Applewhite's ascent has been nothing short of meteoric. Shortly after Texas' Rose Bowl win over Michigan, Applewhite followed former Co-Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson to Syracuse in 2005 to groom quarterbacks and help facilitate the Orangemen's difficult transition to the West Coast Offense. Last year, Applewhite was given the reins to Rice's offense. As one of the youngest coordinators in college football, he orchestrated the shift from the Owls' traditional (yet one-dimensional) triple-option ground game to a more multi-faceted spread offense. Within a year, Applewhite and his wife Julie were packing again. This time, passage was booked to one of college football's most storied programs that also became the epicenter of 2006's most high-profile coaching change.
When Alabama lured Nick Saban from the Miami Dolphins with the fattest contract in NCAA history, the head coach of the 2003 BCS National Champions LSU Tigers had his pick of virtual any offensive coordinator in the country. He choose the 28 year-old Applewhite.
"I don't know if I'm the youngest offensive coordinator (in Alabama history)," smiled Apllewhite, who celebrates a birthday later this month, "but probably."
It represents a bit of a homecoming for the Louisana native. Applewhite's parents were "huge" Alabama fans, given his father's friendship with former Crimson Tide QB Terry Davis. In fact, Applewhite's family was so closely enamored with the Tuscaloosa program that he was named for former Tide All-American RB Major Ogilve. Applewhite finally met his namesake during the 2001 Alabama-Auburn game, just a few weeks before his record-setting, final game in which he led Texas to an historic comeback against Washington in the Holiday Bowl. One year later, Applewhite was on opposite sidelines from his current boss when Texas beat LSU in the 2003 Cotton Bowl.
Prior to his hire, Applewhite was barely acquainted with Saban. He established the relationship through highly-regarded offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher (the former LSU assistant was mentioned for the coordinator's job at Alabama but accepted a similar position at Florida State).
"I didn't know Coach Saban well, but I talked to Jimbo a lot about going to be a GA at LSU," Applewhite said. "I thought because I had played at Texas, it might be better to go be a GA elsewhere and learn in a different environment and learn a different way of doing things. I thought it might be good to work for two different head coaches before getting my first full-time job instead of having a seven-year experience at Texas and that being your only perception of what college football is. Now, I'm going to work for my third head coach as opposed to sitting in a room and saying, 'That's not the way Mack (Brown) would do it.' You know, there's a lot of ways to skin that cat."
It's been reported that the Rice head coach opening was Applewhite's for the taking, but he deemed the Alabama coordinator's position as a more advantageous career move. As has become his custom, Applewhite consulted with Longhorn Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis before making his final decision.
"I call Greg on every one of my business decisions, or even about life decisions, in general," Applewhite noted. "He's my coach. And that coach-player bond doesn't ever leave. As you get older, there's different things you're dealing with, as opposed to 'I don't want to go to class.' Now, it's, 'How do I handle this way of life? How do I handle this industry?' The situation changes, but your bond never changes."
One of the more widely-reported stories of an Applewhite-Davis long distance counseling session occurred the night before Texas' national championship date with USC. Both now offer tongue-in-cheek, albeit different perspectives, of the conversation. As Davis recalls, Applewhite contacted him asking his opinion on whether he should leave Syracuse to accept the coordinator's position at Rice. As the conversation wore on, Davis stating, "You know, Major, that I have other things going on tonight."
Applewhite's take on the story, however, is along these lines. "I called Greg the afternoon before (the national championship game). He said, 'Call me back tonight.' I said, 'Coach Davis, I understand. I know the national championship game is tomorrow. I'm not going to call you tonight.' He said, 'Major, don't worry about it. Call me.' I kept trying to get him off of the phone because I felt like I was intruding. But he was giving me every bit and piece, every nugget that I could possibly use."
Now, of course, Applewhite occupies a coordinators' chair that is every bit as high-pressured and highly scrutinized as is Davis'. As such, is there any fear and trembling given the stratospheric expectations of the Bama fan base and magnitude of the office?
"One one hand: yes," concludes Applewhite. "But, at the same time, you've got so much stuff to do. You've got so much work to do that you don't really have time to dwell on the magnitude of it as much as you do, 'Hey, just let me do my job. Let me do what I've got to do" on a continual basis that I'm not in constant reflection on what's happening. I'm really caught up in what I've got to do to make this thing successful."