what you were working with. Did you know you had a Division 1 quarterback in the making.
Bret Johnson: That’s funny. Mark Sanchez, even as an 8th grader was a great athlete, a big kid who really listened and wanted to be coached. Actually, Mark and Carson Palmer were a lot a like in that regard. Even when kids are that young, you can tell immediately if they have athletic ability and most importantly that they are coachable. To be coachable a kid has to be eager to learn and have a built in respect for authority. Its no surprise that the best quarterbacks come from strong families.
But like most aspiring quarterbacks, they both needed a lot of work on footwork and the drills that give them the confidence and presence they need under pressure. I think the one thing that separate good quarterbacks from those who are great is having coaching on how to read and really understand coverages. We always say the best quarterbacks are the ones who know more about the game than any other player on the field. We spend a lot of time with our quarterbacks in the classroom.
I can’t begin to tell you how many hours my Dad and I spent with Mark Sanchez or Carson Palmer, in the class room teaching him how to read coverages and make split decision on defenses and what he was seeing.
QUESTION: It seems the trend today in most sports is “private coaching” and specialized camps, regardless of the sport. Is this necessary to give young athletes the competitive edge. Do you think that made a big difference for kids like Carson Palmer and Mark Sanchez, both kids who started coming to you and your dad as early as the 8th grade or do you think parents go overboard?
Bret Johnson: Well, as a general question, I think it depends on the sport. I think if you start with the private coaching and the special camps to young you can burn a kid out. I didn’t even talk to my son about football until he brought it up. Now he’s 11 and it’s time to get serious about his coaching. But some parents call me with 8 years olds and I tell them, “Let you kid be a kid!” With Mark Sanchez and Carson Palmer, they both started with us around 8th grade. I like to believe the extra coaching made all the difference. My Dad and I devote ourselves not to this business, but to the kids that come to us. The business has grown from our love of what we do and who we work with. I won’t let a parent spend money with me who has a kid with no chance. It’s a waste of my time and their money Kids who have raw talent and mediocre coaching might have a decent outcome. But things in sports have changed so much from when I was playing quarterback. The competition is so steep. Parents from all over the country fly their kids in to come to our camps. They buy our videos. They study the videos like they would for a test. It’s crazy! But if you’re going to play Division 1 football and if you think someday your kid is going to have what it takes to be an NFL quarterback you have to find the best
QUESTION: Does that mean you think Johnson’s Camp Quarterback is the best for young quarterbacks?
Bret Johnson: Of course I do. I’m committed to making it the best. This year my dad and I asked my brother Rob Johnson to join us. As a retired NFL quarterback, he obviously isn’t doing it for the money. He doesn’t need to work. He’s cut from the same cloth as me. We are obsessed with molding these kids. It’s really something we do as a family because we believe we have figured out how to devoted to it being the best. I have kids of my own now. I know the difference between a camp or coaching that’s all about the numbers and a program that is devoted to working with and developing the best. That’s what we do. . But not everyone can afford private training, and money shouldn’t separate a kids opportunity to learn, which is why we did the video series. The video series has helped a lot of kids go from back up to starter. I love those emails. It’s funny, I have all these dads across America saving stats and clippings of their kids progress after studying the videos. It’s actually pretty rewarding.
QUESTION: It sounds like if you think your kid has a chance to play college football they need to come to you.
Bret Johnson: Hey…only if they want the best! Actually, what I’m trying to say is that statistically speaking, even if your kids is the all-star super star at his high school, to get a scholarship or even to walk-on as a collegiate quarterback is a totally different game. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a Div 1 quarterback who hasn’t had their share of private coaching or specialized camps like Johnson’s Camp Quarterback. The earlier the better, but it’s never too late to be better. The thing I wanted to make clear, however, is that all the private and specialized coaching in the world is no guarantee that you’re kid is going to play college ball. Statistically speaking it’s a pretty small number who make it to that level and any competitive edge you can give your kid
QUESTION: Do you think Mark Sanchez made the right decision by leaving early for the draft?
Bret Johnson: I do. He’s the whole package and I don’t care if I’ve coached a kid or not, I call a spade a spade. He’s the real deal. The question is will the NFL scouts and NFL teams that are looking for a quarterback make the right decision? I can’t imagine him not being a top ten draft pick.
Interview by Dan Brandenburg of Speed Tech