Monday, March 10, 2014
Meet the coaches: Wickline and Watson
By Max Olson
This week, we’re taking a closer look at the members of the new Texas coaching staff under Charlie Strong. The first part of our two-a-days series focuses on the leaders of the Longhorns' offense and what they’ll bring to their respective position groups.
Offensive coordinator/offensive line
Mention to Wickline that he’s one of the nation’s best offensive line coaches, and you’ll get a shrug.
More on Texas
For full coverage of the Longhorns, check out the Texas blog, part of ESPN's College Football Nation. Blog
He’ll say his résumé of success was a byproduct of the Oklahoma State’s consistent offensive success. But the results -- seven All-Big 12 offensive linemen, three of them All-Americans -- are undisputable. Their success has to, in many ways, be a byproduct of his philosophy.
So let’s dig into that philosophy. What does he look for when recruiting linemen?
"As far as measurables, I like guys that are really athletic, smart and tough," Wickline said. "If they can get those three things, they’ve probably got a chance."
Once they get to campus, they quickly learn one of Wickline’s overarching beliefs about offensive linemen: You must be versatile, capable of playing nearly any role on a line. There are three reasons why he wholeheartedly believes in cross-training.
"No. 1, I want to make sure there’s always competition in the room and on the field," Wickline said. "If the second-team right tackle thinks at any given time the first-team right tackle can never lose his job, he just quits trying. If the first-team right tackle thinks he’ll never lose his job, he’ll just quit trying. It needs to be a day-to-day deal.
"Secondly, they need to be sure they can switch. The left guard needs to know the right guard can go take his place. So it’s all about competition, and it’s a daily deal. The other thing about switching guys, it forces them to learn the entire offense and entire scheme from a protection standpoint and running scheme. If you leave him locked it at one place the whole time, he can’t really feel how does this whole thing go together."
And part three? Injuries can force you to change the plan. Take Oklahoma State's Parker Graham for example.
Wickline planned to move his starting left tackle of 2012 to guard last offseason, with Devin Davis taking over left tackle. Then Davis was lost for the season in August. Graham went back to left tackle, started five games and then returned to right guard for the rest of the season. He finished with first-team All-Big 12 honors.
"Well, it worked out," Wickline said. "Because he moved around a bunch, it wasn’t a big deal to him."
That’s why, when Wickline surveys his roster of Texas linemen for 2014, absolutely nothing is set in stone. He wants to find five starters. And then he’ll keep tweaking the plan, moving new guys in and out, shifting some to other spots, until it works.
He’ll eventually find his starting five for the season opener, but Wickline won’t stop there. If you want to start, you better earn your job every single day.
"This will continue to game five, game eight," Wickline said. "It’s week-by-week. I understand chemistry and I understand continuity.
"But in my world, all that’s important is the quarterback doesn’t get hit, you can run the football and you win football games."
Texas hopes to see a big improvement in its offense with the addition of Shawn Watson to the coaching staff.
Assistant head coach/quarterbacks
The battle has been going on for more than a decade: Who is Shawn Watson’s favorite pupil?
You can credit Joel Klatt for starting the debate back in 2003 with his record-setting sophomore season at Colorado. By the time his days at CU were over, Watson swore Klatt was the best quarterback he’d coached.
"He was the greatest competitor I’ve ever been around and a great student of the game," Watson said.
So then he went to Nebraska, and another scrappy, underrated quarterback earned his affection. Joe Ganz went on to break 21 school records under Watson’s watch.
"Joe, at the end, he says, 'Wats, did I overcome Klatt?' Watson recalled. "I said, eh, I tell you what, flip a coin. He really chased Joel."
This is the standard Watson will hold his Longhorns quarterbacks to because these are the guys he covets: Gamers. Leaders. Passers with intangibles.
He’s trained the prototypical pocket passers such as Klatt and the explosive dual-threats such as Taylor Martinez. No matter who’s running the show at Texas, Watson will help tailor the offense to his signal-caller’s sensibilities.
"I’m a grinder. My first hobby is football,” Watson said. "I’m not kidding you. I’ve done this 33 years, and this is not a corny statement, but I’ve been Peter Pan. I’ve gotten to do what I love. I love the game of football, and I love to teach.
"The grinder part comes because I don’t want anybody to catch me. I want to be the best at what I do. I enjoy studying the game."
And his former quarterbacks have studied the game enough to know who’s now No. 1 on Watson’s list. Teddy Bridgewater can claim the title belt when he becomes a first-round draft pick in May.
Bridgewater has heard all of Watson’s stories about Klatt and Ganz. The Louisville star did eventually ask who’s the best. Watson has a new answer: All of them.
Watson chuckles when he tells these stories. He knows Klatt and Ganz won’t accept that non-answer.
"They’d say, 'Wats, we know who the best one is,'" Watson joked. "'Just remember us.'"