The Texas Longhorns will have a new offensive play caller on Saturday against the Rice Owls, as head coach Charlie Strong appeared for assistant head coach for offense/quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson's planned media availability and announced that wide receivers coach Jay Norvell will call plays moving forward.
"I had a conversation with the whole offensive staff," Strong said. "We just knew something needed to be done."
Strong said that Watson will focus on coaching the quarterbacks, while offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Joe Wickline will continue his focus on the offensive line. Both were "upset" about the decision, according to the Texas head coach.
"You have to set aside your friendships and do what's best for the program." Strong said.
When Watson was approximately 20 minutes late for his availability and Strong appeared instead, it seemed like something was up. Strong didn't take long to confirm that while sounding extremely tired and perhaps even emotionally drained from the decision after not sleeping all week.
Calls for Watson's firing reached a crescendo when the Horns failed to score a touchdown against the Fighting Irish on Saturday. Texas currently ranks last nationally in total yardage and No. 123 in yards per play. The team only reached the red zone once in the last three games and went three and out on eight of 12 possessions against Notre Dame.
"It's about productivity," Strong said. "We have to get better."
Strong said that Norvell will be the sole play caller -- there will be no division of responsibilities. The longtime co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach who was fired by Oklahoma following the 2014 is stepping into that role because of his experience running spread, up-tempo offenses in Norman.
The situation is reminiscent of the 2013 season, when former head coach Mack Brown hired Greg Robinson as a quality control assistant and then removed defensive coordinator Manny Diaz from his position after the shocking blowout loss against BYU, with Robinson stepping into that role.
It's the second major admission by Strong of his mistakes when hiring his first offensive staff -- after the Texas Bowl blowout against Arkansas, Strong fired tight ends coach Bruce Chambers and wide receivers coach Les Koenning. Now he has a new play caller after Watson spent the offseason attempting to install an up-tempo, spread offense.
Strong disagreed with the notion that he wasted the spring, summer, and fall camp by failing to remove Watson from that position earlier, but the timing of the decision one game into the season is a clear admission of how bad things are currently.