Head coach Steve Sarkisian has found his replacement for departed co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Jeff Choate, who took over as the head coach of the Nevada Wolfpack last month before remaining with the Texas Longhorns through the College Football Playoffs — Sarkisian is expected to hire Arizona Wildcats defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen to fill the same position held by Choate, according to a Saturday report from 247Sports and confirmed by Anwar Richardson of Orangebloods.
Texas officially announced the hire on Saturday evening.
“Johnny is a guy I’ve known for a long time, and I have so much respect for,” said Sarkisian in a statement released by the school. “He has a wealth of knowledge and experience, is highly regarded in our business, and is a tremendous recruiter. He’s a high-energy coach who does a great job developing his players and getting the best out of them. Johnny’s been focused on the defensive side of the ball the past eight years, and what he did with Arizona’s defense that helped lead a dramatic turnaround in that program this year was sensational. He brings an aggressive, physical and disciplined style of football, his players play fast, relentless and tough, and he’s had success everywhere he’s been. And on top of that, he’s a great man who builds awesome relationships with his players and is passionate about the game. He’ll pour everything into our team, our players and Texas Football. Longhorn nation is going to love Johnny, and we’re fired up to have him joining our staff.”
The familiarity is deep between Sarkisian and Nansen, a Samoan who played linebacker at Washington State in the 1990s — Sarkisian hired Nansen from Idaho to his first staff at Washington in 2009 to coach the defensive line and coordinate special teams before Nansen served as the running backs coach and associate head coach in 2012 and 2013. When Sarkisian took over at USC, Nansen followed Sarkisian to Los Angeles, retaining his role as running backs coach and associate head coach. Nansen remained with the Trojans under Clay Helton coaching linebackers before a two-year stint at UCLA and then landing his first defensive coordinator job at Arizona for the last two seasons.
In 2022, the Wildcats forced 16 turnovers, an increase of six from the year before as Arizona won four more games, the third-largest win improvement in program history. During Nansen’s second season as defensive coordinator, Arizona finished fourth in the conference in scoring defense at 21.1 points per game, fifth in rushing yards per attempt at 3.6 yards per carry, and sixth in passing yards allowed per game at 239.7. Arizona went 10-3 and finished the season with a 14-point Alamo Bowl win over Oklahoma thanks in part to six turnovers forced by Nansen’s defense, which recovered three fumbles and came up with three interceptions.
“When Coach Sark called it was an easy decision. It’s a dream come true to work at a place like Texas — with all its rich history and tradition — and reuniting with Sark is a big part of it, too,” said Nansen. “He gave me a chance at Washington and USC, and I’ve been fortunate to grow as a coach through him and look forward to doing that again. You just look at his record, he knows how to build a program, and he does it the right way. Sark knows how to develop coaches, and he’s as good as there is at developing players, which is something that is really important to me, too. A lot of my philosophy is based on what Sark believes in, so being able to reunite with him, his vision, passion and drive to succeed every single day was a key factor in coming to Texas.”
“The caliber of players and the commitment that The University of Texas has for football is second to none,” Nansen added. “Texas is a place where you can compete for National Championships, work with the best of the best, and be a part of a place and a state that loves its football, which is so exciting. I’m thrilled to have the chance to work with the awesome staff Sark’s built, as well. That’s a great group of coaches and incredible guys I get to be a part of. I can’t wait to get started.”
Nansen has a history as a high-level recruiter, serving as the primary recruiter for five-star linebacker Palaie Gaoteote IV in 2018 and as the secondary assistant when USC landed five-star cornerback Adoree’ Jackson in 2014 and top-50 prospect Ronald Jones in 2015, a Texas target out of McKinney North. Nansen is credited as the primary recruiter for 14 other four-star prospects in his career as an assistant.
Arizona credited Nansen with helping to land the No. 2 class in the Pac-12 in 2022, a group that included Rivals five-star wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan, the first five-star prospect signed in school history. In 2023, the Wildcats landed former five-star linebacker Justin Flowe from the Ducks.
Texas paid Choate $625,000 in 2023 while Nansen made $750,000 at Arizona — expect the new Longhorns co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach to receive a raise for rejoining Sarkisian and college teammate Jeff Banks.
“Like Sark, I believe the way the game is played is physical, I want to put our players in a position to play fast, and I think it’s really important to be a great teacher of the game,” Nansen said. “Sark says it all the time, and I’ve carried that with me — successful teams play fast, physical, smart football, and have a passion for the game. That’s how I coach. Our players will understand why and how they do things. I’m big on developing players, and that’s one of the things that intrigued me the most about coming to Texas, having the opportunity to work with elite athletes and helping them develop as players and people. That’s Coach Sark’s vision, and we are absolutely aligned in that.”