Recent offseasons have guaranteed plenty of action for Texas Longhorns fans -- some pleasant, some not so pleasant -- as the assistant coaching carousel spins and churns under head coach Charlie Strong, who has handled a multitude of firings and departures in less than 26 months on the job.
In fact, keeping up with all the changes might be rather hard, even for dedicated fans. So here's a timeline of every coaching change made since Texas officially announced Strong as its 28th head coach on January 5, 2014.
January 15, 2014 -- Strong introduces new coaching staff
Ten days after the Longhorns announced Strong as the replacement for longtime head coach Mack Brown, the school introduced the first nine assistant coaches who would work under the new Texas head coach:
- Vance Bedford: defensive coordinator/secondary - click for complete release
- Bruce Chambers: tight ends - click for bio
- Brian Jean-Mary: linebackers/recruiting coordinator - click for complete release
- Les Koenning: wide receivers - click for complete release
- Tommie Robinson: running backs - click for complete release
- Chris Rumph: assistant head coach for defense/defensive line - click for complete release
- Chris Vaughn: defensive backs/special teams coordinator - click for complete release
- Shawn Watson: assistant head coach for offense/quarterbacks - click for complete release
- Joe Wickline: offensive coordinator/offensive line - click for complete release
In terms of public perception, the hires ran the gamut -- Wickline looked like a home-run addition coming from Oklahoma State because he was regarded as one of the best in the business and Strong's trust level in Bedford and Jean-Mary after working with them at Louisville made sense. Rumph looked like an excellent hire because he was pulled away from Alabama with a minor promotion (assistant head coach for defense), while coaches like Vaughn and Robinson were hardly known commodities to Texas fans.
And then there was the opposite end of the spectrum. Watson's hire was widely panned as being conservative and uncreative. Keeping Chambers didn't make much sense, either -- on one hand, he was a former Texas high school coach, but he was regarded as one of the least effective staff members among Brown's final groups of assistants, so it was confusing as to why Strong opted to retain him.
It was harder to disagree with the Koenning hire on the surface since he had been the offensive coordinator at Mississippi State and is a Texas alum, but hiring an old white dude to recruit parts of Houston after he'd had little recruiting load in Starkville was rather head-scratching, as well.
December 31, 2014 -- Strong fires Chambers and Koenning
The tight ends coach and wide receivers coach didn't even make it through a full year of their guaranteed two-year deals with the Longhorns. Following a season in which Texas finished No. 80 in offensive S&P+ and struggled mightily against a strong Arkansas defense in the Texas Bowl disaster, Strong cut his losses with two of his worst hires shortly after the bowl game.
His description of how he had to cancel a lunch Chambers planned during the stretch recruiting run visiting high schools in early 2014 was a bad omen for the lone holdover and Koenning was predictably unable to connect with recruits and secure any success in his recruiting territory.
January 16, 2015 -- Texas hires Jay Norvell as WR coach
In an effort to install elements of the uptempo Oklahoma attack and the quarterback run game as Watson tried to switch to a more spread attack, Strong followed through on his play-caller's recommendation to hire Norvell, his former Nebraska colleague. With NFL experience and the knowledge he gained working with the Sooners as a co-offensive coordinator, Norvell looked like a solid addition to the staff, even though he'd been fired from his job in Norman only weeks before during the staff upheaval on head coach Bob Stoops' staff last offseason.
February 6, 2015 -- Florida announces Chris Rumph as DL coach
After one season at Texas, Rumph bolted back to his former SEC stomping grounds to join forces with his former colleague at Alabama, Jim McElwain. The news was rather unexpected and quite upsetting to the Longhorns defensive line signees in 2015, coming as it did just hours after they signed their respective National Letters of Intent.
February 13, 2015 -- Texas hires Jeff Traylor as TE/ST coach and Brick Haley as DL coach
After finishing the 2015 recruiting class without a tight ends coach in place and seemingly missing on Cedar Hill head coach Joey McGuire, Strong added his most inspired hire yet -- Gilmer head coach Jeff Traylor, an East Texas native who had experienced a tremendous amount of success at his alma mater, including three state championships.
Strong also made the solid hire of Haley, the longtime LSU defensive line coach who had lost his job when defensive coordinator John Chavis left for Texas A&M and the new defensive coordinator hired super recruiter Ed Orgeron to displace Haley. With a low salary, history of sending defensive linemen to the NFL, and deep experience recruiting Louisiana, Haley looked like a good addition to the staff.
September 8, 2015 -- Strong demotes Watson, elevates Norvell
Another game, another debacle for the Longhorns. Despite all the offseason rhetoric about Watson putting in a new offense, it was more of the same in the blowout loss to Notre Dame in the 2016 season opener, except that the three and outs happened more quickly. So, yeah.
Three days later, Strong showed up at Watson's weekly media availability and announced that Norvell would take over play-calling duties for the rest of the season. Watson opted to remain on staff.
December 12, 2015 -- Texas hires Gilbert, Mattox, terminates Watson, Wickline
A highly-public offensive coordinator search by the Longhorns missed on top target Sonny Cumbie, the TCU co-offensive coordinator, and appeared to miss on Tulsa co-offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert, too. That Thursday, widespread reports out of Austin held that the Art Briles disciple would take the job. On the following day, news broke that Gilbert would not be coming to Austin after all.
