Oklahoma State and Mike Gundy Set to Face Former OC Mike Yurcich and a Rivalry Renewed
STILLWATER -- It was the spring of 2018 and following the bowl win over Virginia Tech in the Camping World Bowl, Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy did something he has rarely done: he fired an assistant coach. Gundy felt a change was needed on defense and he looked around, all around, similar to what he had done when Todd Monken had left his staff before the Heart of Dallas Bowl and after the 2012 regular season.
Gundy goes to statistics and looks for a coach that matches what he wants. When Monken left, Gundy shocked many by going to Pennsylvania and hiring Mike Yurcich out of Shippensburg University and Division II. Before spring football in 2018, Gundy hired Duke University defensive coordinator Jim Knowles. That spring, the now established Yurcich with one of the Big 12's highest powered offenses gave Knowles an indoctrination into Big 12 football. This Saturday they will face off again with Yurcich calling plays for Texas and Knowles coaching the top defense in the Big 12.
Both men are highly competitive and Yurcich had many pieces back in place in the spring of 2018, but was missing his starting quarterback. Former walk-on Taylor Cornelius, elevated to starter, knew the offense as well as graduated and future Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph. Yurcich and his offense went up and down the field on Knowles' young defenders. Scrimmages, even daily team periods, featured some yelling and a few four-letter exchanges flowing from one sideline to the other.
All I know is it was fun to watch. The practices, and like I said, the scrimmages that spring came with some extra intensity. By the fall, the two coaches were more civil and Yurcich, who had his own coaching curve to flatten when he came from Division II was helping Knowles understand what he was in for in the "Wild, Wild West" of the Big 12.
"Once Mike (Yurcich) made the adjustment to this level from his level (Division II), which was pretty quick, he's like most guys across the country right now," Gundy said of Yurcich. "He's a hard worker, he understands football, he's very aggressive, and he's got a little bit better each year."
Some people accused Gundy of dropping down to Division II to hire his offensive coordinator because he had lost his last two (Dana Holgorsen and Todd Monken) in a three-year period. Gundy said that wasn't true, but he did keep Yurcich for four-years before Ohio State hired him away after the 2018 season.
After one season as passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Buckeyes, Texas head coach Tom Herman, needing some improvement on both sides of the ball, hired two new coordinators and on offense he plucked Yurcich. On the Big 12 Conference call Monday, Herman was asked why Yurcich?
"It wasn't his good looks, I can tell you that," Herman joked about his first-year offensive coordinator. "I had always admired his offenses at Oklahoma State. We had talked ball when our paths crossed even before I got in the league. I thought it was a feather in his cap to go to Ohio State and learn, not just from Coach (Ryan) Day and the offense, but learn very similarly to the way I learned and how we run our (Texas) program."
Herman continued his answer by confirming something that Mike Gundy had said about the union of Yurcich with Herman and Texas football on his Zoom conference.
"It's the alignment of philosophies in that Mike [Yurcich] is an 11-and-12 personnel guy that is shotgun, spread, no huddle, uptempo," Herman added. "He understands that you have to run the football to win championships but he also understands the value of explosive plays."
"There's a lot of 11 personnel and there was more 12 personnel against Baylor," Gundy said when asked what he was seeing with Yurcich guiding the Longhorns offense. "There are some things that you see that Yurcich is involved in and then there are some things that you've seen from them in the past. It looks like they've come to some sort of a bipartisan agreement as to what they run on offense. All the quarterback power and quarterback run stuff, that is not necessarily what Mike has done in his history. That is some carryover from what they have done in the past."
Now on Saturday, we'll see Yurcich, who did coordinate some of the top offenses (5th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th top scoring offenses in school history and the top total offense in school history in 2017 with 568.9-yards a game) ever at Oklahoma State against the hottest defense in the Big 12 this season and coordinator Jim Knowles.
Texas head coach Tom Herman warns not to expect it to be like it was in the spring of 2018. This is not the defense Yurcich offense schooled that spring practice.
"Things evolve and this is a much different defense than when Mike (Yurcich) left (Oklahoma State) two years ago," Herman said on the Big 12 Coaches Teleconference. "They were young and very inexperienced and were playing a lot of zone coverage. Now that they have a lot of experience and talent they are playing a lot closer to the line of scrimmage and a lot more man coverage. They are really stressing offenses. Every year is different. I know a lot of people think that coordinators come in and throw a binder down and say, 'this is my offense or this is my defense.' Schemes change season to season, and even weekly, depending on what players you have, what they can do, and what deficiencies you are having to mask. This is a much different defense than what Coach Yurcich was facing in practice a few years ago."
It is indeed. Gundy said he is proud of what Yurcich has done. There is respect there.
"I'm excited for Mike's career," Gundy said. "He has earned everything he has gotten up to this point. He has worked extremely hard, has a lot of confidence and is a smart football coach. He was extremely loyal during the time he was here and he had a chance to move on to better himself and eventually become a head coach one day. I'm not looking forward to facing him because I know what kind of offensive coach he is, but it is what it is. We just keep rolling and it's not the first time we've faced a coach that has worked for me over the last 10-years."
Haven't had a chance to talk to Knowles, but my guess is he'll look forward to shaking Yurcich's hand. Then Knowles will be ready to join with his defense in welcoming Yurcich to a different Big 12, a different Oklahoma State, where defense is calling the shots these days. It'll be fun. Trick or treat.