Littrell: Wilson was the reason I took job

Seth Littrell was still a student assistant who had just finished his time as a player at Oklahoma when Kevin Wilson started working at OU after the 2001 season. Littrell left shortly thereafter to follow then Oklahoma offensive coordinator Mark Mangino to Kansas to be a graduate assistant, but he knew from his short time working with Wilson that he would be a man worth working for.

“I got the opportunity to be around him and I really enjoyed working for him,” Littrell said Tuesday after being named the Hoosiers’ offensive coordinator. “He’s one of the best offensive minds in the country. There was a place that came open on his staff. It was a great opportunity to be with a guy like that continue to develop as a coach. Indiana is a prestigious school in a big-time conference. It’s a great job and a great head coach to work for.”

To date, Littrell has worked exclusively with coaches who were coordinators under Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops, and this job allows that to continue. Along with Mangino, he also worked with Mike Leach at Texas Tech and Bob’s brother Mike at Arizona. Mike was his brother’s defensive coordinator, and Littrell called plays on that staff in his final two years as co-offensive coordinator.

That means he and Wilson will have a lot of shared philosophies and terminology.

“It’s a lot of the same lingo and the route structures are the same in the passing game,” Littrell said. “The passing games are very similar. But there are ifferent things he tweaked here and different things I tweaked at Arizona, but whatever it is, there are some great offensive coaches out here and we’re going to do whatever it takes to win.”

Littrell said that was key to understanding his offensive philosophy. Though the offense at Arizona was overwhelmingly pass-oriented — the Wildcats finished third in the nation in passing yards per game with Nick Foles at quarterback, but only rushed for 94.5 yards per game — he said he is willing to adjust to whatever the team’s strengths are. With Tre Roberson under center, the Hoosiers become much more run-oriented in the second-half of the 2011 season.

“You try to do what’s best for the players,” Littrell said. “If that’s running 80 times a game, you run 80 times a game. If that’s throwing 60-80 times a game, you throw 60-80 times per game.”

Littrell’s addition will force the Hoosiers to shake-up the position assignments for the coaches on offense. Kevin Johns, who was co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach, is now assistant offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Littrell was a running backs coach at Texas Tech and when he first got to Arizona, though he has been handling just tight ends and hybrid backs for the last year. The Hoosiers already have a running backs coach in Deland McCullough, but the wide receivers spot is currently open.

Littrell said the staff has not yet determined how it will handle position assignments, but that his first responsibility will be to hit the road for recruiting purposes.

“We’re still kind of deciding that,” he said. “We’ve had conversations, but we’re just going to get to recruiting.”

UPDATE, 4:58 p.m.: Wilson and Littrell actually only worked together for about 10 days between the time Wilson was hired to replace Mangino and the time Littrell left to join Mangino at Kansas. Wilson was around to help coach Oklahoma’s offensive linemen for the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day, 2002.

Wilson said he and Littrell often crossed paths, and as a former player, Littrell would pop his head in at Norman every once in a while. In his time, as a player and coach, Littrell worked with a lot of coaches Wilson trusted. Wilson said he spoke at length with Josh Heupel, who was a captain with Littrell on Oklahoma’s 2000 national championship team and the quarterbacks coach for Oklahoma while Wilson was the offensive coordinator there. He also spoke with former Arizona coach Mike Stoops, and they confirmed Wilson’s initial thoughts about Littrell.

“They just basically said that he was very knowledgeable,” Wilson said. “And he was using a pass game that was very similar to what I’ve been doing the past couple of years.”

That was important to Wilson, because he believes his team needs to be much more successful through the air than it was this year. The Hoosiers were a respectable fifth in the Big Ten in pass offense with 199.4 yards per game, but that was in large part because their no-huddle offense led to a lot of plays on both sides and therefore a high-number of pass attempts. They finished 11th in the conference in passing yards per attempt with 6.3, ahead of only Penn State in that category. Once the Hoosiers settled on freshman Tre Roberson at quarterback, they became a much more run-oriented, zone-read option team.

“We have to think a little more about the means of our passing game,” Wilson said. “Not that we have all the run game answers, but I think we laid a decent foundation there…. We’ve gotta make amends to make a significant jump in the pass game.”

Wilson made a point to say that he doesn’t consider the move of Johns from co-coordinator to assistant coordinator a demotion, because moving him to quarterbacks coach puts more on his plate.

