Joe Wickline

Joe Wickline, offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, returns to Stillwater, Oklahoma, this weekend to take on Oklahoma State, which is suing him for nearly $600,000.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

For Joe Wickline, offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, this weekend’s trip to Stillwater, Oklahoma, will be somewhat of an awkward homecoming.

On one hand, he will be returning to the house that built him.

At Oklahoma State, in the friendly atmosphere of Boone Pickens Stadium, Wickline led an offensive line that consistently ranked among the best in the country. He also coached the likes of Russell Okung and Corey Hilliard, and developed a résumé that eventually persuaded Texas head coach Charlie Strong to hire him as his offensive coordinator.

On the other hand, Wickline will be returning to a university that is currently suing him for nearly $600,000.  

When Wickline left Oklahoma State, his contract stated he would owe the program the remaining balance of his contract unless he was named “offensive coordinator with play-calling duties” or took an NFL job.

Initially, that’s how his gig in Austin was presented: Strong hired him as the offensive coordinator, and he was to share play-calling duties with Shawn Watson, assistant head coach for offense and quarterbacks coach.

But, according to Oklahoma State administrators, Watson has been calling the plays, and Wickline hasn’t been involved at all, so he must pay the school the remaining $593,478 of his salary.

The mini-drama has added fuel to the fire ahead of this weekend’s must-win game for the Longhorns, but the Texas coaching staff insists it won’t be a distraction.

“It’s not going to be brought up, and it’s not a concern,” Strong said. “Their concern is go play Oklahoma State because the lawsuit has nothing to do with how we’re going to play and where our focus is going to be.”

All legal matters aside, Wickline’s wealth of experience working alongside Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy and the rest of the Oklahoma State staff should give Texas the inside edge Saturday.

Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford spent time on Gundy’s staff as well, but that was back in 2005 and 2006. Wickline’s recent nine-year tenure with the Pokes will be particularly advantageous.

“It’ll be helpful when we start talking personnel that he knows the guys,” Strong said.

Several of Oklahoma State’s players from a year ago, when Wickline was still there, are key contributors this year, so having him on staff should help the Longhorns prepare on both sides of the ball.

“I think he’ll be a huge asset,” senior receiver John Harris said. “[Wickline] knows the guys that are on the defensive side pretty well. We’re going to rely on him a lot, take his input on what we need to do and how we need to go out and get this win.

Perhaps Wickline’s prior experience with the Cowboys will prove to be the added advantage the Longhorns need to get past Oklahoma State and gain bowl eligibility this weekend. Or maybe his lawsuit with the school will end up being a distraction Texas can’t overcome, giving the Pokes their sixth win of the season and a post-season birth of their own.

Either way, one team will leave Saturday’s contest having realized its bowl aspirations.

It’s a term you’re more likely to hear in your grandma’s sewing room than in a football locker room, but for the Texas offensive line, there’s no better description than patchwork.

Offensive line coach Joe Wickline’s group has been through the wringer this season. A combination of dismissals, suspensions, injuries and underperformance has forced the offensive line coach to use 10 different linemen through the team’s first nine games.

Pair the constant flux with the incredible inexperience along the Longhorns’ offensive front, and the result hasn’t been pretty.

“It’s definitely been an interesting process,” junior center Taylor Doyle said. “I don’t know if anyone saw it happening like this, but it’s been exactly that — a process.”

That process has been a difficult one, as the offensive line’s inability to open up holes in the run game and protect its quarterback has taken a lot of the blame for the offense’s inconsistency.

But, in being forced into a position they evidently weren’t prepared for, the ragtag bunch has developed at an incredible rate and is making obvious improvements on a weekly basis.

“We have guys, including myself, who have come a long way and had to step up,” said Doyle, who has become one of the leaders up front despite having only played in two games prior to this season. “But we still have a long way to go. Fortunately, we’re in a great position with Coach Wickline leading the way and teaching us as we go.”

Wickline is certainly deserving of a lot of the credit. Long revered as one of the top offensive line coaches in the country at Oklahoma State, he was handpicked by head coach Charlie Strong to join the new staff at Texas with the added title of offensive coordinator.

No coach inherited a more inexperienced group than Wickline, and that was before his two best players, senior center Dom Espinosa and tackle Kennedy Estelle, were lost for the season.

Despite the slew of personnel issues, compounded by the compensation lawsuit Oklahoma State brought against him, Wickline has found a way to make the most of a bad situation.

“I say it all the time, but we squeeze every ounce out of that offensive line,” Strong said. “It’s fun to watch that group because they just go out and compete.”

But, as much as Wickline may be responsible for the exponential improvement, it is the five guys on the field who are going out and performing each week.

In doing so, they’ve earned the respect of their teammates.

“It’s just a whole lot of stuff this offensive line went through, so it’s definitely great to see them succeeding,” senior running back Malcolm Brown said. “I’m proud of those guys for adjusting the way they did.”

Brown, of all people, should be most excited about the offensive line’s development. Last week, when the big guys in front of him turned in their best performance of the season, Brown did also, surpassing the 100-yard plateau for the first time all season and scoring a couple touchdowns.

