After Saturday’s trouncing in South Bend, the dissemination of dreadful statistics began to make their way to the realm of social media and sports talk radio: the Longhorns offensive ranks dead last nationally, they’ve only reached the red zone once in their last three games, and they’ve scored 10 or fewer points in six of Charlie Strong’s 14-game career at Texas.
The stats are damning. Something has to change, and it looks like coach Strong agrees. The media waited eagerly at Tuesday’s scheduled press conference to hear from Shawn Watson, Texas offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. In a surprise twist, they were instead greeted by the head coach.
Strong broke the news that Shawn Watson was being relieved of play-calling duties, and that receivers coach Jay Norvell would immediately assume those duties.
Coach Strong tells the media that WR Coach Jay Norvell will take over play calling duties.
— Texas Football (@TexasFootball) September 8, 2015
Strong added that Watson’s duties will shift to focus on coaching the quarterbacks while co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Joe Wickline will focus solely on coaching the offensive line.
Prior to joining the Longhorns this season, Jay Norvell spent the last seven seasons at Oklahoma in the role of co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach. According to the Dallas Morning News though, the last time Norvell was primarily responsible for play-calling was longer ago than his days at OU.
If my memory of Jay Norvell's duties at Oklahoma is correct, the last time he would have been primary play-caller is UCLA in 2007.
— Chuck Carlton (@ChuckCarltonDMN) September 9, 2015
If the result of Charlie Strong’s decision is not surprising, perhaps its swift timing is. Strong had remained loyal to Shawn Watson despite lackluster offensive performances against TCU and Arkansas to close out last season. So given that he made the move just one game into the season, Strong must feel that it was an inevitable move that would only be made under further duress had he waited, or that a change had to be made to appease the wolves gathering at the door.
This development could be particularly bad news for Joe Wickline. He’s currently fighting his former employer Oklahoma State in a lawsuit. Despite being under contract to the Cowboys until 2016, Wickline departed at the conclusion of the 2013 season for his current position at Texas. OSU contends that because Wickline’s move to Texas was only a lateral move, he owes the university a $600,000 buyout. Wickline contends that his move to Texas was a promotion to offensive coordinator and primary play caller for the Longhorns, and therefore doesn’t owe the buyout. As far as the lawsuit is concerned, who’s calling plays now won’t matter much, but Strong’s general acknowledgement that Novell is taking over for Shawn Watson could prove damning to Wickline’s defense.
Norvell will get his first chance to command the playbook this Saturday as Rice travels to Austin, and he seems to have the support of the players.
Johnathan Gray on Watson demotion: "I don't think it was a big surprise."
— Mike Finger (@mikefinger) September 9, 2015
Texas WR Daje Johnson said Jay Norvell has brought several new ideas to the program. "And basically the mindset of playing like a champion."
— Brian Davis (@BDavisAAS) September 9, 2015
It’s clear to all those around the program that it was a move that needed to be made. The Longhorns need a spark, and this could be it. However, it probably would have been better to make the change before spring camp, instead of after the season has started, but better late than never right?