“I’m not slighting Kevin, I think I’m upping his ante a great deal,” Wilson said. “…I didn’t look at it as ‘I need to get a quarterbacks coach,’ because coach Johns has that background and I think he is awesome. I’ve got a lot of trust and confidence in him.”

Wilson said he might wait until filling his newly open position until deciding how to split up the offensive coaching positions. Defensive ends coach Brett Diersen recently left the staff.

Wilson said Diersen left entirely of his own accord and told Wilson on New Year’s Eve that he wanted to make a move. He said he thinks Diersen is looking at other coaching jobs but isn’t certain if he has one lined up.

“He said he’d been thinking about it and praying about it,” Wilson said. “… He’d put a lot of time into it. Over a month, he said. That was what he felt was best. I didn’t have any problem. I just told him, ‘Do what’s best for you. If that’s staying, great. If not, we’ll appreciate what you did for us and march on.’ There’s no issue here with me. I wasn’t mad at him or anything. It’s just like with a player. If it’s best for you to be here, it’s best for us that you’re here. If it’s best for you to go, then it’s best for us for you to go.”

 

8 comments

  1. I feel like it is 1999/2000 all over again with Cam Cameron. IU’s perpetual problem is that it can’t stop anyone.

  2. Jim: It is not like Coach Wilson has not recruited any JUCO defensive players plus he will have a new defensive ends coach. Are people trying to run him off as some wanted to get rid of Coach Crean?

  3. First, you’re not going to find much more of a proponent of having coaching consistency as a program-builder as me, so you’ve got me pegged wrong from the outset. Second, that a random blog post comment would be “trying to run him off” seems like, I dunno, just a wee bit of a stretch. Finally, I don’t think my comment is wholly without any basis in reality, especially if you’ve been around IU football for this period since the mid-90s. I think Wilson is a genuinely good offensive mind hired as head coach, what I want to see is legit progress on the defensive side of the ball.

  4. It’s going to take years to turn IU football around. The best we can hope for is an improved record and being more competitive in each game (i.e., avoiding the major blowouts to teams like Wisconsin). Wilson needs to get coaches that are excellent recruiters as well as good position coaches.

    We must remember, IU football’s budget, while improved significantly in the last year, is still very low compared to most, if not all other Big Ten teams. Attracting and retaining quality coaches is in part, a function of the football budget. I doubt the budget will be increased until the wins start coming and the fans return to Memorial Stadium in much greater numbers.

    I like that Littrell took the job because of Wilson and and enjoyed it when they last worked together at Oklahoma. That’s a good sign. It takes a while for a head coach to surround himself with “his” kind of assistants. Unfortunately, the only way to really do it is by trial and error. I think Littrell joining the staff is a big positive, in part because he wants to be here.

  5. Podunker- you wrote that the football budget will increase with paid attendance. Are you sure? I was under the impression from some of the stuff that I’ve read here that Big Ten teams share all revenue, including gate receipts- which is why some people are nervous that some low-attendance schools such as IU, Illinois, and Northwestern might be squeezed out if ND and/or another big seller look to join the conference. Some schools have much deeper pockets than other because of alumni donations, not stadium sell-outs. Yeah, I know that ND (and Big Ten expansion in general) is off the radar for right now, but the way things are going one would have to be silly to rule out more expansion in the next several years.

  6. Revenue sharing has been how the Big Ten achieved some parity since it is based on the Big Ten Network and other TV contracts. What may also help is that the Big Ten and the Pacific Coast Conference are now working on a permanent inter-conference schedule that will promote greater competition (outside of each conference) and become an additional attractive draw for television and its dollars.
    While always important, the stadium draw is far from being the consistent resource that TV now represents.

    I’ve got little concern that a team like ND can come in as anything except an equal share partner after it kicks in its own revenue into the common pot. Changes to the formula are unlikely to be accepted by the BigTen or the PCC partners.

  7. Speaking of assistants, an interesting thing just happened down in my neck of the woods. Appalachian State is, arguably, the best program in D1 FCS. Western Carolina is among the worst. Due to their location and conference affiliation they are big rivals. WCU just hired an assistant from ASU to be their new head coach. Withing a week he had raided ASU of three more assistants, two were promotions, one a lateral transfer. These were long time guys (6+ years). Imagine Doug Mallory becoming the Purdue head coach and taking half the staff with him.

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

  8. Chet, that is very interesting. Almost sounds as if a bunch of coaches on ASU’s staff had a major problem with the boss or compensation or something. Either that or WCU just raided the treasury and bought their rival’s staff.

    Regardless, it should intensify the rivalry!

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