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Texas coaching staff set to maintain remarkable level of continuity under Tom Herman

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In an effort to attain alignment, Herman assembled his first coaching staff from former Ohio State colleagues and most of his first Houston staff. It worked.

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Georgia vs Texas Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Other than the addition of co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Herb Hand last offseason due to NCAA rule changes permitting a 10th assistant coach, the Texas Longhorns coaching staff has remained intact since head coach Tom Herman took over in 2016.

In early January, a report surfaced from Orangebloods that Herman had told each of his assistants that they would return for the 2019 season, a particularly important conveyance since running backs coach Stan Drayton, wide receivers coach Drew Mehringer, wide receivers coach Corby Meekins, tight ends coach Derek Warehime, defensive line coach Oscar Giles, cornerbacks coach Jason Washington, and safeties coach Crag Naivar are all working on two-year contacts that will expire at the end of March.

And then, of course, there’s strength and conditioning head coach Yancy McKnight, the primary architect of offseason improvement. He’s definitely not going anywhere.

Achieving that level of continuity, which includes the same offensive coordinator, Tim Beck, and the same defensive coordinator, Todd Orlando, who initially joined Herman in Austin represents a triumph of vision and competence for the Longhorns head coach heading into his third season on the Forty Acres. Not to mention an absolute anomaly in recent program history.

When Herman put his initial staff together, he touted the 108 years of combined experience recruiting the state of Texas and 17 years of head coaching experience at the high school level in Texas — the new Texas head coach believed recruiting would benefit from those coaches being so well known around the state, but also called them “unbelievable mentors and teachers.”

The passage of time proved Herman correct, as the 2018 class ranked No. 3 nationally and the 2019 class currently ranks No. 3 nationally, according to the 247Sports Composite team rankings, with positions across the board showing significant improvement and buy in from the 2017 season to the 2018 season. The win total reflected that recruiting and that improvement, as Texas jumped from seven wins to 10 wins, including a Big 12 Championship Game appearance and a Sugar Bowl victory.

When Herman was asked how important it was to “get the band back together,” he offered that it could be any cliche — 15 on a scale of 1-10, 110 percent, utmost importance, everything. Why did he feel so strongly about that? He didn’t want his assistants to be hired guns whose additions would risk the alignment that he values so heavily.

With the exception of Beck and then Hand, Herman had worked with each of the coaches previously. In fact, Orlando, Mehringer, Meekins, Warehime, Giles, Washington, and Naivar — seven of the 10 assistants currently on staff — were all original hires by Herman at Houston.

At the time, Drayton was coaching in the NFL as the running backs coach of the Chicago Bears. Herman’s initial offensive coordinator hire, Major Applewhite, eventually took over the head coaching job for the Cougars when Herman left.

So the vast majority of Herman’s current staff has remained intact throughout the entire four years of his head coaching career as he’s compiled a 39-14 record, with the fifth season set to reflect similar continuity.

Contrast that with former head coach Charlie Strong:

  • Post-2014 season: Fired tight ends coach Bruce Chambers and wide receivers coach Les Koenning. Saw defensive line coach Chris Rumph depart for Florida. Attempted to move to a spread attack led by Shawn Watson.
  • 2015 season: Demoted Watson after the first game, elevating wide receivers coach Jay Norvell to play caller and forcing a major change in the offense.
  • Post-2015 season: Watson, offensive coordinator Joe Wickline, and replacement play caller Jay Norvell all departed, along with defensive backs coach Chris Vaughn, who was let go after recruiting improprieties surfaced from his tenure at Ole Miss.
  • 2016 season: Demoted defensive coordinator Vance Bedford after the season’s only bye week, with Strong taking over his duties.

The demotion of Bedford marked the third time in six seasons overall and the second consecutive season that Strong changed play callers on offense or defense during the season, a remarkable run of offseason decisions made at the wrong time.

To a large extent, Strong’s inability to successfully put together sustainable staffs was a defining feature of Longhorns football that dated back to the end of the Mack Brown era. Notice the instability on Brown’s staffs that truly began after the failed 2010 season, when Brown’s decision to move to a more conservative rushing attack was arguably the biggest mistake of his career.

