Strong: Watson 'final voice' of UT offense
March, 19, 2014
By Max Olson | ESPN.com
AUSTIN, Texas -- Charlie Strong finally put an end to all the confusion on Tuesday. Or did he?
The great question is who exactly is responsible for calling the offensive plays at Texas, a topic that seemed fairly cut and dried when Strong first addressed it on Jan. 15, following the hiring of his staff.
"Joe Wickline will call plays on offense," Strong said then. "He’s the offensive coordinator; he will call plays.”
Wickline is indeed the offensive coordinator after nine years of coaching the offensive line at Oklahoma State. Shawn Watson was hired as the assistant head coach of the offense and quarterbacks coach after serving as Strong's offensive coordinator and playcaller at Louisville, and Strong insisted in January that Watson will be heavily involved in influencing the Longhorns offense.
John S. Peterson/Icon SMIShawn Watson, shown at Nebraska in 2010, is the assistant head coach of the Texas offense and will be in charge of play calling, though he won't necessarily be the playcaller.
This seemed like a simple plan at the time, but then a different message started to spread.
Earlier this month, Strong told CBS' Jeremy Fowler that Watson is "gonna be in charge" of play calling and will run the game planning and organization of the offense.
This came just days after Wickline and Watson each met with Texas reporters for the first time and explained that their efforts to oversee the Longhorns offense would be a collaboration. (Wickline discussed his relationship with Watson in this Q&A.) And Strong's quotes to CBS led to a Texas spokesperson confirming to multiple outlets that, yes, Wickline was still expected to call plays on game day.
There are some off-the-field aspects of this story, too. Watson will be paid more than Wickline. And as the Austin American-Statesman reported in January, language in Wickline's contract at Oklahoma State demanded that Texas would have to pay OSU a sum of $600,000 if Wickline wasn't named "offensive coordinator (with play-calling duties)."
So, what's going on here? Strong was given a chance to clarify Tuesday after his first spring practice.
"The one final voice will be Shawn," Strong said. "Joe is the offensive coordinator. Shawn is the assistant head coach in charge of the offense. Two guys work together."
Strong went on to explain that such a split is, in his experience, not uncommon. He was co-defensive coordinator with Greg Mattison for three years at Florida, from 2005 to 2007, and they both made calls. Sometimes those calls were overruled by Urban Meyer. They all made it work. He believes his offensive coaches can handle this.
"When you talk about play-calling duties, they're mature enough. They've been around it enough. Neither one has an ego," Strong said. "Wickline is going to be involved in it. He's going to make some calls. Shawn is going to make some calls. When we go down the stretch and we have to have a call made, I think Shawn, because he's been doing it for a long time and I'm comfortable with him.
"I don't think it will ever be an issue because those two guys have been around too long for the egos. I'm not going to put up with it and they know that. We're not here for ourselves; we're here for these players. And if you have an ego, you're working at the wrong place. Check your ego at the door and let's get going around here. We're here to win and get these young men graduated."
So there's your answer. Watson has final say. Both coaches will contribute play calls. It might sound like a convoluted plan, but that's the plan.
It's not that Strong is attempting to play a shell game and fool everybody. More likely, he's just working with two coaches he knows and trusts and is trying to give both the responsibilities they want.
This may be causing consternation with the fan base, but that doesn't seem to be the case internally. Wickline and Watson publicly act comfortable and confident when talking about their respective roles and about this collaboration process.
Of course, this scheme also threatens to cause issues in the moments when Wickline and Watson have conflicting views on what needs to happen. Wickline acknowledged this month that you never really know how a staff will work together until you hit the season, run into problems and must fix them. That's when Texas truly needs to know who its offensive "voice" is, and that title belongs to Watson.
Right now, all Watson and Wickline care about is getting this Texas offense assembled and up to speed. They'll continue to collaborate and cooperate. That's Strong's story, and he's sticking to it.