Major Applewhite is fighting for Texas as running backs coach the same way he did as the quarterback in that 18-point, comeback win over Washington in the Holiday Bowl. Or in that victory over Oklahoma in 1999, when trailing 17-0 early in the first half. Or in that near-comeback against Colorado in the 2001 Big 12 title game.
Only now, he's doing it by jawing with UT's linebackers in practice, telling them his running backs got the best of them in an inside drill. Or telling receiver Quan Cosby he was drifting off his route a couple times against UTEP two weeks ago. Or telling Colt McCoy not to underestimate the value of a check-down pass to the running backs.
But Applewhite, who has become a topic of discussion this week with Texas playing the Rice Owls (where Applewhite got his start as an offensive coordinator), is quick to point out he is only playing his role. For those who think Applewhite is involved in calling the plays. Forget it. But he has input into the game plans at the beginning of each week.
"I'm just trying to help the room," Applewhite said. "I told Coach (Greg) Davis when I came back, having called plays for two years and been the guy who has to call the fourth-and-inches play, you're not necessarily the most popular guy sometimes and you need guys on the staff who believe in you and are full steam ahead in coaching the game plan.
"I always appreciated it when assistants were behind me as a coordinator, pushing that agenda forward and speaking with the same voice. So I'm trying to be one of those guys that helps our coordinator and makes sure he gets his position ready to play."
MCCOY'S SOUNDING BOARD
McCoy said he credits Applewhite with stressing the check-down passes for a lot of his comfort in the offense this season. That comfort has translated into seven touchdowns and one interception through two games. Last season, when McCoy was trying to make big play after big play, he had three touchdowns and four interceptions through two games.
"What he's brought to me is the importance of the back," McCoy said. "He'll say, 'If there's nobody downfield, why are you going to try to squeeze the ball in somewhere? Maybe a guy will make a great play. Maybe you'll make a good throw. But you've got a back underneath wide open. Let him make five yards. We're second-and-five and playing ahead of the chains instead of playing second-and-10.' He's really emphasized and put a point on me to drop it down.
"We've dropped it down a lot. Teams are having to respect that and it's opened up more downfield."
Applewhite said he's only given advice to McCoy when asked. Applewhite is totally aware that Davis is the quarterbacks coach.
"Coach Davis has taught all of us, and he's taught guys from different backgrounds - Chris (Simms), who had a Hall of Famer in his house, to Vince Young, who was learning how to play the position," Applewhite said. "My job is when Colt asks me something about how did I handle this, I'll help him in those areas.
"But as far as reads or protections, that's Coach Davis. I know that as the quarterback at Texas you have 1,000 different coaches - your uncle, your dad, the guy at the grocery store, Coach Davis, the strength coach the G.A. Everybody coaches him. So I understand that about Colt and stay away and let his coach coach him."
A NEW INTENSITY
Players say Applewhite and defensive coordinator Will Muschamp have brought an intensity and energy to the staff that has spread to the team.
"Because of Muschamp and Applewhite it's been a more aggressive attitude from all the coaching staff," linebacker Jared Norton said.
Added McCoy, "Major and Coach Muschamp were ready to go from day one. They've brought the attitude back that we're going to work hard, hit each other and light each other up. The backs are exploding on linebackers when they are picking up blocks. The intensity and energy they bring to practice every day helps us out tremendously."
Muschamp went to Applewhite this week to get as much information about the tendencies of Rice's offensive players. Most of Rice's offense was either recruited or coached by Applewhite as offensive coordinator in 2006, when the Owls went to a bowl game for the first time in 45 years under head coach Todd Graham.
BECOMING A COACH
Then, Applewhite went to Alabama last season as offensive coordinator to work under Nick Saban, who employed Muschamp for four seasons at LSU and the Miami Dolphins.
"I think a lot of Major," Muschamp said. "I think he did a great job in a transition year at Alabama with what they had offensively. He did a good job with the quarterback. They struggled up front, which is hard in the SEC with the defensive lines you face. But he's a smart football coach. He sees the big picture. He doesn't look through the keyhole. He looks through the door."
Applewhite was a no-nonsense player and is now a no-nonsense coach. He said he doesn't yell and scream. He is matter of fact.
"I don't know if I've changed much," Applewhite said. "I expect the players to do what we ask. Either you do it or you don't play. My guys have all responded. They've done a great job of doing what we ask them to do. I haven't been meaner. It's just simple, either you do it or you don't."
Mack Brown said Major has the same work ethic as a coach he had as a player.
"He's a workaholic," Brown said.
All the backs - Fozzy Whittaker, Vondrell McGee, Chris Ogbonnaya and Cody Johnson - have said Applewhite stresses ball security and protecting the quarterback over everything else. The backs have had no fumbles in 53 carries this season and have high marks on blitz pickup.
"The two things that win or lose ballgames are turnovers and explosive plays," Applewhite said. "Only way you can have explosive plays is to maintain possession. As running backs, we're going to protect the ball in the run game and in the passing game because of the sack/fumbles that tend to occur. We start everything offensively from the two things that win or lose games, protecting the ball and explosive plays."
Applewhite was always ahead of his time as a quarterback. He could read defenses, which is the No. 1 thing a college quarterback needs to be successful. It didn't matter if Applewhite couldn't make all the throws. Most of the time, he kept Texas out of trouble and kept the chains moving.
Like McCoy, Applewhite was a guy no one expected to lead Texas on the field. It was supposed to be Richard Walton or Greg Cicero or somebody during Applewhite's time. It was never supposed to be McCoy, either. It was supposed to be Ryan Perrilloux.
But McCoy is now one win away from passing Applewhite on UT's all-time victory list among quarterbacks. They are currently tied for seventh place with 22 victories.
"We give each other a hard time about that," said McCoy, who has 6,377 passing yards and is on pace to break Applewhite's career passing record at Texas (8,353). "I think I'd be dumb not to use him as a resource.
"He's played this position just like I have. When you play quarterback at the University of Texas, it's like a fraternity. To have him as a coach here and having been through the ups and downs of being a quarterback, it's a blessing to have him here."
Applewhite's glad to be home as well.
"I'm enjoying it and having a great time," he said.
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