The cotton candy has been eaten. The calliope music has faded. And the Longhorn assistant coaching carousel - which was starting to resemble a madcap, reverse-peristalsis-on-a-Fletcher's Corny Dog-inducing spin on the Tilt-A-Whirl for a minute there - has finally wound down.* As kerfluffles in casa de Nobis have similarly subsided, here's an only-five-days-late breakdown of what's gone down on the Longhorn staff.
Running Backs - Tommie Robinson (USC) for Anthony Johnson (Toledo)
What We Lost:
Robinson gained Charlie’s favor for running good, hard practices and presumably did a good job of coaching the ancillary aspects of the running back position. Over the past two seasons our backs tended to show good ball security, and the older guys functioned well as outlets and protectors in the passing game. When you’re coaching a position where the primary skill set - running - is largely innate, though, it behooves you to make rain on the recruiting trail. As we wrote up last season’s edition of Thinking Texas Football, we tried to delicately pose this question to Coach Robinson vis a vis recruiting:
And while Texas closed like champs for the second February in a row, it probably wasn't because Robinson had upper management written all over him.
What We Gained:
Longhorn letterman Anthony Johnson figures to inject youth, energy, and some powerful first-hand testimony about what it means to play for Texas (with a little more currency than Les Koenning brought to the table).It's actually Johnson's third stint on the 40 Acres, as he served as a QC coach under Second-Era Mack from 2007-09. He’s coached in the state (Jefferson High in 2006, Sam Houston State from 2010-13) prior to his stint as running backs coach and Co-OC at Toledo. By all accounts, Johnson’s passion for his craft shines through and he’ll work overtime to understand Gilbert’s offense and how his charges fit into the mix. While he doesn’t have a ton of four- and five-star recruiting skins on the wall just yet, he’s been coaching at Sam Houston State and Toledo. A kind word and a gun get you farther than just a kind word, and a mix of energy and passion tend to play up even more in living rooms when they’re coming from a dude in a Burnt Orange polo. Not that Coach Johnson will be bringing guns into living rooms, because core values.
Wide Receivers - Jay Norvell (Arizona State) for Charlie Williams (Indianapolis Colts)
What We Lost:
Norvell was a handy tourniquet after Notre Dame severed the offense's femoral artery during the mid-first quarter in South Bend, and he deserves our thanks and a shiny Greg Robinson Trophy for providing some respectability to that side of the ball following Shawn Watson's immolation. He wasn't exactly teed up to show off his full skill set as a receivers coach, but at least his guys blocked their asses off on edge runs and both of last season's well-thrown receiver screens. A plus recruiter, Norvell offered some warm Cali connections from plying the Tom Joad Road at OU that might have been nice to exploit in future seasons.
In a vacuum Norvell is the kind of guy you'd like to keep around, and a few of the more vocal members of La Hermandad tried to push a comical OMG NORVELL'S BAILING FOR A LATERAL MOVE CHARLIE IS DOOOOOOMED narrative while they thought that the Chris Vaughn/Brick Haley irons were hot. It's likely that this was a mutually agreeable parting of the ways, though, as Norvell wasn't totally jazzed to take a step back from the de facto OC role and Sterling Gilbert wanted to be simpatico with all the guys who'll be assisting in his warp-speed offensive install this Spring. Gilbert was reportedly hesitant to fully open up his playbook while we were in a will-he-stay-will-he-go mode with Norvell, but now it's full speed ahead. Which is a good thing, since the strains of Jerry Reed singing,
"We got a long way to go and a short time to get there,"
will serve as the offense's unofficial anthem from now until the kick against Notre Dame.
What We Gained:
Charlie Williams is a thirty-year vet who's logged just about all of his reps as a wide receivers coach. He first hit the big-time with the Miami Hurricanes (1993-1995) before moving on to stints with the Tampa Bay Bucs under Tony Dungy (1996-2001), the South Carolina Gamecocks under Lou Holtz in 2003, the Arizona Wildcats (2004-06), the North Carolina Tarheels (2007-2011) and most recently the Indianapolis Colts (2012-2015). When it comes to teaching the technical aspects of the position, you probably weren't going to find a more qualified dude.
