The twilight of Tom Herman the offensive play-caller

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Following a 6-6 regular season in 2017 marked by subpar offensive line play, multiple quarterbacks, and inconsistent offensive results, Texas head coach Tom Herman elected to take play-calling duties from then offensive coordinator Tim Beck.

That wasn’t his preference. At Houston, Major Applewhite called plays while Herman took on the program overseer role. He wanted to continue that at Texas, but plans changed prior to the 2017 Texas Bowl against Missouri.

Texas won the game but they didn’t light up the scoreboard. Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger rotated at quarterback. The Herman-called offense amassed 285 total yards. A strong defensive effort including an Anthony Wheeler scoop-and-score and a MVP punting performance from Michael Dickson did more to help Texas to a 33-16 win than the offense called by Herman.

Despite labeling the offensive play-calling system as “collaborative” in 2018, Herman held onto the responsibilities for his second season at Texas which ended with 10 wins and a Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia. He continued to call plays in 2019, but the demands of that role along with overseeing the entire program hampered Texas on the way to a 7-5 regular season record.

“I know for me, you feel like you become a jack of all trades and master of none,” Herman said Friday. “I don’t want to rob Peter to pay Paul and diminish my ability as a head coach to try to be the best offensive play-caller that I can be.”

Herman believes the offense improved every year since his arrival at Texas. The 2018 Longhorns had 14 games to amass 5768 total yards. The 2019 team is 142 yards away from passing that mark with the bowl game still left to play.

Still, Herman believes that the best version of himself as Texas’ head coach doesn’t include play-calling responsibilities.

“I think quite honestly it took me away from some things that were needed on a holistic level, and things I’m very good at,” Herman said December 12. “That’s not to say that my input will not be felt in the offense. It always will.”

Beck lost his offensive coordinator title on December 1, launching Texas’ search for a new coordinator. Herman said Monday he interviewed several candidates before he made the decision to hire Ohio State quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Mike Yurcich.

“I couldn’t have dreamed of a better fit in terms of similarities and the way that we believe in offensive football, and yet a lengthy track record and resume of success on that side of the ball,” Herman said Monday.

Yurcich coached Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields to a trip to New York as a Heisman finalist, Big Ten offensive player of the year honors, and over 3500 yards of total offense.

Yurcich didn’t call plays at Ohio State as that responsibility belonged to Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day. However, Yurcich has several years of experience calling plays in the Big 12. From 2013 to 2018, Yurcich was at Oklahoma State as offensive coordinator for Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy.

In that time, Oklahoma State had four ten-win seasons. Current Pittsburgh Steeler Mason Rudolph passed for over 4000 yards in two of his three seasons as starting quarterback. Baltimore Ravens RB Justice Hill rushed for 3539 yards in his three seasons in Stillwater, including two 1000-yard seasons. Another Steeler, James Washington, recorded three different seasons with at least 1000 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.

“According to Coach Gundy, who I spoke to, he’s an unbelievable play-caller,” Herman said. “Very rhythmic. Very detail oriented in the way he develops QB and offenses. The thing that really stood out to me is his ability each year to play to the strengths of the personnel.”

With Yurcich set to join the staff following the bowl game, there’s a possibility the Alamo Bowl is the last time Herman will serve as the primary play-caller at Texas.

“You never want to say never,” Herman said. “But I hope so.”