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'Everybody runs the same stuff, dude': Will Stein's Oregon offense depends on guts and timing
Before anything else, Will Stein and Bo Nix knew to get on the same page.
EUGENE — Will Stein had the play sheet in his left hand.
Just a few moments after Oregon’s new offensive coordinator made his debut with the Oregon media, he stood off to the side of the scrum for a few follow up questions about his time in Austin, Texas. Before Stein burst onto the national scene as Texas-San Antonio’s high-octane co-offensive coordinator, Stein cut his teeth as a quarterbacks coach at Texas and then learned how to call plays as the OC of Lake Travis High School. That’s Texas 6A football, which Stein compares to an FCS-level program.
It felt like a meaningful stop in his career.
That brought out the call sheet.
“Everybody runs the same stuff, dude,” Stein said, gesturing with the sheet. “You can put on anybody’s tape. Everybody’s running wide-cross, inside zone, counter — it’s really just about the timing of the calls. It’s about having guts to call plays in those moments and letting it loose.
“And then your prep throughout the week sets you up for success on the field, right?”
In Austin, Stein learned that the talent, trust and chemistry he has with his players and coaches had everything to do with the success of the offense.
The actual plays?
“Highly overrated,” he said. “It’s about players. And here at Oregon, they already have unbelievable players.”
Stein didn’t have to look much further than over his shoulder for reassurance. Next to him, quarterback Bo Nix spoke to a hoard of reporters during his first availability of the spring. Nix covered the gamut of why he came back to Oregon, his thoughts about the additions the Ducks made through the transfer portal and, most importantly, finding that chemistry early with his new OC.
Nix hadn’t announced his return for a fifth season yet when Stein’s hiring happened in December. And the quarterback made it a priority to get Stein on the phone, not to just pick his brain — but to do a full shakedown of what he could expect if they teamed up.
“I was a little mind blown by just his intensity and what he was looking for from a coach and an offensive standpoint,” Stein said. “He asked questions that were extremely mature and well-thought out, and he's made me better as a coach. He puts me in a position to really think as a coach, which I really appreciate.”
For Nix, after spending much of his career with Kenny Dillingham as his offensive coordinator, the point of view from a former college-level quarterback is welcomed.
“It’s different when Coach Stein has played the game,” Nix said of the former Louisville starter. “He’s played for a bunch of different OCs. He’s been in my spot in a lot of different systems. He understands how to call a bunch of different things and group things together. He can relate to me in that point of view.”
And because of that perspective, Stein knows he doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel. Behind Nix, the Ducks scored more points in 2022 than they have since 2015. Stein has his own spin on things, certainly. But he also knows that not every coach comes into a situation where their first year as a Power 5 coordinator comes with a fifth-year starting quarterback who accounted for 43 touchdowns last season.
“The 2022 Oregon offense is very similar to the style of offense I’m accustomed to,” Stein said.
Last season, UTSA ranked No. 9 nationally in total offense (486.1 YPG), No. 12 in scoring offense (38.7 PPG) and No. 12 in passing offense (308.6 YPG). He coached quarterback Frank Harris to the Conference USA most valuable player award and helped lead the Roadrunners to a 48-point performance in a conference title game win over North Texas. It was the type of season that led Stein to a big opportunity, at age 33, here in Eugene — just three seasons after leaving the high school ranks. But Stein is also quick to note that his meteoric rise has a little bit of nuance to it.
“I think it’s a little bit misinterpreted,” he said. “Yes, this is an unbelievable opportunity, but I played major Division I football at quarterback. I coached at Texas, coached at Louisville. Before I got into high school I was a college coach. And I went back down to high school to coach a kid named Garrett Wilson, who’s a first-round draft pick.”
At Lake Travis, Stein found the fundamentals of football the same. It’s about blocking. It’s about tackling. It’s about getting the ball to really good players. And as a play caller, it was about doing the work during the week to have the confidence to make the right call when it mattered. Remember, Nix is a meticulously detailed player. There’s a reason why the quarterback grilled his new coach over the phone back in December. He likes to be prepared.
And that might be why the Ducks have a match.
“Calling plays is not off the cuff. You have your scripted plays, you hit those — here’s my third-downs, here’s my red zone. You have those and you’re ready to roll,” Stein said, play sheet in hand. “It’s like the Bill Walsh theory. Bill Walsh is all scripted. Because in moments when stuff is tight, you don’t fall back to just something off the dome. It’s, ‘We practiced this play in this specific situation for this specific look.’ I’m going to call it and the players know that I’m going to call it.
“If they’re ready, they can anticipate it.”
— Tyson Alger