Ian Rapoport has a longish feature on why Major Applewhite, hired by Nick Saban to fill a yet-undefined offensive role on his staff, is considered the Next Big Thing in college coaching.
“He’s a very analytical young man,” said Greg Davis, the Longhorns’ offensive coordinator who coached Applewhite. “And he tries to break things down to not only simple terms, but also common sense terms. I think the quarterbacks will fall in love with him, and he’ll do a great job.”
While Saban’s staff includes some noteworthy names, the hiring of Applewhite is perhaps the most intriguing. Not just because he grew up a hard-core fan of the Crimson Tide. Not just because, as Rice University’s offensive coordinator last season, his spread offense helped the Owls to their first bowl game since 1961. Not just because his often heroic collegiate career captured the interest of a nation. It’s because of what Applewhite, with his sharp understanding of the game, can do for the Crimson Tide.
“He thinks of plays off the top of his head like no man I’ve ever been around,” said Rice sophomore receiver Jarett Dillard, a Biletnikoff Award finalist. “He’s a mastermind.”
In leading Rice to its most prolific offensive season in its history, the thinking man’s style of Applewhite was contagious. “I was able to learn so much about the game, offensive philosophy, what a defense is doing, why things are the way they are,” recalled Rice quarterback Chase Clement. “He elevated my mental game more than anything.”
Despite splitting time with NFL-bound Chris Simms, Applewhite had a 22-8 record as a starter at Texas, finishing as the school’s all-time leader in several categories, including passing yards (8,353) and touchdown passes (60). It had storybook moments, including his comeback win over Washington in the 2001 Holiday Bowl.
Applewhite worked at Texas for two years as a graduate assistant, at Syracuse for one year as quarterback coach, then in one year as Rice’s offensive coordinator. But it was his playing career that gave him instant credibility. “Most of us saw the way he played on the field, and we kind of allowed him to take the leadership role,” Clement said. “We all believed in him.”
Colleagues say he has no set scheme. He does not try to force a system onto his players. Quite the opposite. And he constantly reacts based on what the defense gives him. “He’s going to adjust whatever he has to adjust to get the ball to guys to make plays,” Dillard said. “At Rice, we were a one-back, quick-tempo, coming-at-you-fast kind of thing. If the defense runs this, we’re giving you that. If you want to play 10 yards off the ball, we’ll run a hitch all day. We’re taking whatever you give us.”
The bad thing about having The Next Big Thing on your coaching staff is that you’ll almost certainly lose him. My guess is Saban will be with the Tide for years to come, since he’s learned he doesn’t want to be in the NFL and it’s hard to imagine that there’s a better college job out there for him. Still, it’ll be nice to have the phenom teaching Alabama quarterbacks and calling the plays while it lasts.
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