SAN DIEGO — Shawn Watson was available to reporters after Nebraska's practice on Monday. He knew what was coming.
Any updates from Miami, Ohio?
Of course, Watson passed.
“That's not what's important this week,'' Watson said.
There aren't many story lines in a Nebraska-Washington rematch, or even a Nebraska-Holiday Bowl rematch.
But the idea that the Huskers' offensive coordinator could be leaving to become a head coach soon is front and center.
It would be a win-win for Watson and Nebraska.
In the past month, Watson interviewed for the opening at Vanderbilt. He didn't get the gig. But last week his name popped up prominently on the radar screen for the Miami job, which came open when Pittsburgh hired Miami's Michael Haywood.
Steve Pederson opens the door for Watson to leave Nebraska? That's another story for another day.
Will that day come? And when?
Watson said he hadn't talked to Miami officials lately. When asked if the school had a timetable, he said, “I don't know. I'm sure they're going to get something done pretty soon.''
The coach then laughed and said no more questions about Miami.
Stay tuned. What we do know is that, clearly, Watson is being more aggressive than ever about pursuing a head coaching job. Vandy and Miami, Ohio, aren't jobs with candidates lined up outside the door. Watson, 51, knows that his time is soon, if not now.
He has Bo Pelini's blessing. Whether that is because Pelini encourages his assistants to expand their horizons, or because Pelini wants a fresh look on offense, is up for speculation.
Either way, this would be the best thing for both parties.
Watson wants another crack at the head whistle. He was 11-22 in three years as head coach at his alma mater, Division I-AA Southern Illinois, from 1994 to 1996.
Watson is organized, smart and knows how to recruit. He could do well in the MAC, a league he knows well and a place where Frank Solich and Turner Gill thrived. It's his time.
It's also time for Pelini's offense to evolve into something closer to what the head coach desires. That is, a physical running identity with a quarterback who gives migraines to defensive coordinators with his feet.
Watson helped NU get closer to that identity this year. Using a zone-read attack with fleet freshman Taylor Martinez, a wildcat featuring Rex Burkhead and even some inside zone game, the Huskers led the Big 12 in rushing.
They also finished last in the league in passing, in a bit of irony.
That's because Watson is a guy who admits he likes to “sling it around.'' That's the West Coast offense in him, the offense he learned from coaches such as former NU head man Bill Callahan.
Because of that offense, and because of that connection, Watson continues to have his share of vocal critics around Nebraska. Most see him as some sort of virus from the Callahan era that needs to be flushed.
Fair? Not entirely. Watson and Pelini get along well, professionally and personally.
And, to be fair, Watson did an admirable job of taking the big step toward the Pelini vision. He called several good games in 2010. Even put his foot on Missouri's throat with the power run game.
Meanwhile, he's popular with players and recruits, like Bubba Starling.
Here's why a change might do everyone good: Watson still looks like he has one foot in the West Coast and another in the Pelini offense.
One selling point to the West Coast offense is its versatility. But that, in this opinion, is the inherent problem with it: There's no bread-and-butter identity. It also tempts a play-caller to get too fancy and stray from the hammer that is currently working.
Case in point: the Big 12 championship game.
With a half-speed Martinez playing on two bad legs, and a tight game in the balance, NU's offense stalled because Watson continued to put Martinez back in pass plays. The Kid was sacked seven times. Thunderfoot Alex Henery was wasted on the sideline with a Big 12 title on the table.
When I asked Watson on Monday if he would have run the ball more in those situations, he concurred.
“To help out Taylor?'' Watson said. “Absolutely, I would.
“Taylor was struggling. You needed to help him out the best way you could. Obviously, Rex was there. But I also think Taylor needed to look at it a little bit, take a breath away from it. He got caught up in a lot of stuff going on. He's hurt. It's hard for him.''
Bottom line: In that situation, with a league title on the line, Watson went back into West Coast mode. The Sooners will expect NU to run, so let's fool 'em.
Give Watson credit for realizing what he had done. But will he learn his lesson? On Monday, Watson admitted that the Wildcat could be used more often. But will he stick with it?
It's an interesting question for Pelini. Watson's offense helped NU get to the doorstep this year, but offense has also been in the way of Pelini winning back-to-back Big 12 titles.
That doesn't mean Watson is in danger of getting a pink slip from Pelini. But he'll probably get a heck of a recommendation.
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