Most of the staff looked as expected, but there was one surprise: Offensive line coach Joe Wickline was named the offensive coordinator, while Shawn Watson was given the title of assistant head coach for offense/quarterbacks.
There had been a lot of speculation over who would run the Texas offense, Watson or Wickline. Strong said Wednesday that Wickline, not Watson, will call the plays. However, he added that Watson is "going to be involved" in the offense.
The news was a bit surprising given the background of each coach.
Watson joins Strong from Louisville, where he was the offensive coordinator for three seasons. Prior to his stint with the Cardinals, he served as Nebraska's offensive coordinator from 2007-10 and Colorado's offensive coordinator from 2000-05.
Wickline, who joins Strong's staff after nine years as Oklahoma State's offensive line coach, hasn't been listed as an offensive coordinator since he coached at Delta State in 1987.
It seemed natural, then, that Watson would act as the Longhorns' play-caller, even if titles suggested otherwise.
However, according to his previous contract at Oklahoma State, Wickline must accept a new job as an "offensive coordinator (with play calling duties)” or Texas would be forced to pay a $600,000 buyout. The terms of Wickline's contract were obtained by Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman.
Strong denied that this caveat played a role in naming Wickline the OC.
Another consideration is that Wickline may have called plays more recently than his bio suggests. According to ESPN's Travis Haney, the Cowboys offense was run by Wickline—not offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich—this past season:
For what it's worth, Jimmie Tramel of the Tulsa World refutes that tweet with two sources of his own.
Still, it's not uncommon for multiple coaches to be involved in play-calling and game-planning, especially if they've been coordinators before. In fact, Watson and Wickline aren't the only former coordinators on Strong's staff; new 'Horns receivers coach Les Koenning served as the offensive coordinator for Mississippi State from 2009-13.
Whether it's Wickline calling his own plays, Watson's plays or the group's plays, it probably matters little. Strong will likely have an offensive philosophy that favors running the ball and chewing up clock. That plays into Wickline's strengths and Strong's background as a defensive coach.
“You can talk about all those teams that throw the ball around,” Strong said via Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News, “but at the end of the day, if you can’t line up and run downhill and punch somebody in the mouth, then you are going to have issues.”
That kind of philosophy works great when a team's ahead or the score is close, but what about when playing from behind?
That didn't happen often when Strong was at Louisville. In four years under Strong, the Cardinals only suffered two double-digit losses. One of those was a 20-3 loss to Pittsburgh in 2010 when Strong took over a program that had tanked under Steve Kragthorpe.
Louisville was almost always in a position to win with Strong, even when it didn't have a roster with future NFL players like it had in 2013.
That competitiveness should mesh well with Wickline's intensity.
Though known as a passing team, Oklahoma State has had consistent success running the ball under Wickline. The Pokes had six straight first-team All-Big 12 running backs from 2007-12. Additionally, eight offensive linemen earned All-Big 12 honors. In 2013, Oklahoma State ranked ninth nationally in sacks allowed.
Physical play in the trenches has been an underappreciated cornerstone of OSU's offenses over the last several years. The same can't be said for the Longhorns.
So even though Wickline was a surprising choice to be the team's play-caller, the amount of input in the offense, combined with a defense-first philosophy, makes the decision less risky.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. All stats courtesy of the NCAA.
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