GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – One of the first decisions Gators head coach Will Muschamp made following the departure of Charlie Weis was to name assistant Brian White the interim offensive coordinator.
The Gators face Ohio State on Jan. 2 in the Gator Bowl, and with Muschamp placing a heavy emphasis on taking his time on what he calls a “critical hire,’’ he tabbed White to call the plays against the Buckeyes. He also said White would be considered for the position, a hire not expected to be announced until after the bowl game.
A sudden shift in direction like that might cause a few sleepless nights for some coaches, but White has been here and done this. Devising a game plan to beat the Buckeyes? No problem. White beat Ohio State four times in six tries as Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator from 1999-2005, including three times in Columbus.
Prior to his stint as offensive coordinator, Wisconsin was 2-25-3 all-time at Ohio State.
In his first season coordinating the Badgers’ offense in 1999 – he spent the previous four seasons as Wisconsin’s running backs coach – one of White’s most memorable days in 25 years as a college coach came on a cloudy afternoon at Ohio Stadium.
Former Wisconsin quarterback Brooks Bollinger made the first start of his career that day in a 42-17 romp over the No. 12 Buckeyes. Wisconsin fell behind 17-0 before scoring 42 unanswered points thanks to Bollinger and 1999 Heisman Trophy-winning running back Ron Dayne.
“Any time you win at Ohio State, it’s quite a thrill,’’ White said.
White has spent the past three seasons with the Gators, joining Urban Meyer’s staff as tight ends coach in 2009 and moving to coach running backs this season when Muschamp took over the program.
The Gator Bowl will be White’s first game as an offensive coordinator since he was at Syracuse in 2006 and 2007. With the Gators set to return to practice on Friday, White is focused on creating a game plan that the Gators hope results in a win and their 32nd consecutive non-losing season.
“Conceptually the offense Coach Weis installed is very consistent with what I’ve coordinated in the past and believe in very strongly,’’ White said. “I look forward to helping our football team play a big game on Jan. 2.’’
During his time at Wisconsin, White used a pro-style offense that was balanced and featured size over speed, often grinding up yards on the ground and time off the clock behind backs such as Dayne, Michael Bennett, Anthony Davis and Brian Calhoun.
The Badgers’ ground game was so successful that other schools invited White to visit and talk about what Wisconsin was doing, including Rick Neuheisel when he coached at Washington.
White’s final game at Wisconsin featured a balanced attack typical of his play-calling over the years. The underdog Badgers racked up 548 yards in a 24-10 win over Auburn in the 2006 Capital One Bowl in Orlando. Calhoun was named MVP for rushing 30 times for 213 yards and Badgers quarterback John Stocco threw for 301 yards.
Although he hasn’t been an offensive coordinator in four years, White has never ruled out returning to that role out if the right opportunity came along. Still, he isn’t consumed by the notion that the Gator Bowl might be viewed as a one-game audition.
“Absolutely I would love to be a coordinator again,’’ White said. “But at the same time, I’ve adopted a really simple philosophy throughout my coaching career, and that’s do a good job with the job that you have and it’s amazing what ends up happening. I’m not looking past anything other than having our football team be very well prepared for Ohio State and play a good solid football game and give us a chance to win.”
Despite a lack of connections, Muschamp kept White on staff a year ago because he saw how good of a recruiter White is and his relationship with the players.
Muschamp had no concerns in handing over the offense to White when Weis left to become head coach at Kansas.
“Brian’s an experienced play-caller, he’s a great idea guy,’’ Muschamp said. “He’s been a coordinator before, he’s had tremendous success as a coordinator before and a guy I’ve got tremendous confidence in. He is a guy I’m really excited about from the standpoint of what he brings to the table in experience with play-calling and his chemistry with the players.’’
While there is more on his plate now heading into the Gator Bowl, White said his approach to the job won’t change that much.
“The thing that people must understand is that all game plans – whether Charlie Weis is the offensive coordinator or Brian White – is that they are very collaborative efforts,’’ White said. “The roles that everybody has had throughout our season will stay consistent.’’
The Gators finished 102nd in the country in total offense (334.2 yards per game) and could use a good performance to forget about the offensive struggles in a 21-7 loss to Florida State to end the regular season.
The 2004 American Football Coaches Association Division I assistant coach of the Year, White said not to expect miracles. Instead, perhaps a few wrinkles.
“We’ll come to a consensus of how we want to attack Ohio State and playing a really good, efficient offensive football game,’’ White said. “We’re going to try and execute what we do best. That’s put the ball in our playmakers hands. Ultimately, as an offensive coach, that’s what you are charged to do.
“I’m sure there will be some new wrinkles but there will be more wrinkles from game-planning for Ohio State rather than trying to add some dynamic flair to do something different. I just don’t see that as practical or very smart.’’