As the Texas Longhorns have gotten off to an incredible start in recruiting during the first days of 2015, head coach Charlie Strong has continued the process of filling the vacancies on his staff at wide receivers coach and tight ends coach following the terminations of tight ends coach Bruce Chambers and wide receivers coach Les Koenning.
At the last check in, there were six possible candidates, ranging from reasonably likely to have a shot to interview to much less likely. Those candidates were former Houston head coach Tony Levine, Oklahoma tight ends/special teams coach Jay Boulware, former Florida tight ends coach Derek Lewis, Florida State recruiting coordinator/tight ends coach Tim Brewster, former Texas wide receivers coach Darrell Wyatt, and South Florida wide receivers coach Ron Dugans.
The latest update comes from Horns247, where there are three names that are expected to interview for the two open positions -- Levine, Dugans, and former USC associate head coach/special teams coordinator John Baxter.
Like Wyatt, Baxter was out of coaching last season after new head coach Steve Sarkisian elected not to retain him from the previous staff. In addition to this responsibilities as the special teams coordinator for the Trojans, Baxter was also in charge of the "Academic Gampelan" at USC to ensure that players stayed on track for graduation.
Since the current staff has already had success in making sure that players stay eligible and graduate, there doesn't seem to be a compelling need for a similar service from Baxter, but it certainly doesn't hurt his candidacy that his previous responsibilities aligned with Strong's priorities.
The special teams experience for Baxter dates back to his early days in coaching when he was a graduate assistant at Iowa State in 1986 and 1987. Since then, he has experience coaching special teams and tight ends at Tulane and filling similar positions during his 13 years at Fresno State, which also included time coaching wide receivers, so he could conceivably fill either role for Texas, though he's spent much more time working with tight ends.
If recruiting in the state of Texas is a priority for at least one of the positions, as Horns247 now believes, Baxter isn't the ideal candidate, as it does not appear that he has any recent experience recruiting the state, though he likely did when was at Tulane from 1994 to 1996. He does have excellent bona fides coaching special teams, however, as USC was second in blocked punts and fourth in blocked kicks during the 2013 season.
The success in 2013 was hardly an anomaly, either, as Baxter had earned the 2011 FootballScoop.com Special Teams Coordinator of the Year award after overseeing a group that produced seven blocked kicks for the second consecutive year. During those two seasons, USC also managed a punt return for a touchdown, two kickoff returns for touchdowns, two converted fake punts, a converted fake field goal, and six two-point conversions.
Accepting a job at Texas could come with a significant decrease in salary since he would be unlikely to hold the title of associate head coach once again -- Baxter made $1.1 million during his final season in Los Angeles. By comparison, former Texas tight ends coach Bruce Chambers made $233,800 in 2014 during his 17th season on the staff in Austin.
Based solely on special teams coaching credentials, Levine can hang with Baxter in that area. During his tenure at Houston, the Cougars recorded 20 blocked kicks, nine kickoff returns for touchdowns and six forced turnovers. Those groups also have tied or broken seven NCAA records and set 11 school marks.
And during the four seasons that Levine coordinated the Houston special teams, the Cougars produced eight kickoff returns for touchdowns (second in the FBS over that period) and blocked 16 kicks of the 20 kicks during Levine's overall tenure.
Levine also had some success at the position level, taking former Arizona basketball player Fendi Onobun and helping him transform into a sixth-round draft pick as a graduate transfer, even though his bio doesn't list him as having played football in high school. The 6'6, 250-pounder had a touchdown catch and blocked two extra points in one game. Levine also helped Mark Hanfer turn in a career season and earn second-team All-Conference honors as a senior during Levine's first year at Houston in 2008.
Most importantly, Levine would bring deep Houston connections to the staff at a time when the Longhorns have been struggling some to recruit in that area, as the Aggies have become the dominant program Houston-area program in recent cycles, though the Under Armour game pledge of star cornerback Kendell Sheffield to Alabama is a good sign that Texas A&M doesn't exactly have a compete stranglehold on the talent-rich area.
Dugans, as mentioned previously, would represent a safe hire for Strong and assistant head coach for the offense/quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson, as the former Florida State wide receiver spent the entirety of Strong's tenure at Louisville coaching his wide receivers. Like Baxter, Dugans has little to no experience recruiting the state of Texas.
Since he is considered the frontrunner for the wide receivers position right now, the other hire would need ties to the state if Strong decides that he wants some recruiting experience in the state of Texas.
So that would seem to make Levine the best candidate for the tight ends/special teams coordinator position and would allow Strong to hire Dugans without worrying about his lack of experience recruiting the state. The question with Dugans is whether a comfort zone hire makes the most sense for this staff -- Strong may certainly feel that way after former wide receivers coach Les Koenning failed to bring what Strong expected to the group of offensive assistants.
Another storyline to keep in mind for those who still want a return of Wyatt -- Oklahoma fired longtime co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Jay Norvell on Sunday and Wyatt's name has come up as a possible candidate in the same way it did with Texas because he previously coached at Oklahoma