As a defensive head coach, the offensive coordinator picked by new Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong will be the most important hire of the coaching staff Strong is working on assembling in Austin and it looks like it could be an uninspiring choice, as there is plenty of buzz that former Louisville Cardinals offensive coordinator Shawn Watson will be following Strong to Austin.
And it's possible that something could happen in that regard on Wednesday as Louisville works out a contract for Bobby Petrino to make his return, officially eliminating Watson from contention for that head coaching position.
After athletic director Steve Patterson said on Sunday that there will be a "significant budget" for Strong to go out and find the best and the brightest coaches in the country, the assumption was that a large portion of that budget would go towards a splashy hire at the offensive coordinator position.
Unfortunately, it does not appear that will necessarily be the case, as Orangebloods and Horns247 both reported on Tuesday that Watson is the leading candidate for the position. No other names have been seriously associated with the position as of yet and if Watson is hired without any other interviews, that probably won't play well with Texas fans, who have almost universally been panning the prospective hire.
Strong is known for his loyalty to his staff and bringing Watson with him would be seen as a sign of excessive loyalty, something that marked some of the worst moments of the Mack Brown era. Not to mention a lack of creativity and interest in finding the best available coordinator.
What would make the hire even more odd is that Watson doesn't seem to fit the profile of what Strong said he wants to be as an offense. The new Texas head coach wants a physical running game, but Louisville ranked No. 71 nationally on yards per carry in 2013 and No. 41 in rush S&P+. Additionally, Strong said he wants an up-tempo offense, but the Cardinals were No. 69 in total plays and ranked No. 2 in time of possession.
It's possible that Strong was just trying to get fans excited by telling that what they wanted to hear or that he could even ask Watson to change his philosophy away from his slow-moving West Coast offensive ties, but why ask Watson to change at this point in his career when there are offensive coordinators out there who actually fit that profile?
Watson's major coaching influences are Gary Barnett (he was on Barnett's staffs at Northwestern and Colorado) and Bill Callahan, the latter a West Coast offense adherent. And while Watson did manage to survive the coaching changes at Nebraska from Callahn to Bo Pelini (one of only two coaches to do so), he was eventually fired as Cornhusker offensive coordinator following the 2010 season despite fielding an offense that included Taylor Martinez, Niles Paul, Roy Helu, Jr., and Rex Burkhead.
Nebraska had ranked No. 33 in S&P+ in Watson's final season, regressing somewhat to No. 37 the next year following the departures of Paul and Helu, Jr. before improving to No. 8 nationally under Tim Beck in 2012 thanks to big seasons from Martinez and running back Ameer Abdullah.
The Watson era at Louisville is a little bit harder to assess because while he certainly has to deserve some credit for the development of star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Watson didn't coach there before or after Bridgewater, so it's hard to determine just how much of an impact he may have had.
And it's not like Bridgewater was an overlooked recruit either -- he was a Rivals four-star prospect ranked as the No. 6 dual-threat quarterback nationally in the 2011 class and held offers from Florida, LSU, Miami, and Tennessee.
To the credit of both, Bridgewater improved his passer rating and reduced his interceptions in each of his three seasons under Watson to help the Cardinals rank No. 18 in S&P+ in 2013 after finishing No. 36 in 2012 and No. 76 in 2011. If Watson wasn't responsible for developing Bridgewater, he certainly wasn't hurting things because the offense improved significantly in each of his three seasons.
From the outside looking in on Watson, it's hard to get a good impression of the job that he did at either Nebraska or Louisville, but Charlie Strong should realize at this point that he's going to expend some goodwill with the Texas fan base if Watson is the direction he decides to go in, especially if he doesn't interview anyone else.
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