Texas coaching staffs since 2005

Year HC OC/QB RB WR TE OL DC DE DT LB DB/CB S
Year HC OC/QB RB WR TE OL DC DE DT LB DB/CB S
2005 Mack Brown Greg Davis Ken Rucker Bobby Kennedy Bruce Chambers Mac McWhorter Gene Chizik Oscar Giles Mike Tolleson Gene Chizik Duane Akina N/A
2006 Mack Brown Greg Davis Ken Rucker Bobby Kennedy Bruce Chambers Mac McWhorter Gene Chizik Oscar Giles Mike Tolleson Gene Chizik Duane Akina N/A
2007 Mack Brown Greg Davis Ken Rucker Bobby Kennedy Bruce Chambers Mac McWhorter Duane Akina/Larry Mac Duff Oscar Giles Mike Tolleson Larry Mac Duff Duane Akina N/A
2008 Mack Brown Greg Davis Major Applewhite Bobby Kennedy Bruce Chambers Mac McWhorter Will Muschamp Oscar Giles Mike Tolleson Will Muschamp Duane Akina N/A
2009 Mack Brown Greg Davis Major Applewhite Bobby Kennedy Bruce Chambers Mac McWhorter Will Muschamp Oscar Giles Mike Tolleson Will Muschamp Duane Akina N/A
2010 Mack Brown Greg Davis Major Applewhite Bobby Kennedy Bruce Chambers Mac McWhorter Will Muschamp Oscar Giles Mike Tolleson Will Muschamp Duane Akina N/A
2011 Mack Brown Bryan Harsin Major Applewhite Darrell Wyatt Bruce Chambers Stacy Searels Manny Diaz Oscar Giles Bo Davis Manny Diaz Duane Akina N/A
2012 Mack Brown Bryan Harsin Major Applewhite Darrell Wyatt Bruce Chambers Stacy Searels Manny Diaz Oscar Giles Bo Davis Manny Diaz Duane Akina N/A
2013 Mack Brown Major Applewhite Larry Porter Darrell Wyatt Bruce Chambers Stacy Searels Manny Diaz/Greg Robinson Oscar Giles Bo Davis Manny Diaz/Greg Robinson Duane Akina N/A
2014 Charlie Strong Joe Wickline/Shawn Watson Tommie Robinson Les Koenning Bruce Chambers Joe Wickline Vance Bedford Chris Rumph " Brian Jean-Mary Chris Vaughn N/A
2015 Charlie Strong Joe Wickline/Shawn Watson/Jay Norvell Tommie Robinson Jay Norvell Jeff Traylor Joe Wickline Vance Bedford Brick Haley " Brian Jean-Mary Chris Vaughn N/A
2016 Charlie Strong Sterlin Gilbert Anthony Johnson Charlie Williams Jeff Traylor Matt Mattox Vance Bedford Brick Haley " Brian Jean-Mary Clay Jennings Vance Bedford
2017 Tom Herman Tim Beck Stan Drayton Drew Mehringer Corby Meekins Derek Warehime Todd Orlando Oscar Giles " Todd Orlando Jason Washington Craig Naivar
2018 Tom Herman Tim Beck Stan Drayton Drew Mehringer/Corby Meekins Derek Warehime Herb Hand Todd Orlando Oscar Giles " Todd Orlando Jason Washington Craig Naivar

Note: There were numerous co-offensive and co-defensive coordinators through the period listed above, but for clarity’s sake, the primary coordinator is listed in that role. Some coaches also held other titles. The most difficult time period to effectively convey effectively was the Joe Wickline-Shawn Watson era that produced the Oklahoma State lawsuit over which assistant was actually calling plays.

An inability to develop any continuity on offense was particularly glaring before Herman arrived.

Since 2009, Texas has run eight different offenses, only one of which survived two full seasons until Herman took over. Since 2010, the Texas offensive staff has featured six offensive coordinators, that 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.

Mehringer is the first wide receivers coach to stick with the program for more than two years since Darrell Wyatt was in Austin from 2011 to 2013. The previous wide receivers coach, Bobby Kennedy, spent seven seasons under Brown.

So let’s take a look at a player like departed wide receiver Jerrod Heard, who was perhaps the best poster boy for the coaching turnover. Heard committed to Texas in 2012, when Bryan Harsin was still the offensive coordinator. Then he planned to play in Major Applewhite’s up-tempo spread offense.

By the time Heard signed in 2014, Strong was the head coach and the play-calling situation was already a mess, as Strong struggled to articulate whether offensive coordinator Joe Wickline or assistant head coach for the offense Shawn Watson had final say in play calls.

The situation only got worse, ultimately culminating in an embarrassing lawsuit that made Strong and his staff look rather incompetent.

When Heard made his debut against Notre Dame in 2015, it was with Watson in the booth attempting to run a spread offense. The blowout in South Bend that evening prompted Strong to demote Watson one game into the season and elevate wide receivers coach Jay Norvell to play caller. Under Norvell, Heard quickly turned in a record-setting performance against Cal.

By the next fall, he’d willingly switched to wide receiver to play for Charlie Williams in the veer-and-shoot offense run by Sterlin Gilbert. Another would-be savior at quarterback, come and gone.

As a junior, a lack of depth at quarterback forced Heard to spend some practice time at wide receiver as he adjusted to Mehringer’s coaching in Herman’s offense, as helmed by Beck. By the spring of 2018, Heard had a second wide receivers coach working with him — the third in three years — in Meekins, the former tight ends coach.

So Heard saw five play callers come and go as he worked under a handful of position coaches.

The 2018 season represented the first year of continuity since he committed to Texas more than six years ago, though perhaps that’s arguable given that he gained an extra position coach now. But at least the offense was the same for the first time in six years.

In a brief statement, Beck summed up the difference that continuity made last 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.

As an example, Beck mentioned how a wide receiver in a new offense can get hyper focused on the route they’re supposed to run. A wide receiver in a familiar offense, by contrast, can read the defense and understand how to alter their release or tweak the route to beat that coverage.

“So, they’ve all individually improved, which allows the group the improve, which enables the offense to improve.”

The continuity allowed Beck to stop pressing as a play caller — with some help from Herman, clearly — which allowed the top conversation from last offseason to recede during the season. Players stopped pressing. The offensive brain trust stopped pressing. And the results were obvious on the field, from the individual players executing better to the entire offense executing better.

Personnel turnover, some advanced scouting, and some growing moments as a Big 12 defensive coordinator, along with injuries, caused Orlando’s performance to regress, but the defense responded against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. So there aren’t any significant real long-term concerns there given the track record possessed by Orlando.

In the last two years, the concept of alignment under Herman went from a much-discussed issue to something of a joke to a complete afterthought.

In the last two years, discussion of how Herman assembled his first staff went from concerns about the young head coach staying too much in his comfort zone to calls for Beck’s termination and complaints about the rest of the offensive staff to celebrating an offense that just beat a top SEC defense.

The young offseason, still looming in nearly its entirety, presents plenty of questions for the Longhorns heading into a season where heightened expectations will significantly increase pressure on Herman and his staff, but the coach and his staff aren’t especially a topic of conversation.

Just call it alignment.