The scenario feels all too familiar for Texas Longhorns fans.
An embattled offensive coordinator who once coached the Cornhuskers enters his second season facing a tremendous amount of pressure. A road game looms to open the head coach’s second season.
Three years ago, Charlie Strong fired play caller Shawn Watson after a blowout loss against Notre Dame to open the 2015 season. For those who consider current offensive coordinator Tim Beck the second coming of Watson, the comparisons are a little too eerie for comfort.
Sitting on the stage at Big 12 Media Days on Tuesday in Frisco, however, head coach Tom Herman wasn’t concerned about his offense. In fact, Herman mentioned the value of staff continuity in his opening statement.
Most all of, though, Herman wasn’t willing to address whether or not Beck will be on the short leash this season. After saying that he would evaluate Beck’s performance following the Orange-White game, Herman didn’t have any substantive updates on his offensive coordinator.
“The good thing is we don’t have to make that decision now in the middle of July,” Herman said when asked about the play-calling situation. “We’re going to do whatever is best for the University of Texas and for our offense. Again, I have always been very intimately involved in the play calling on gameday. There isn’t a play that’s called that I don’t have veto power of.”
For Herman’s purposes on Tuesday, at least, the most important factors for the offense are the talent and preparation that happens before the game. New co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Herb Hand could help in that regard.
“The way that we handle play calling is very collaborative,” Herman said. “What we do throughout the week is much more important than the three hours on Saturday in terms of game planning, in terms of installation of the game plan, in terms of the knowledge and retention of our players of that game plan.”
Health is important, too.
At times last season, the Longhorns started five true freshmen and a true sophomore, a reality that severely limited the offense’s upside in Herman’s mind. A full compilation of all the injuries just through the early part of November provides an illustration of how much poor luck the Longhorns experienced in that regard.
“There’s an element to that where you’re probably not going to set the world on fire on offense and the best thing about true freshmen is that they become sophomores,” he said. “And they develop and they learn how to finish.”
After losing four games by five points or less last season, Herman has focused on those two key areas throughout the offseason — developing and finishing.
“We’ve got to learn how to finish,” Herman said during the spring. “We’re putting our guys in situations every day to teach them how to finish, to team them how to be at their best in the fourth quarter of games, at the end of a workout, at the end of a run, at the end of a practice. That’s when you’ve got to be your best and we’re putting them in those positions. I think the guys are responding really, really well.”
Don’t underestimate the power of continuity, either — the young players are now more experienced and better versed in the offense, producing improvement across each position offensively, according to Beck this spring.
“There’s a lot more of teaching how to do things instead of what to do, and our players have been sponges,” Beck said.
If Beck manages to survive past the season opener as the offensive coordinator, it will represent the first time that a play caller has remained in the position for more than 14 games since Bryan Harsin held that role in 2011 and 2012.
Since 2009, Texas has run eight different offenses, only one of which survived two full seasons. Since 2010, the Texas offensive staff has featured six offensive coordinators, an in-season change of play callers, and 27 different assistant coaches. Six coaches have been in charge of the offensive line, while seven coaches have now worked with the wide receivers.
Now Herman is betting that continuity will produce improvement from the players and coaches. With just under 46 days until the season begins, the Longhorns are maintaining the status quo.
“No decision has been made nor do I feel any sense of urgency to have to do that.”