One game into the 2015 season, Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong removed longtime assistant Shawn Watson from his role as play caller on Tuesday evening, elevating wide receivers coach Jay Norvell to that position and demoting Watson to quarterbacks coach.
So who exactly is Jay Norvell and what does he bring to the table as the new architect of the Texas offense?
One of two new hires made by Strong during the offseason when he fired longtime tight ends coach Bruce Chambers and wide receivers coach Les Koenning, the Madison, Wisc. native and Iowa alum was one of several offensive assistants who were fired by head coach Bob Stoops after a disappointing season at Oklahoma.
While in Norman, Norvell served as the assistant offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach from 2008 until 2010. When Sooners offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson left to become the Indiana head coach, Norvell stepped into the co-offensive coordinator role with Josh Heupel, who held the play-calling duties in Norman despite the fact that he had never done so before.
So it's been a long time since Norvell has consistently called plays offensively -- dating all the way back to UCLA in 2007 when he worked under Karl Dorrell. Interestingly enough, Norvell also has experience with the West Coast offense, as he worked under Bill Callahan in the NFL with Oakland and in the college ranks at Nebraska. At Oklahoma, he was a solid recruiter who was able to land high-profile wide receiver prospects like Justin McCay, Durron Neal, Sterling Shepard, and Kenny Stills. As a wide receivers coach, he deserves some credit for tutoring three of the top four players on Oklahoma's all-time receptions chart -- Ryan Broyles (349), Kenny Stills (204) and Juaquin Iglesias (202).
However, it's Norvell's experience running spread, up-tempo offenses with the Sooners that led Strong to elevate him to the role of Texas play caller.
"Jay is a guy that has always had an outstanding reputation, and when I had a chance to talk to him, what impressed me the most was his energy, passion and drive to be successful," Strong said when the school announced Norvell's hiring.
"The thing you see and everyone talks about with him is that he's a great teacher, very detailed and organized, and he really develops his players. He's coached so many great players, gets the most out of his guys, and they really like playing for him. He brings a lot to our staff, is very familiar with the Big 12 and has experience recruiting in Texas. We're really excited he's joining us."
For Norvell's part, he identified quickly with Strong when they met at the AFCA convention back in January.
"The first thing that really drew me to this opportunity was the chance to work with Charlie Strong," Norvell said. "I've followed his career for a long time, and after sitting down and talking to him, seeing his vision for the program, the recruiting philosophy, his values, every area of the team, I was totally impressed. Our visit convinced me I wanted to be a part of that championship vision at Texas.
"Charlie and I have a lot in common. I believe in developing young people on and off the field. I'm a very disciplined person, love my players, and I pour myself into them every day. I could really feel and see that in Charlie when he talked about the team and the players."
The author of a book called Complete Wide Receiver, Norvell has a reputation for his attention to detail.
"He and I worked together at Nebraska, and I knew he was a master coach," Watson said during the spring. "I knew he knows receiver play like nobody else in this business and I know what kind of taskmaster he is. He's a detailed, hard-driven, perfection-driven coach, so you felt them on the field immediately with the development in their positions."
One of the appeals of the former Oklahoma staffer when hired was his six years of experience working in the NFL, including four years with the Indianapolis Colts. As a result of that stint, Norvell likes to regale his players with stories about Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, and Reggie Wayne. He also spent two years with the Oakland Raiders, coaching the tight ends on the same offense that featured legendary wide receivers like Tim Brown and Jerry Rice.
Ironically enough, it was Watson who suggested that Strong hire Norvell after the two worked together at Nebraska in 2006 when Norvell was the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach and Watson was the tight ends coach/recruiting coordinator. Now Norvell is taking over Watson's role with the Texas offense.
During that season in Lincoln, the Cornhuskers finished 14th in total offense (414.6 yards per game) and 17th in scoring offense (30.6 points per game), ultimately achieving top-25 ranks nationally in two other major offensive categories.
The move carries with it a significant amount of risk because Norvell is hardly proven as a play caller, but Strong had to make a move and opted to go with Norvell over tight ends coach Jeff Traylor, the former Gilmer head coach who won three state titles at his alma mater.
Will the move pay off? If it doesn't, pressure will only increase on Strong, who is facing increasing questions about his ability to put together an offensive staff and an offense that can win at Texas, drawing comparisons to former Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp's failed stint at Florida.