The revelation sent Texas power brokers into crisis mode, so UT-Austin president Greg Fenves, athletic director Mike Perrin, and tight ends coach Jeff Traylor all joined Strong on a flight to Tulsa to land Gilbert and Matt Mattox, his longtime offensive line coach. The trip was successful in allaying Gilbert's concerns and the school announced the additions the next day on an important official visit weekend just before the dead period began.
Since Strong hadn't officially ousted Watson and Wickline to that point, the news of their widely-expected departures also became official that day, ending the ignominious tenure of Watson in Austin and putting Wickline's unsuccessful two years behind him.
While Watson's failure was more spectacular than anticipated, it was hardly expected when he was hired. However, Wickline's inability to connect with players or recruits was more surprising, as was his general disengagement throughout much of his two years, perhaps influenced by the ridiculous buyout lawsuit with Oklahoma State that hung over his head for most of his time in Austin.
January 19, 2016 -- Robinson leaves Texas to return to USC
Robinson was the third staff member expected to leave Austin with the expiration of the guaranteed two years on his contract at the end of January and opted to make the move a little bit early, returning to his previous job with the Trojans. As a position coach, he did an effective job during his two seasons, but his results as a recruiter were uninspiring at a position that typically requires a strong presence on the recruiting trail. Texas was able to land US Army All-American running back Kyle Porter despite Robinson's departure.
February 11, 2016 -- Vaughn dismissed, Norvell leaves for Arizona State
Then the final major exodus during the 2016 offseason hit all at once -- alleged improprieties while at Ole Miss from 2008 to 2011 under head coach Houston Nutt resulted in the dismissal of Vaughn after two successful years at Texas, leaving a major recruiting void.
Hours later, Norvell made the more expected decision to leave after his demotion from play-calling duties due to Gilbert's hire. Norvell wasn't able to land the offensive coordinator job he coveted, but he did receive a promotion to passing game coordinator with the Sun Devils.
February 13, 2016 -- Anthony Johnson announced as RB coach
The Longhorns were able to add another Texas alum to the staff once again to team with Bedford, as former running back Anthony Johnson officially joined Strong's group of assistants last Saturday from Toledo. Young, energetic, and with a noted attention to detail, the second homecoming for Brown's former quality control coach should represent an upgrade from Robinson.
February 15, 2016 -- Charlie Williams announced as WR coach
The longtime NFL veteran and former Indianapolis Colts coach is well-regarded as a developer of wide receiver talent and spent one year working with Strong at South Carolina over a decade ago. There are some questions about how effectively he can recruit, but his track record and NFL experience should be beneficial as he works to hold onto the commitment of 2017 pledge Damion Miller and add one more wide receivers in the current cycle.
February 17, 2016 -- Haley spurns A&M, Clay Jennings announced as DB coach
In another busy day of coaching news, the five-day saga with Haley and the Aggies finally came to a favorable end for the Longhorns, as an offer that reportedly matched the contract extended by Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin combined with several other factors to keep Haley in Austin for one more year.
A successful interview on Tuesday pushed Jennings past former top candidate Taver Johnson, the defensive backs coach for Purdue, so Texas offered the Arkansas defensive backs coach the job and he officially accepted on Wednesday. Now at his fifth coaching stop in the state of Texas, Jennings not only has a strong relationship with Texas high school coaches and a personality similar to that of Strong, he's also been successful developing defensive backs at his last two stops.
Coaching changes by the numbers
- 17 -- The total number of changes to the staff, including changes in play callers, firing, and hirings.
- 8 -- The number of coaches who have left Texas for various reasons in the last 13 and a half months.
- 5 -- The number of poor hires (Watson, Wickline, Koenning, Chambers, Robinson). Of those hires, the hire of Robinson was the best, but that's damning by faint praise.
- 4 -- The number of offensive hires that were basically unmitigated failures (Watson, Wickline, Koenning, Chambers).
- 3 -- The number of different play callers.
- 3 -- The number of wide receivers coaches employed at Texas since January 2014.
- 2 -- The number of remaining coaches from Strong's first staff (Bedford and Jean-Mary).
- 2 -- The number of times Strong has had to change play callers in-season since 2011.
- 0 -- The number of offensive coaches who remain from Strong's first staff.
Assessing the current staff
Based on virtually all accounts, the 2016 season will be the last chance for Strong to prove that his offensive staff is the right one to propel the Longhorns back to national contention. It's a staff that still features his best defensive hires, a good recruiter to work with a young and talented defensive line, and a new, accomplished defensive backs coach. In addition, one of those remaining defensive hires, Brian Jean-Mary, is one of the best recruiters in the country.
On the critical side of the ball, Traylor has been a revelation as a recruiter, Mattox and Johnson are both young and energetic, with Mattox boasting an impressive track record of developing junior-college talent. Williams is a longtime coaching veteran who can help the young receivers and Gilbert runs one of the most prolific offenses in college football and has experience achieving quick and successful installations.
Especially on offense, it's been a struggle for Strong to make the right decisions and get the right coaches in place. Now it looks like there's a good chance he has on his final opportunity and the combination of excellent recruiters and accomplished teachers of the game makes this his best staff in Austin so far, perhaps by a significant margin. Now the staff has to come together, gel, and become more than the sum of its parts, something that reportedly did not happen in 2015.