When it comes to the pending mas rapido install of the Sterling Gilbert 5333, well...ideally, you'd have poached Jeff Lebby from Baylor. But once you realized that Lebby likely wasn't drooling at the chance to take a title demotion for a less stable overall staff situation, you start looking around and realize that the Briles-style coaching tree still doesn't have all that many branches. If you weren't nabbing Kim McCloud from Syracuse (where he just arrived alongside new head man Dino Babers and sports an Assistant Head Coach title to boot) then the thought process probably turned to finding the best guy to teach the position's technical aspect while quickly ramping up on the offense's particulars. Coming fresh out of a diverse and downfield-oriented air attack in Indy, it's unlikely that there are too many elements in this offense that will leave Williams befuddled. Digesting the terminology and particular option route concepts should be, at worst, a minor bottleneck for a guy with his experience.
On the recruiting front, we probably took at least a modest step back from Norvell. While Dick Tomey proved that energy isn't the exclusive province of the young, this hire wasn't about major-league rainmaking on the recruiting trail. Williams should at least be familiar with the game from multiple collegiate stops, so we'll just be looking for him to make his rounds on the trail and sell Texas' pending receiver targets on his work with dudes like T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks.
Defensive Backs - Chris Vaughn (Probably Not College Any Time Soon) for Clay Jennings (Arkansas)
What We Lost:
Probably coming in behind only linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary as a technical teaching, hard-crootin' dual threat, Vaughn was one of Charlie Strong's best original hires and constitutes a tough loss any way you cut it. Ignore the unsightly counting 2015 defensive counting stats that were mainly a consequence of running a Children's Crusade in the back seven - Vaughn knew his business and formed a terrific DB-coaching triumvirate in concert with Vance Bedford and Charlie himself.
What We Gained:
Clay Jennings arrives from Bert Bielema's staff at Arkansas (boo!) where he was part of a Top Ten passing defense in 2014 (yay!) that gouged out our eyes and skull-romanced us in the Texas Bowl (boo!) Sweeping 2014 Tyrone Swoopes into the dustbin isn't necessarily a noteworthy accomplishment, but Jennings also logged six seasons under Gary Patterson at TCU. While Patterson is a coin flip with Bielema in terms of who's going to be first to deliver a pair of twins on the sideline, he also delivers top-notch pass defense just about every season that he's not coping with 2015 Texas-caliber youth and health travails in the back seven.
If Patterson, Strong and Bedford all think that you know your shit coaching DBs, you probably know your shit coaching DBs.
Jennings brings a solid rep as a recruiter, and he's plied the highways and byways of the Lone Star State for quite some time. He was instrumental in helping the Pigs land super-scatback Devwah Whaley, and his arrival has apparently piqued the interest of 2017 megastud safety Jeffrey "Bear" Okudah enough that he'll be attending Texas' upcoming Junior Day. Brandon Jones was upset to see Vaughn depart, but was apparently gruntled by Jennings' arrival. The early guess is that Jennings should have no trouble pulling his weight on the trail as he operates from the bulliest pulpit he's enjoyed in his career to date.
Defensive Line - Brick Haley (Texas) for Brick Haley (Still Texas!)
What We Lost:
A small piece of our collective sanity, as any time that you're tempted into reading Taylor Hamm and Billy Liucci's ongoing takes on a situation you're basically taking on the role of an H.P. Lovecraft protagonist who's elected to open the human skin-bound cover of the Necronomicon.
What We Gained:
The ability to mock the Aggies for yet another head-to-head loss against the Longhorns, which is pretty much always fun. Whether Haley was simply leveraging A&M for a raise or was genuinely tempted by the notion of a reunion with The Chief himself, John Chavis:
Haley's weeklong College Station flirtation gave plenty of Aggies all the time and motivation they needed to get out over their skis and claim ascendance over Texas, a revitalization of the sagging #WRTS hashtag, a piece of Charlie's 2006 and 2008 Florida MNC's for the Kyle Field Dubious Title Wall and prima nocte rights with D'Andre Christmas-Giles. When Haley ultimately gave them the Heisman (or maybe the Outland considering that he coaches DL) they swiftly collapsed into the melange of self-loathing, sour grapes and recriminations that they've perfected over the years.
The State of Aggie Schadenfreude remains strong. And the state of the Longhorn coaching staff, despite a few white-knuckle moments, looks good as we head into Spring ball.
* And BC has knocked out its required yearly allotment of carnival metaphors before March - high five!