Jay Sawvel still remembers the support he got from Jay Johnson the week his father died. Sawvel, the Gophers defensive coordinator lost his father, John, to pancreatic cancer Aug. 16. When Sawvel went back home to Barnesville, Ohio for the funeral, Johnson was among those who texted his encouragement.
"A lot of times when people go through that, you don’t know what to tell them," Sawvel said. "You don’t know what to say. Do I even text him? Do I even say anything to him? That is when you see the true character of people show through. Jay Johnson has a big heart. Jay Johnson is a good person. You don’t have to work with him for 10 years to figure that out."
Johnson had come aboard the tight-knit Gophers coaching staff in January, as the new offensive coordinator. And then on Saturday, the Gophers were reeling from a disappointing loss at Penn State, when word came that Johnson's father, Dick, had died of a heart attack that morning.
"I just told him to let me know if he ever needed anything from me," Sawvel said. "It’s a little different arrangement because family is close [in Lakeville]. That doesn’t make it any easier.
"The hardest day for me is actually Saturday. The funeral was on a Saturday. My last time I went there, I went on a Saturday night, left on a Sunday. I always talked to my dad after games. Coach Johnson will be the same way, I’m sure. Growing up and being the son of a coach, that has got to be the toughest thing."
Now, Johnson is grieving during Iowa week, though he hasn't skipped a step in his usual game preparation process.
"Some people don’t really realize what goes into a game plan," Sawvel said. "Some people don’t know what goes into calling plays. You play Madden -- that is not the same. 'Oh, I’m a great play caller because I can play with the 49ers on Madden,' and it’s not the case. There is a lot that goes into it and you have 25 to 30 seconds to get that done.
"Sometimes it takes a lot of energy to focus on that. So to block that other [sadness] out and do that, it’s a huge challenge. He will do a good job of it because he’s a true professional. That’s a good thing."