Charlie Strong, who replaced his offensive play caller mid-season during his second year at Louisville in 2011, has done it again at Texas after a points-and-yards deprived three-game losing streak that has left the Longhorns dead last in FBS in scoring and total offense.
Strong on Tuesday removed primary play-calling duties from assistant head coach/QB coach Shawn Watson and gave them to receivers coach Jay Norvell has the most play-calling experience at the college level, having served as offensive coordinator at Nebraska, UCLA and Oklahoma.
Watson will stay on as QB coach, and Joe Wickline's role as offensive coordinator will be reduced to offensive line coach, said Strong, adding that he has not settled on a starting QB for Saturday's home opener against Rice.
Norvell was the co-OC at OU along with Josh Heupel (who called plays) last season. Norvell and Heupel were let go despite averaging 36.4 points per game (No. 3 in the Big 12) in 2014. Norvell also worked with Watson as members of Bill Callahan's staff at Nebraska.
"Jay Norvell will take over the play-calling duties," Strong announced at a press conference normally held for Shawn Watson on Tuesday night.
"Shawn will concentrate on QBs. We have young QBs that need to get developed. Joe (Wickline) will concentrate on offensive line. We need a lot of work there.
"We need to continue to get better and move forward. It’s about productivity. We just sat down and came to conclusion that we have to get better.
"It was a tough decision because Shawn and I, and Joe, have been friends for a long time. We had to do what’s best for the program. They are both upset. They should be. They are competitors and when you are a competitor you do get upset. But they truly understood.
"Jay has been familiar with the spread coming from Oklahoma. We talk about an up-tempo offense. That’s what everyone wants to see. It’s still about making sure you play with good fundamentals and technique and making sure that we can move the football."
The Longhorns are at a critical moment in their season. Texas is a 16-point favorite at home Saturday night against Rice. But the Owls have been to bowl games the last two seasons, including a 30-6 waxing of Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl last year.
Texas needs to find confidence and an identity on offense quickly. After Rice, there's a string of teams capable of beating UT if the offense doesn't improve dramatically: high-flying Cal with elite QB Jared Goff in Austin on Sept. 19 ... Oklahoma State Sept. 26 ... a road trip to No. 2 TCU ... and then the Red River Shootout in Dallas versus OU.
Strong said Monday he can't afford another lost season - after going 6-7 last year - because of a lack of offense. was non-committal when asked by reporters about the status of Watson on Monday. Strong said staff members and the entire program were being evaluated.
The bottom line is Strong said Monday he didn’t see the offensive changes in a 38-3 loss at Notre Dame that he was expecting and promoting throughout the off-season. It was an off-season that included Strong firing two offensive assistants (WR coach Les Koenning and TE coach Bruce Chambers) and bringing in Norvell and former Gilmer HS coach Jeff Traylor.
“We talked about just the alarm of the fan base, everyone involved with this program,” Strong said Monday.
“There's millions and millions of people involved with this program, and we've got to give them hope, and they need to see progress.
“After the other night, I feel -- you look at that game, and you're like, ‘Wow. We said we were going to be up-tempo. There was no up-tempo.
“’We said we were going to do this. That didn't happen. But there's got to be hope, and there's got to be progress.
“Yeah, you have all these young players, but still, there's still got to be something in it for us where we're looking to say, ‘Hey, maybe they are moving forward. Maybe we do see a change. Maybe we are getting better.’ And we didn't see those things.”
Four years ago, it was Watson who Strong brought in - six games into the 2011 season - to replace Mike Sanford as Louisville’s play-caller. The Cardinals had lost four of their first six games that season, including three in a row, while averaging just 16.3 points per game.
Watson inherited freshman QB Teddy Bridgewater that season, and together they lost only five games over the next three seasons.
This time, Strong’s decision comes just one game into the 2015 season – after having spent an entire off-season with Watson having primary say over the offense, along with offensive coordinator Joe Wickline.
Watson remained committed to junior QB Tyrone Swoopes in 2015 after Swoopes showed promise in 2014 in performances against UCLA (24-34-0 196 yards, 2 TDs), Iowa State (24-36-1 321 yards, 1TD) and Oklahoma State (24-33-0 305 yards, 2 TDs).
The Longhorns are currently dead last in FBS – No. 123 - in total offense and tied for last in FBS in scoring offense after being held to underperformed in three straight games.
After a season-opening, 38-3 loss to Notre Dame in which the Longhorns had 10 possessions and went three-and-out eight times.
Three of Texas’ drives in the game went backward – for minus-7, minus-8 and minus-6 yards - with no drive lasting longer than 2:35.
In Texas’ last three games – all losses - against TCU, Arkansas (in 2014) and Notre Dame this season, the Longhorns have scored a combined 20 points while being outscored by an average of 32 points.
Charlie Strong had talked all off-season about going to more of a spread-to-run concept featuring the running ability of QBs Tyrone Swoopes, Jerrod Heard and Kai Locksley.
But after having nine months to prepare for the season, Texas looked every bit as lost on offense against the Irish as the Horns did against TCU and Arkansas.
"It’s never an easy transition because sometimes guys get their egos hurt," Strong said Tuesday. "But it wasn’t about trying to get anyone’s egos hurt. It was about fixing a problem.
"You can either accept the problem or divorce yourself from it and just let it go. I couldn’t let it go. There are just too many people involved. This university is to big for it to happen. I wouldn’t be doing my job."