Texas Football: Why Shawn Watson Is the Longhorn Assistant Under Most Pressure

Zach SheltonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 16, 2014

Fans will expect quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson to mold Tyrone Swoopes (pictured right) into a starting quarterback.
Fans will expect quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson to mold Tyrone Swoopes (pictured right) into a starting quarterback.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Since Charlie Strong was hired as head coach of the Longhorns, it was assumed that his offensive coordinator be the assistant burdened with the most pressure.

After Wednesday's press conference, Longhorn fans now know that their offensive coordinator will be Joe Wickline. But the assistant that they will scrutinize most is assistant head and quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson, not Oklahoma State's former offensive line coach.

Wickline's record with the Cowboys is sterling to say the least. During the last eight years of his tenure, the Pokes finished among the nation's top-20 in total offense seven times. The Cowboy offense also averaged 40 or more points in five of his last seven seasons, falling just short in 2013 at 39.1 per game

The list goes on. And while Wickline hasn't been an offensive coordinator since he was at Delta State in 1987, there is this from ESPN's Travis Haney:

Whether that's true is unknown, as Haney's report has since been refuted by Tulsa World's Jimmie Tramel (subscription required). What is true is that Wickline has been among the best at his craft for 32 years and will be up to whatever task Texas hands him. Not to mention he has nine former 4-star recruits to work with up front.

Overall, this is a great hire. Wickline is a big, accomplished name from an in-conference rival. Texas has tried to get him before, and Strong made it happen.

Watson, on the other hand, is already under the microscope. He will be viewed as a loyalty hire, while fans thought the program's "significant budget" was going to bring in a guy like Chad Morris or Rhett Lashlee.

Instead they got Watson, who will be charged with turning around Texas' woefully underachieving quarterbacks. As you can see below, it will be no walk in the park.

Texas Quarterbacks Since 2010
NameCmp. %YPATD:INTW-L (as starter)
Garrett Gilbert56.75.8111:197-7
Case McCoy59.87.5524:209-7
David Ash63.27.5530:1814-7
Texas Sports and Sports-Reference.com

With Case McCoy gone, Watson's first order of business will be selecting a starter between David Ash, who could be a redshirt junior, and rising sophomore Tyrone Swoopes. That move alone will be dissected with vigor, especially if Swoopes is not the choice.

The Swoopes topic has been a sensitive one ever since his redshirt was burned in the win over TCU. Even with McCoy throwing the season to the other team, the high-ceilinged freshman never got a shot to show what he could do. Should he be denied that shot next year in favor of the uneven Ash, the ensuing rage will be directed at Watson before any other assistant.

That's before a snap is even played. The 'Horns then have to go through the whole season with Watson's guy playing well enough for the announcer to skip his "Mack Brown Passed on Jameis Winston" segment. Fair or unfair, Watson's task is to produce results that put that mistake in the rear-view.

In total, Watson has to organize a position that has been, more or less, in total disarray for four years. His first quarterback battle is between an upperclassman with starting experience and a fan-favorite with video game athleticism. The winner of that battle then has to put in the best season a Texas quarterback has had in an Olympiad.

Define "pressure."

Then there's the offense itself, which Watson will certainly still have a hand in. Play-callers don't just hang it up after two-plus years of 28-4 football with a first-round quarterback. The passing game, via his work with whoever is taking the snaps, will have Watson's prints all over it.

As a coordinator grounded in West Coast concepts, Watson will have to adjust to Wickline's style. While they were proficient on offense in 2013, the Cardinals were just 69th in total plays and were second in time of possession. This is in stark contrast to the up-tempo, spread attack that Wickline was brought in to implement.

Any hiccups in merging those two philosophies will fall on Watson rather than the guy that has already mastered the up-tempo system. The head coach will also draw the ire of critics for arranging the marriage.

Fortunately for Strong, Watson has shown the ability to adjust his offense depending on his personnel. Before Teddy Bridgewater became the nation's most accurate passer, Watson did a tour at Nebraska during which he was successful with two separate offensive attacks.

In his first two years at Nebraska, Watson engineered two top-12 offenses on the strength of two top-15 passing attacks that each set Cornhusker records. In 2010, he was then handed Taylor Martinez, an electric runner with limited passing abilities. That season, the Huskers ranked ninth in rushing offense and tied for 27th in total plays.

Those numbers weren't enough to keep Bo Pelini from firing Watson, but they illustrate an ability to cater to his players rather than forcing them to cater to him. The fact that Martinez ran for 965 yards and 10 touchdowns during his one season under Watson should also excite the Swoopes fans of the world.

Does Watson have the chops to coach up Texas' passing game? Yes. Will he be able to do it with all the pressure of Texas' fan base? He and Strong better hope so.