AUSTIN, Texas – Back when everything was still normal in college football, Texas coach Tom Herman did some house cleaning.
Tossed out were the offensive and defensive coordinators in favor of new assistants with past connections to Herman and the Big 12. By spring, four more new assistants were on staff.
Such a major rebuild after a disappointing 8-5 finish in 2019 would typically raise the temperature on a fourth-year coach who is 25-15 with the Longhorns and paid $6.2 million in expectation that No. 14 Texas will soon return to a Big 12 championship not won in more than a decade.
But the drastic shakeup largely got lost in the spring and summer of a pandemic. And while football was largely on hold for six months, the season is now rapidly approaching, pushing offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, defensive coordinator Chris Ash and the others through a crash course of new plays and play calling.
Ash, who was an assistant with Herman years ago at Ohio State, was fired last season as Rutgers head coach. Yurcich was at Ohio State last season but also spent six seasons coaching against Texas at Oklahoma State.
Both at least have the luxury of inheriting a lineup mixed with experience, leadership and rising talent, even if there are some big holes to fill on both sides of the ball.
“It’s been a great marriage thus far,” Herman said early in Texas training camp. “They're all pros.”
How long the honeymoon lasts will quickly be put to the test.
Yurcich has senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger to lean on as he tries to revamp a passing game missing big targets. Ash inherits a defense that was wildly inconsistent last year and will rely heavily has junior safety Caden Sterns and junior defensive end Joseph Ossai.
Texas opens the season at home against UTEP on Sept. 12, then opens Big 12 play at Texas Tech on Sept. 26.
Ehlinger enters his fourth season as a starter and his 8,870 yards and 68 touchdowns both rank second in program career passing records. Texas hasn't won a Big 12 title since 2009 with Colt McCoy. Ehlinger said he will leave it others to decide his legacy with or without a championship.
"I know for myself, my mission at the University of Texas is to leave the program better than it was when I got here,” said Ehlinger, who joined the program after three consecutive losing seasons. “If I’m leaving and the program is better than I’ve been than it was when I first got here, three and a half years ago, then I would say that that was a success in my mind.”
BREAK OUT PLAYER
Ossai should have a big season in a new position. A linebacker in Texas' old 3-4 scheme, Ossai led Texas in tackles, then switched to a rush end position in the Alamo Bowl and delivered three sacks in a dominant win over Utah. “He’s got length, he’s got speed, got long arms,” Ash said.
"That's a fish to water situation," Herman said. “He belongs there.”
SOLIDARITY ON THE SIDELINE
In a summer of upheaval amid protests over the killing of George Floyd, Texas players demanded and won changes from the university to rename several campus buildings that had been connected to former setate and school officials with ties to an era of Jim Crow laws and segregation.
But Texas refused to change the school song “The Eyes of Texas" a song traditionally sung by fans and the players at every game. It's still unknown how team cohesion will be affected if some players choose to sing the song while others don't.
The Longhorns had three players opt out of the season because of the pandemic: reserve senior running back Daniel Young, junior college transfer lineman Willie Tyler and senior defensive end Marqez Bimage, who was expected to challenge for a starting position.
The Big 12 schedule change knocked out one of the marquee games of the season: Texas at LSU. A rematch of 2019's classic was supposed to be Sept. 14 and would have been Texas' first trip to Baton Rouge since 1953. Ehlinger jokingly said he cried when the game was canceled. The grudge match with Oklahoma is still scheduled to be played at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas in October, even though the annual Texas State Fair outside the stadium has already been canceled.
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