“Coach [Wickline] put a lot of emphasis on drive the five — get our five guys on their five guys — and it was exciting to see us have a little success,” Doyle said.

As they’ve had a chance to develop chemistry on the field, the once misfits have grown closer off the field, too, and the coaching staff is taking notice.

“That group of guys [is] kind of finding a nucleus,” Strong said. “The offensive line is such a special bond, and they’re just playing as well as they can play.”

Like a well-made quilt in grandma’s sewing room, the Longhorn offensive line appears to be slowly going from a patchwork bunch to a tight-knit group.

It’s a process.

Joe Wickline, Texas’ offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, thought he was done dealing with Oklahoma State administrators in January when he left Stillwater, Oklahoma, to work for Texas. 

But throughout the last eight months, Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder has reminded Wickline that the Cowboys aren’t as far away as he thought. 

On Oct. 17, the Oklahoma State System sued Wickline, claiming that he does not actually hold the play-calling responsibilities he claims he does. The suit reiterates complaints dating back to March 24, when Holder wrote Wickline a letter saying Wickline violated his previous Oklahoma State contract.

“Regrettably, it has come to our attention that neither of those statements [about your responsibilities] is apparently accurate,” Holder’s letter said. “In reality, it appears you unilaterally and voluntarily terminated the contract to make a lateral move.”

According to Oklahoma State’s lawsuit this month, Wickline “recognized that the loss of his services to OSU … would cause an inherent loss to OSU incapable of estimation with certainty, fairness or adequate compensation through monetary damages.” 

In their 2009 contract, Oklahoma State said that for Wickline to avoid triggering the obligation to pay liquidated damages — in this case, $593,478 — he must work as an NFL assistant coach or a Division I offensive coordinator, with play-calling duties. In the lawsuit filed last week, Oklahoma State claimed Wickline violated the terms that he must “accept employment as a Head Football Coach or as an Offensive Coordinator with play calling duties.”

The latter clause, “with play calling duties,” is the source of disagreement between Oklahoma State and Wickline. Alhough head coach Charlie Strong said Wickline would call plays at the time of his hire in January, many speculate that Shawn Watson, assistant head coach for offense and quarterbacks coach, instead fulfills these responsibilities.

Speculations have stirred ever since Strong’s comments in March, noting that, according to ESPN, “the one final voice will be Shawn.” Interviews with Strong, Watson and players suggest that Watson calls at least the majority of plays while Wickline supervises the run game. This week specifically, Watson discussed scripting plays for the team.

“I’ll only go anywhere from 15 to 25 [plays],” Watson said Tuesday. “Basically, for me, it’s a hot list. This past week, I only used the first 21, and we were on task with what we were doing.”

Watson did not mention Wickline’s role in developing the plays.

Wickline is set to face Oklahoma State in court in Stillwater on Nov. 15, at which time the court will need to determine whether Wickline calls enough plays for his position to qualify as more than just a lateral move. According to the Austin American-Statesman, UT law graduate David Beck, who donates to the University, will represent Wickline.

Photo Credit: Cody Bubenik | Daily Texan Staff

Gone are the days of seeing head coach Mack Brown standing on the sidelines of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in his usual pose — with his hands on his knees, nervously awaiting Texas’ next play. 

There is a new regime in town, led by head coach Charlie Strong, who is more likely to be found pacing the sidelines, pumping his fist or even chest bumping his players as they come off the field.

Strong assembled a staff of his own too, filled with some of the best coaches from all over the country. Tight ends coach Bruce Chambers, entering his 17th season at Texas, is the only holdover from Brown’s squad. Here is a quick look at the new team.

Charlie Strong — HC

From what’s been seen so far, the new boss is the polar opposite of Brown. Strong takes a very hands-on approach, often running drills with his players and trying to keep up with them in the weight room. He’s also demonstrated a penchant for discipline, having already removed seven players from the program since he was hired and suspending three more. His track record is impressive, and there has been plenty of talk about what he is capable of, but none of that will matter if he can’t win in Austin. He’ll get his first chance to prove himself this weekend.

Shawn Watson — Asst. HC, QB

Watson is one of several coaches Strong brought with him from Louisville. He served as Strong’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Cardinals, working with current Minnesota Viking quarterback Teddy Bridgewater over the past few seasons. Watson will be tasked with play-calling duties this season and will also be responsible for developing Texas’ young quarterbacks, sophomore Tyrone Swoopes and true freshman Jerrod Heard. Given David Ash’s injury issues, the young guns may see the field sooner than expected.

Joe Wickline — OC, OL

Wickline was likely Strong’s most high-profile hire, as he snatched him away from conference foe Oklahoma State. With the Cowboys, Wickline developed a reputation as one of the top offensive line coaches in the nation, often turning unproven high school talent into NFL stars. He’ll have his work cut out for him this season with a relatively inexperienced group of linemen, but he will be able to rely on four-year starter center Dominic Espinosa as the leader of the group.

Tommie Robinson — RB

Robinson comes to Texas from USC, having served as the Trojans’ running backs coach and passing game coordinator last season. Robinson has a wealth of experience working with running backs, having coached the position at five different universities and in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals. He inherits Texas’ strongest position group, with junior Johnathan Gray and senior Malcolm Brown making up one of the best running back combinations in the country.

