Watson with his star pupil
After an uneventful season as offensive coordinator for Nebraska in 2010, Shawn Watson needed a new home. Head coach Bo Pelini opted not to retain Watson on the staff and he was out of a job. Enter Charlie Strong and the University of Louisville. After initially hiring former UNLV head coach Mike Sanford as his offensive coordinator, Strong decided to bring on Watson as his quarterbacks coach. He would be presented with a challenge: get the most out of highly touted true freshman Teddy Bridgewater. He instantly formed a bond with Bridgewater and just 4 games into the 2011 season, Strong decided that a change was in order and fired Sanford. It was the day before Louisville was set to travel to Chapel Hill to play North Carolina. Watson was the logical choice to step in as interim, though most people thought Strong would find a permanent replacement at the end of the year. But the bond between Watson and Bridgewater – and the entire offensive unit – was too strong, and here he sits today, the Sugar Bowl winning offensive coordinator of the Louisville Cardinals with an arsenal of weapons returning for what could be a run at the 2013 national championship. Andrea Adelson of ESPN, as usual, wrote a great piece on Watson getting his redemption and making the most of this opportunity. Here’s an excerpt:
Watson ultimately landed in Louisville as quarterbacks coach in February 2011, arriving in town a month after highly touted prep quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Interestingly enough, Watson had never worked with Charlie Strong at previous stops. But he and Strong had built a friendship bridging more than 20 years — and beginning at Southern Illinois, where Strong coached Watson’s brother, Shane, in 1986 and 1987. Shawn Watson is a Southern Illinois graduate and its former head coach.
There was one other key connection — offensive line coach Dave Borbely. He and Watson worked together previously at Colorado. Everything made sense for Watson — working with Strong and Borbely, plus the enticing possibilities of coaching Bridgewater. At the time, it hardly mattered that he was no longer a coordinator, despite spending the previous four seasons in charge of the Huskers’ offense.
“At that time, you go through a lot at Nebraska and … the best way to put it is I just wanted to get a peace about the business and coaching. I just wanted to coach,” Watson said in a recent phone interview.
He had the perfect student in Bridgewater, a player so eager for perfection he and Watson developed a solid working relationship almost instantaneously. “I thought Teddy was a talent in high school before I ever got a hold of him, so when I got here, he was coming in and I was just knocked out at the type of kid he was, how easy he learned, and a great, great work ethic to go along with it. It became a really good marriage,” Watson said.
But it did not take long for Watson to get back in control of the offense. Strong decided to relieve offensive coordinator Mike Sanford of his duties four games into the 2011 season. Eight months after Watson arrived as quarterbacks coach, he was now calling plays again. Strong made him no guarantees, but the turnaround was noticeable. Louisville averaged 18.8 points per game in its first four games; and 23.3 points per game in its final nine with Watson in charge.