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Alabama offensive coordinator Major Applewhite watches practice at Rice University during the 2006 season. Applewhite's spread offense helped turn the Owls program around, leading the school to its first bowl game since 1961.
Courtesy photo by Chuck Pool
Alabama offensive coordinator Major Applewhite watches practice at Rice University during the 2006 season. Applewhite's spread offense helped turn the Owls program around, leading the school to its first bowl game since 1961.

A 'Major' hire
Overachieving nothing
new to Bama assistant

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com 340-2460

TUSCALOOSA — Alabama offensive coordinator Major Applewhite clearly is no Nick Saban.

He wasn't mobbed when he arrived in Tuscaloosa, he didn't sign a contract worth $4 million a year and at age 28, he is a coaching neophyte.

But if you make the southwestern trek to Texas, Applewhite may have the same rock-star status his current boss does in Alabama.

People remember the gritty competitor, the Southern boy who beat out New Jersey-import Chris Simms for the University of Texas' starting quarterback job.

They remember the 19-point comeback in the 2001 Holiday Bowl against Washington.

And they remember the overall solid individual whose play helped change the culture of Longhorns football, creating a leaping point to the 2005 national championship team.

"The guy is a god in Texas," said Michael Smith, running backs coach at Arizona who coached this past season with Applewhite at Rice. "It's crazy. We would go into stadiums for recruiting and kids would have UT helmets waiting for him to sign."

An Alabama fan growing up with a Texas-playing background and an adaptable offensive mind, Applewhite almost is the perfect storm for the Crimson Tide's offensive coordinator job.

He knows how to run an offense because he was a quarterback. He knows the environment because he played in something similar. And he knows Alabama football because he grew up cheering for it.

"He was a very intense competitor and detailed note-taker," said Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis, who coached Applewhite as a player.

"He knew everything about the game plan and why everything was going to be called and when it was going to be called."

Since 2003, no Alabama coaching position has come under more scrutiny than offensive coordinator.

That was Dave Rader's title, but he was more of a consultant.

Former head coach Mike Shula called the plays and tutored the quarterbacks. In his final year, it was this dual role of de facto coordinator and head coach that may have eventually led to his demise.

The Crimson Tide was dreary in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on only 20-of-53 trips.

Enter Applewhite.

His coaching career started at Texas as a graduate assistant in 2003 and '04. He then moved to Syracuse as quarterbacks coach in 2005. But it was at Rice in 2006 as the team's offensive coordinator where he made his mark.

Under Applewhite, the Owls offense scored 350 points, a 109-point improvement from the previous season, and made its first bowl appearance since 1961. Using Applewhite's spread attack, Rice quarterback Chase Clement threw a school-record 21 touchdowns and gained 2,188 yards.

The main reason for his numbers, according to Clement, was Applewhite's preparation techniques. Applewhite made Clement sit in the film room and study opposing defenses for hours.

"When you see things over and over again, it helps a lot," Clement said. "There were numerous times during the season I saw things where I knew what the other team was going to do and made a decision quicker because of what I had seen on film."

While at Rice, Applewhite always had an eye on Alabama. Not so much the coordinator's job — it didn't open up until Shula was fired — but more the school as a whole.

Applewhite grew up an Alabama fan. His father, Larry, who never attended Alabama, was a member of the school's alumni association in Baton Rouge, La., where Major grew up.

When talking with other players or coaches at Rice, Applewhite would often bring up some kind of Alabama historical moment, a famous player or even a specific record or statistic.

"We knew he liked it over there," Clement said. "When the job came open, I knew we were in trouble and that he could leave."

How Applewhite's offense will play out at Alabama remains a mystery. While his spread offense worked at Rice, there is a chance that the pieces for such an attack are not in place in Tuscaloosa.

Shula favored balance over imagination, and the athletes that the Tide has now resemble more of a pro-style attack.

But according to Applewhite's former coaches, peers and players, one of his major strengths is his ability to adapt. He will not insist on a certain system.

Instead, he will evaluate what he has and use the pieces in place.

"You want to create your brand and a lot of that has to do more with the intangibles, such as the discipline and understanding how to prepare," Applewhite said.

"We're not worried about volume and schemes as much as creating our own brand."

The Major Applewhite File

  • Age: 28.

  • As a player: 1998 Big 12 freshman of the year; 1999 Big 12 co-offensive player of the year; 2001 Holiday Bowl co-offensive MVP.

  • Coaching career: Texas graduate assistant, 2003-04; Syracuse quarterbacks coach, 2005; Rice offensive coordinator, 2006; Alabama offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, 2007-current.

    - Josh Cooper, Daily Sports Writer

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