Les Koenning — WR

A former Longhorn himself, Koenning comes to Texas with a great understanding of the pressure that comes with wearing a burnt orange uniform. He has coached twelve different teams over the course of his 33-year coaching career. Koenning has the difficult task of getting the most out of his inexperienced receivers immediately. The departure of Mike Davis and dismissals of Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander have left the Longhorns very thin at the receiver position. If Koenning isn’t able to quickly fill those holes, the Texas passing game will struggle mightily.

Vance Bedford — DC, Secondary

Bedford is a former Longhorn defensive back and another coach that Strong brought from Louisville. He is perhaps best known for being the defensive backs coach at Michigan in 1997 when they won the national championship, and Wolverine defensive back Charles Woodson became the first and only primarily defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy. Bedford takes over a defense that returns eight players and a secondary that includes star defensive back Quandre Diggs. The talent is there; it’s just a question of what he can do with it.

Chris Vaughn — DB, ST

One of the younger coaches on staff, Vaughn comes to Texas from Memphis, but spent the majority of his coaching career at Arkansas. Vaughn drastically improved the Tigers’ secondary while at Memphis last season, moving their pass defense up 42 spots in the national rankings. He will also be tasked with coaching up Texas’ rookie kickers and improving the Longhorns’ return game.

Chris Rumph — DL, Asst. HC for Defense

Rumph is another young coach on staff, but has plenty of valuable experience, having won two championships as the defensive line coach at Alabama over the past three seasons. Rumph played an important role in developing the Crimson Tide defense into one of the best in the country and will be tasked with getting the most out of senior Cedric Reed, junior Malcom Brown and the rest of Texas’ talented defensive linemen this year.

Brian Jean-Mary — LB, Recruiting

Jean-Mary followed Strong to Texas from Louisville, where he became known for transforming an underwhelming group of linebackers. The linebacking corps at Texas has shown flashes of brilliance over the past few seasons, but clearly has plenty of improving to do. Jean-Mary will look to get his guys up to speed in a hurry, as strong linebacker play could make the Longhorn front seven the best in the league in 2014. He is also responsible for heading up Texas’ recruiting efforts.

Pat Moorer — Strength & Conditioning

Certainly the most intimidating man on Strong’s staff, Moorer has already developed a reputation as a fan favorite in Austin. He formerly served as Emmitt Smith’s personal trainer and has long been known for his intense workout regimen. So far, Moorer has made headlines for his famous “pit” workouts, used as punishment for players who violate team rules or are unable to practice due to minor injury.

There is one word to describe what Texas coach Charlie Strong and his staff are trying to bring to the Longhorn football program:

Texas was labeled “entitled” and “soft” toward the end of Mack Brown’s tenure, but Strong is eradicating those notions with a new sense of toughness, and that mentality starts on the front line.

“If you’re ever going to be good in this game, you have to be good up front when you look at the offensive line,” Strong said at Big 12 Media Days. “If you can’t move people on offense, you can’t stop people on defense, [and] it’s going to be very long days for you.”

Responsible for creating toughness on the offensive line are new offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Joe Wickline and his senior center, Dom Espinosa.

Prior to joining the Texas staff, Wickline spent nine years as the offensive line coach at Oklahoma State where his line anchored a Cowboys offense that led Oklahoma State to six top-20 finishes. Given the success he had with the Pokes, Wickline has great expectations for his players.

“Basically, you’re not here just to go through four or five years,” Wickline said in an interview with the Longhorn Network. “You’re not here just to play football; you’re here to get a degree.”

Wickline also stresses the importance of accountability. He wants his guys to be responsible for their actions and to grow up into mature adults. Wickline’s mentality has enabled Strong to rely on him to instill toughness on the team.

“Joe and I, we’ve coached together at two different places,” Strong said. “I’ll tell you this: When we get into conference play, he’ll be someone to just go lean on.”

Along with Wickline, Espinosa has been encouraging his linemates to buy into the new coaching staff’s tough mentality.

“Our idea of what tough was before is different than what we’re going towards now,” Espinosa said “It just one of those things that [Wickline] builds on us. Whether it be what we do in practice, going one-on-one a lot more and hitting a lot more. Those are little things that sound silly but it builds toughness over time.”

During his tenure at Texas, the Austin native has started 39 games for the Longhorns and, if he starts all 13 games this season, will fall just one start short of Colt McCoy’s record of 53 starts. This preseason Espinosa has been put on the Rimington Trophy, Outland Trophy and Rotary Lombardi Award watch lists. He was also named a 2014 preseason first-team All-Big 12 choice by USA Today.

But more important than being named to award watch lists, Espinosa has been leading the offensive line during practice, ensuring that they are more focused than they were in the past.

“It’s almost like it’s new,” Espinosa said. “It’s kind of exciting. You get to show the new coaches what you’re really made of. Now you get to compete every single day because you might not be able to start because Wick doesn’t know who I am so I have to prove it to him. It makes me a better player.”