STILLWATER — Joe Wickline and Charlie Strong were once pups in the coaching ranks together, both working at Florida as graduate assistants in 1983.
Their paths crossed many more times throughout the ensuing years, including two more stints on the same staff at Mississippi (1990) and back at Florida (2003-04). Their families remained close, even in the years where Wickline’s and Strong’s respective squads competed against each other.
Now, Strong has lured Oklahoma State’s esteemed offensive line coach to Texas. Wickline confirmed to The Oklahoman Sunday night that he is leaving Stillwater after nine seasons to take the same position on the Longhorns’ staff, following multiple reports over the weekend that he was heading to Austin.
“I don’t want anybody to think that OSU is not a terrific place to live, to work,” Wickline said by phone. “ … It was a scenario that I felt it was a good situation for me at the time — for me, right now, because of the dynamics of the way it’s set up (at Texas).
“By no means … was it an easy decision, because of just the love for the (Stillwater) community and the love for the area and the respect for Oklahoma State, the Oklahoma people as a whole.”
The loss is a big one for the Cowboys, as Wickline was the last remaining member of coach Mike Gundy’s original staff and is widely considered to be one of the top offensive line coaches in college football.
Wickline was a key force behind OSU’s offensive success over the past several seasons, developing versatile linemen that he could shuffle around to find the best possible combination to protect the quarterback and open holes for running backs.
That ability to mix and match was perhaps most evident this season, when the Cowboys lost projected starting left tackle and top lineman Devin Davis to a season-ending knee injury during fall camp. Wickline discovered the best combo in mid-October, moving Parker Graham from left tackle to right guard, Daniel Koenig from right tackle to left tackle, rotating Brandon Garrett and Chris Grisbhy at right tackle and keeping Brandon Webb at left guard and Jake Jenkins at center.
“Just sitting there for 10 minutes with him, you know that he's a genius when it comes to offensive line,” Graham said earlier this year.
OSU tied for ninth in the nation in fewest sacks allowed (14) in 2013 and helped Desmond Roland, who became the starting running back in late October, finish the season with 811 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.