With his team seemingly a certainty to be ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops still is doing something he never has done before.
For the first time in his 13-season tenure as Sooners coach, Stoops will have co-offensive coordinators.
The departure of offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson to Indiana to become coach was the impetus for the new configuration. Stoops named quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel and receivers coach Jay Norvell to be co-coordinators.
"It's our first time to have 'co,' " Stoops says. "Defensively, we have had 'co.' But not on offense."
Truthfully, Wilson never worked alone. Kevin Sumlin was the assistant offensive coordinator alongside Wilson. After Sumlin left to become coach at Houston, Stoops hired Norvell in 2008 with the same title. But Sumlin and Norvell were "assistants," no "cos."
"To me, there is a difference [between assistant and co]," Stoops says. " 'Co' means equal."
Stoops has given play-calling duties to Heupel, but he says not to read too much into it.
"Josh will be responsible for calling plays and we will put a plan together that gives us a chance to win," Stoops says. "In the end, it's not that big of a deal. They will collaborate, watch tape, formulate the offense, game plan. Everyone has a hand in it. It is talked about, hashed through. We all have to be on the same page.
"In the end, Jay and Josh work closely and talk through what they will put on the field with other guys in the staff room."
On game days this fall, Heupel will sit in the press box while Norvell will be on the field. Heupel and Norvell test-drove the co-coordinator arrangement in the Fiesta Bowl against Connecticut, and the results were promising. The Sooners racked up 524 yards, including 429 through the air, in a 48-20 drubbing of the Huskies.
"[Having me on the field] works out well," Norvell says. "I think it's important in our no-huddle offense to have a feel for the skill players on the field because we go so fast. We have to have a feel on the field to what is going on with guys. Sometimes, you don't see things upstairs. I think the combo of communication will be great."
Oklahoma annually has one of the nation's top offenses. New co-coordinators Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell will try to keep the attack humming. Here's a look at the offense and how it has fared nationally over the past five seasons.
Heupel's close relationship with junior quarterback Landry Jones was a big reason he was given play-calling duties. As his position coach, Heupel has a good feel for what Jones likes.
"What they are picking from on that call sheet is a product of [Jones and Heupel], and they spent all week working on it," Stoops says. "That also was case with Wilson. He would say, 'Hey Josh, what does Landry like? What do you think? Coming up in this series, what do you want to go to?' "
Heupel, 32, likes the situation. He's widely considered one of the sport's bright, young assistants, a good bet to be a head coach one day.
"The success and strength of the staff has been strength of group, guys coming together to put our players in the best position," he says, "Jay and I have had a great relationship since he came here three years ago. We see a lot of things the same. Things we don't, we talk through them and discuss it."
Heupel, who was the starting quarterback when OU won the national title in 2000, slowly has worked his way up the system. He served as a grad assistant in 2003 and '04, then spent a season coaching tight ends at Arizona under Mike Stoops. Heupel returned to Norman in 2006.
"He is very sharp in developing and relating to his players," Stoops says. "And he has respect and intensity in front of the team."
Norvell, 48, arrived at Oklahoma with an impressive resume that has seen him serve as offensive coordinator at UCLA (2007) and Nebraska (2004-06). He also has coached in the NFL with the Raiders and Colts.
"Intense and passionate," Stoops says in describing Norvell. "He has great knowledge and experience."
Like Heupel, Norvell appears destined to one day be a head coach. He already has come close, interviewing for the Iowa State, Purdue and Boston College jobs.
"Bob had had a lot of experience with co-coordinators [on defense]," Norvell says. "I feel comfortable with the way things are set up. I am at Oklahoma, a great place, and I have a lot of input on what we do. That's how I see it."
There will be a lot to work with this season.
"I am excited by it," says Heupel, who helped develop 2008 Heisman winner Sam Bradford. "We have a lot of great players, good people, foundation."
Jones will be one of the nation's top passers for an offense that returns eight starters from a 12-2 Big 12 championship squad. Jones, a two-year starter, threw for 4,718 yards in 2010, with 38 touchdowns and a 65.6 completion percentage. This season, Jones needs to become more of a team leader as he makes an expected Heisman push.
If you want to be a head coach, work for Bob Stoops. Co-offensive coordinators Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell could be the next former Oklahoma assistants to move into a top job, and defensive coordinator Brent Venables also remains a hot commodity. Here's a look at the OU assistants who have used coordinator posts under Stoops to launch head-coaching careers.
"Landry, you saw him take more strides in that role," says Heupel, the 2000 Heisman runner-up. "He needs to take full command of everything we are doing. He needs to be the face of this program. That is part of him maturing."
Jones will have excellent targets in Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills, and four starting linemen return. Tailback DeMarco Murray is gone, but expectations are high for five-star tailback Brandon Williams, who enrolled early and is going through spring drills.
"We played our best football down the stretch last season --Baylor, Oklahoma State, Big 12 title and Fiesta Bowl," Norvell says. "We feel like we can build on that. We basically have all of our skill players back other than DeMarco. He did a lot of things well. It's hard to replace a guy like that. But we think we will have more leadership with Landry, Stills, Broyles. That's exciting and encouraging, guys who have done it in big games.
"It's the job of Josh and me to work well together to help us reach our goals."