By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (August 22, 2016) — One thing Todd Whitten won’t be doing this fall that he did during his prior two stints as head coach at Tarleton State is calling offensive plays.
Whitten elected to keep offensive coordinator Mason Miller on staff, and Miller has numbers that back up the new head coach’s decision. Tarleton averaged 40.9 points and 487 yards per game the last two seasons with Miller as coordinator and offensive line coach. Now he is coordinating and coaching quarterbacks.
“He has a really good offensive mind and I’ve really enjoyed working with him. I think we’ll continue to work well together,” said Whitten. “I’m glad he’s on our staff.”
Whitten was his own offensive coordinator while leading Tarleton to a share of the Lone Star Conference championship in 2001 and to the NCAA Division II playoffs in 2001 and 2004. The Texans averaged 29.3 points and 385 yards in 2004. Those numbers may pale in comparison to the offenses guided by Miller, but football was just beginning to change tempo and style 12 years ago. Whitten’s offense averaged 36.8 points and 417.8 yards in 2001, and those were considered huge numbers at that time.
The combination of Whitten, a believer in a steady run game and downfield passing attack, and Miller, a disciple of Hal Mumme and the West-Coast offense, is an interesting one at Tarleton. One they hope produces big numbers.
When asked what the offensive philosophy between the two of them would be, both answered, whatever is best for the team, and that could vary from season-to-season and even week-to-week.
“Honestly it’s whatever is best for us. If that’s getting in two backs, then that’s what we’ll be in,” said Miller. “If the best thing for us is a tight end and three receivers, then that’s what we’re going to do. You’re just being bullheaded if you do it any other way.
“One of the great things about Coach Whitten is he wants us to not worry about what we want to do, but worry about what we can do, and I like that approach,” the offensive coordinator added.
Whitten admits their philosophies differ slightly, but doesn’t see that hindering the offense.
“There’s a little different perspective from each one of us,” says Whitten. “If I can figure out throughout practice that we have a really good tailback, I’m going to be very interested in letting that guy have the ball quite a bit. That’s always been very important to me. I believe if you run the football effectively you are always a step closer to winning.
“I love to throw the ball just like the next guy,” the head coach added. “But I”m always going to be looking for a really good tailback who can be a big producer back there.”
Like Olan Coleman, who rushed for 883 yards and added another 368 receiving in 2002. He also won two national championships in the 100 meter dash at Tarleton and last spring was inducted into the school’s athletics hall of fame.
Or Derrick Ross, who came to Tarleton in 2004 and rushed for 1,560 yards as a junior in Whitten’s final season before leaving for Sam Houston State.
Not that Miller doesn’t believe in running the football. Just the opposite, actually.
“Since I’ve been here we’ve run the ball, and I believe in that 100 percent,” said Miller, whose offenses the last two seasons have combined to average 199.1 yards per game on the ground. “You’re not going to be successful unless you run the football and run it well.”
Whitten, once a standout quarterback Stephen F. Austin, has a talent that stands out to Miller.
“He’s got such a good mind and eye as far as quarterback play. He can see things before anyone else when it comes to that position, and it’s really intriguing,” says Miller. “It’s fun to learn from him and bounce ideas off each other, and in the end, neither one of us care what offense we’re in as long as it works. If we’re putting points on the board, we’ll both be happy.”
Miller says talking offense with Whitten has been among his greatest joys this preseason.
“One of the things I’ve really missed the last couple years since (current Texas-Permian Basin head coach and past Tarleton offensive coordinator Justin Carrigan) left was having someone who thought differently than me offensively to bounce ideas off of,” Miller said. “With Coach Whitten here I have that again.”
“There are terms we learned from Coach Mumme like ‘Pig’ or ‘Cat’ and I know what that means. Nobody else in the room does, but I do,” said Miller, who worked with Mumme at places such as New Mexico State, Southeastern Louisiana and McMurry and directed offenses that finished first overall nationally in Division I FCS, third in Division I FBS and sixth in back-to-back seasons in Division II. “It’s always funny, like me and him speak our own language.”
Senior Zed Woerner started much of last season at quarterback and is in the heat of a four-man battle to be the starter for Whitten and Miller this season. He believes the combination of the two offensive minds will benefit the program.
“You never know everything, so I’m sure they like learning things from each other,” said Woerner. “There are nine ways to skin a cat and there are nine ways to run an offense, too. I think they learn from each other every day and all of us learn from both of them every day. It’s a breath of fresh air, and it’s always good to be around great football minds.”
One thing Whitten has made certain – it’s Miller’s offense to direct.
“I’ll have input there. I’ll have input on both sides of the football,” Whitten said. “But I’ve been impressed by our coaching staff and they have been working very hard. I have full confidence in each one of them.”