In the midst of the third quarter of the 2001 Holiday Bowl, the odds weren’t looking too good for the freckle-faced redhead to lead his team to a win.
Down 36-20 going into the fourth quarter, senior quarterback and team captain Major Applewhite furiously powered a previously turnover-prone Texas team to a 20-point onslaught, giving the Longhorns a 40-36 lead. The Huskies found the end zone one last time before Applewhite marched Texas into the end zone with a mere 38 seconds remaining, earning him Offensive MVP honors.
Eleven years later, another Longhorns quarterback would claim a bowl win with a fourth-quarter comeback of his own. This time, Applewhite was on the sideline, making his debut as co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
The Baton Rouge native comes with charisma, energy and an impressive resume. He learned the ropes of coaching as a graduate assistant coach under Mack Brown for two years. He was Syracuse’s quarterbacks coach in 2005; Rice’s offensive coordinator in 2006, when the Owls scored the most points in school history; and Alabama’s offensive coordinator in 2007.
Despite an impressive stint in Tuscaloosa, Applewhite was drawn back to his burnt orange roots and joined the Texas coaching staff as assistant head coach and running backs coach in 2008. In January 2011, he was promoted to co-offensive coordinator.
Several weeks before the Alamo Bowl, co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Bryan Harsin left Texas to take over as the head coach at Arkansas State.
Applewhite continued to serve as co-offensive coordinator but also took on the role of play-caller and quarterbacks coach.
Brown had long been coaxing Applewhite into preparation for the position.
“I told Major, ‘You need to put yourself in position as the play-caller every day, because that day is going to come fast, and when it comes, you need to be ready,’” Brown said of Applewhite’s new position.
Brown also has full faith in Applewhite’s capabilities as play-caller for his team.
“Major has never lacked for confidence,” Brown said. “When I called him and said, ‘Bryan’s going. Are you ready to call plays?’ And of course he said, ‘Yes, sir. See you in the morning.’”
The first opportunity Applewhite had to showcase his play-calling abilities came in the Alamo Bowl against a favored Oregon State team.
No stranger to bowl games, Applewhite played in four and coached in eight. But with increasing pressure on his quarterback to deliver after an up-and-down regular season, many were left wondering how Applewhite would fare, how his quarterback would perform and if the team would be doomed to a second straight 8-5 season.
For the first half of the game, it was difficult to tell. The offense struggled to perform as Oregon State racked up several touchdowns, leaving the Longhorns 10 points behind heading into the fourth quarter.
But as the final 15 minutes on the clock began to wind down, Ash began to come alive, powering two touchdowns that ultimately allowed Texas to etch one more win on its record.
Ash’s performance in the second half inspired hope that perhaps next year will be a more successful year for Texas, as Ash becomes more comfortable in his position.
Only time will tell whether Applewhite will make that difference. But for now, he knows what he has to do to get Ash to that point.
“It’s not about the X’s and O’s, it’s really about just the culture of our program and demanding more of our guys, demanding more of our coaches, and that’s where we’re going to improve as a ball club,” Applewhite said.