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AUSTIN — For the Texas offense, last year was a tale of two seasons.
In the first seven games of 2019, they tallied 40.4 points per game. That dropped to 28.6 over the final six contests, and that’s counting the 49 they put on Texas Tech.
It seemed as if the team that had 530 total yards and five touchdowns versus eventual national champion LSU in Week 2 became predictable over its home stretch in Big 12 play. So, this offseason we watched Texas coach Tom Herman make a big decision.
The offensive-minded Herman could either enter his fourth year in Austin as the primary play-caller or hand those duties off to a young mind in the game and take a CEO approach to Texas Football.dot.com.
Enter Mike Yurcich; the 44-year old former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator and QBs coach/passing game coordinator at Ohio State in 2019.
Yurcich spoke to the media Tuesday for the first time after being named offensive coordinator on December 29th. He opened with the ultimate gratitude of his wife and family, and followed with the anxiousness of a scholar on the first day of school. It didn’t take long for the subject of senior-to-be Sam Ehlinger to become the a topic of conversation.
When you’re coming to Texas to call plays, having a proven signal-caller on campus is a luxury. Yurcich quickly acknowledged that Tuesday.
“Sam’s a hell of a player,” said Yurcich. “And he’s a big part of why I chose this position. He’s an experienced quarterback. He’s a proven winner. I think being at Oklahoma State for six years and coaching in the Big 12, it gives you perspective on the enormity of what Texas football is. It also allows you to recruit just about every day, if not every day, in the best playing football state in America. And, you know, that’s something that is within itself, a heck of an honor and a big responsibility.”
Making sure the quarterback room is solid with a returning three-year starting quarterback that brings 93 touchdowns and a hand in the last three bowl wins to the table.
“There’s a lot of football IQ going on,” Yurcich, said about the 6-foot-3, 228-pounder. “He has a high football IQ, and he’s got a good business mind as well. It doesn’t pertain to football, but he’s a very intelligent man, to say the least. So his intelligence, his ability to run the ball, but also throw with tremendous accuracy. He’s got good footwork. He can manage the game really well because he can get you out of bad plays. He knows what the defenses are doing. He’s got tremendous vision. He’s the total package and really looking forward to working with Sam.”
Ehlinger’s high school, Westlake in Austin, recently claimed the 6A DII state championship. UT’s freshman signee Hudson Card played down the road for perennial power Lake Travis. Yurcich realizes he gets to pick out his toys from a rather large batch of talent within a few area codes.
“The football played here at the high school level is unmatched and to be here at the University of Texas to be able to recruit Texas, to be able to coach the quarterbacks and call plays for University of Texas, that’s an opportunity that comes once in a lifetime, “ Yurcich said. “And I’m not going let that one pass me out.”
Sometimes you just need a restart, or a fresh set of eyes, ears, and ideas. And sometimes you have the right system for the personnel and you just need a spark. Or tempo, for that matter.
“The commonality was, we didn’t want to change a whole bunch from a bone structure, or systematic standpoint, because it’s a lot easier for one guy to have to learn something than to ask 60 other guys to learn a new language,” Yurcich said. “So there is a lot of sameness from Ohio State’s offensive system. And what is in place here at Texas with coach Herman, a lot of that stems from coach (Urban) Meyer and his offensive system.”
“Adapt or die.” – Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane
“You have to adapt your system to your personnel, but we will tweak, and we will add and delete,” Yurcich said. “That is a process that is going to be continuous until we get the spring ball. So, the amount and the quantity of what exactly that is and, and the plays, you know, we all have experiences, we all have preference of how we want to move the football. And the most important thing is that we keep in mind, our players their strengths, how we line them up and how we get them mismatched, or match them up against the opposition.”
Yurcich went Mount Union at that point with the ‘players, formations, and plays’ mantra.
“That’s the philosophy moving forward,” Yurcich said. ‘That’s what’s most important. To get these guys playing fast, so that when they come off the ball, there is absolutely no hesitation. And they know their offensive schemes better than the defense knows their defensive schemes. That’s the goal to get them playing to their maximum and bringing out you know, their best abilities.”
His familiarity with the Big 12 was enticing for Yurcich. When you learn from the man with the mullet, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, you’ll be well-versed in the subject.
“Mike’s a self starter,” said Herman. “He’s taken (the offense) and ran with it. He’s watched every play of ours season last year. He’s already had multiple offensive staff meetings to talk about snap count. I know it was a big, big thing for him. A little bit more advanced tempo system. And then what we had had, but now there needs to be common beliefs. But I think when you bring somebody in, you definitely want a fresh set of eyes, new ideas, maybe different and better ways of doing things. And then yeah, I think his quarterback development speaks for itself. You know, the guy who coached (Justin Fields) this past season and was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. And we all remember what the guys at Oklahoma State were able to do in his tenure there. That was a big part of me, seeking Mike out to be honest with you was what he’s been able to do in developing quarterbacks.”
Yurcich coached in Stillwater in what appears to be the best years of Gundy’s tenure so far. He help turn Brandon Weedon into a first round pick. Re-read that.
“People are looking for ways to stop, and to keep these (Big 12) offenses at bay, and to keep the scoring down,” said Yurcich. “Therefore you’re seeing a little bit more innovation, and the skies and different things and different types of blitz structures and fronts. But everything comes full circle now. So as soon as we say that, we’ll start seeing some more muscled up formations here with certain teams in the Big 12. So if you’re three-down system that then plays with five defensive backs, and now you’re facing a team that plays with 12 personnel, you know you’re susceptible to that. So then we’ll go full circle again. I mean, that’s the beauty of this league. And that’s the beauty of recruiting, personnel, and matchups, and all those good schemes. That’s the fun part.”
Texas was an opportunity Yurcich and his family couldn’t resist. At the end of the day, all an offensive coordinator wants to do is run the offense.
“I want to call plays,” Yurcich insisted. “Let me take responsibility for it, and the praise and the criticism that goes along with it. Absolutely. That’s part of it. That’s a big reason why. That’s it. In my job, that’s a heck of a responsibility. But it’s something that you know, it gets me off. You know what I mean?”
Texas fans certainly hope so.