Joe Wickline has a bit of a running start in learning the ropes of his new job as offensive coordinator at West Virginia, due to his intersection with Mountaineer head coach Dana Holgorsen at Oklahoma State, but there are still challenges that the 34-year veteran must meet. Sounding more like an up-and-coming youngster than a grizzled vet, Wickline was very enthusiastic as he discussed his move to WVU and the tasks that await.
"I do have a learning curve, but I have an understanding of the basics of the offense from my time with Dana and at Oklahoma State," Wickline told BlueGoldNews.com. "I need to learn the adjustments to the offense they have made there, and see what the organization will be like with the coaches."
Even with his ties to Holgorsen, Wickline knows there's a familiarization process to go through with the rest of the offensive staff. Mentioning each offensive assistant by name, he pointed out the importance of learning the tweaks they have applied to the offense, how they work together, and then figuring out a plan for spring practice. That's still more than two months away, so his first priority is advancing along that learning curve.
"I need to meet with the players, and just learn about the fit and the chemistry with the staff," he said, noting that he will be spending a lot of time with the offensive coaches. "I'll be watching a lot of video to see what the players can do, and I'm sure I'll have a lot of talks with all the other coaches to learn as much as I can."
In accepting the West Virginia offer, Wickline said that three major factors figured. The familiarity with Holgorsen was obviously important, but he said the chance to work with some of the other coaches at WVU was also a strong plus. Finally, there was the school and the state itself.
"I have family ties to West Virginia, so coaching there always intrigued me," he noted. "I've always enjoyed interacting with West Virginians. They are passionate and down-to-earth people, and I could see that. West Virginia is a great school."
In making something of a clean start, Wickline also hopes to put to rest the distractions of a dispute and lawsuit involving Oklahoma State, Texas and his move from the former to the latter. Wickline, who left OSU to coach at Texas two seasons ago, was contractually obligated to pay a nearly $600,000 buyout to OSU if he left for a job that did not include playcalling duties. Disputes over Wickline's actual responsibilities at Texas led to a lawsuit from his former employer, which was settled recently for $250,000.
While Wickline did not want to discuss any specifics of the case, he did note that he was able to separate those procedings from his job.
"I don't think it affected me on the field or in coaching," he said. "I had representation, and I understood what was going on, but I had work on the field [at Texas]. I had an offensive line to rebuild."
The rebuilding process probably resulted in something of an incomplete grade, as Wickline, along with quarterback coach Shawn Watson, was not retained after this past season. Early in the 2015 season, the duo had their offensive playcalling duties removed, but the switch didn't spark much for the Longhorns, who finished 5-7 a year after a 6-7 2014 season which was deemed unacceptable by Strong. Texas' only two offensive outbursts after the move came against the moribund defenses of Kansas and Texas Tech, and also included a shtuout at the hands of Iowa State, so it's difficult to view the coaching moves at UT in a positive light.
Now that the case is settled, and with a fresh start, Wickline shouldn't have even the shadow of those issues over him, which is good considering the challenges he faces. While the Mountaineers return the bulk of their offensive line and receiving corps, it also lost running back Wendell Smallwood, who was the linchpin on which much of the attack depended. When spring practice begins, Wickline and the rest of the coaches will have to figure out an identity for the program, and tab the players and schemes that West Virginia will rely on to keep up with the high-scoring Big 12.
"I'll do whatever they ask me to do," Wickline said in summing up his new position. "Already, I'm having a blast."