Keeping up with the Big 12's 2020 silly season

Ian Boyd

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If you've been reading Inside Texas' main board or some of the occasional notes here on Flyover Football then you know we've expected Tom Herman to be removed since the Red River Shootout when Oklahoma secured their first conference win of the year in overtime. @Eric Nahlin has begun to chronicle the story over on the member's only board and it's worth a read to get a sense into what's happening at Texas at a macro level.

For now, suffice to say that Tom Herman had underachieved relative to expectations and there were many indicators (notably recruiting) that the best case was for Herman to struggle along while wasting high level talents such as Bijan Robinson and the worst case was a Charlie-esque collapse that would dig a hole for the next coach. As it stands, Tom Herman considerably upgraded the roster and situation at Texas for the next coach. If Steve Sarkisian wins early you'll inevitably hear "Herman should have had more time" but the truth is more nuanced. The Longhorns have talent and are situated to compete in the Big 12 right now (2021 is tough in terms of winning because OU will be in good shape) and high level coaching should yield some quick results. However, Herman had repeatedly shown an inability to fit the right pieces together, maximize key talents, or get his team playing fast and loose unless it was a pressure-less bowl game against a non-Big 12 team.

There's been some other developments as well, so I wanted to give a brief overview of some of the breaking news around the league.

Sarkisian in Austin

There's a few ways you could quantify the struggles in Austin of late, but one way would be like this:

5-years of top 5 Texas guardian destinations.jpg

Over the last five recruiting cycles, Texas has signed six of the 25 top ranked "guardians" per 247. If you're new here, guardians are players that man the "space force" positions of left tackle, cornerback, wide receiver, and edge rusher. Sarkisian's Alabama has signed five, which is only one fewer. Texas' ability to field top units that can blow away Big 12 competition with superior athleticism at the positions where elite athleticism really matters has simply not been there, particularly given that both Jalen Green and Anthony Cook have ended up moving inside to safety and nickel.

With the hire of Steve Sarkisian, Texas is hoping and signaling to rectify a few key areas that have held them back.

-Locking down players like Tommy Brockermeyer who chose Alabama over Texas, despite a dozen family connections to UT, due to the superior professionalism of the Crimson Tide football program. If Sarkisian and perhaps Kyle Flood are at Texas, that gap is suddenly greatly diminished.

-Attacking opponents in space. Sarkisian's dominant 2020 Alabama offense has been all about making the most of elite pass protection and elite athleticism at wide receiver to absolutely torch opponents down the field with the passing game.

The goal with this hire will be to make better use of the talent Herman stockpiled in Austin and to reload future rosters at the level Herman seemed capable of in 2018 before the "new car smell" started to wear off.

Dave Aranda resets

From both the results and rumors flowing out of Waco in year one, a change at offensive coordinator was very predictable for Dave Aranda. I didn't really expect him to push out both Larry Fedora AND Jorge Munoz along with his strength coach to boot. It's good news if Aranda recognizes problems that need solutions but typically when a coach's first staff doesn't work out well at all it's a harbinger of doom for his tenure. Baylor fans won't want to hear this but Charlie Strong's first staff at Texas had similar clashes and problems on offense and it took a while and a major spot from the Texas admin to make any headway. Ironically, that staff assembly and breakdown also featured Joe Wickline.

Does Aranda know what he wants to do on offense or how to oversee that his vision is realized? The hire came recently, Jeff Grimes of BYU.

Grimes was in his fourth year as the offensive coordinator at BYU this season when they broke through in spectacular fashion. The reasons for their breakthrough were really two-fold. First, the Cougar offensive line really came together this season and were good both in the outside zone run game and then protecting the quarterback on play-action. Secondly, quarterback Zach Wilson was a revelation and now potentially the second quarterback who will be chosen in the 2021 NFL draft. Obviously none of those pieces are coming with Grimes to Baylor.

He'll have to work out how to build a similarly good offensive line without 24-year old Mormons and to find and develop quarterbacks with Wilson's talent level. It appears Aranda wants to be an aggressive pro-style team on offense, which is now Texas' direction with the hire of Sarkisian, whether or not Grimes can get there remains to be seen. One of his staffers will be Shawn Bell, who's a veteran of the Matt Rhule era.


Bell is now quarterbacks coach while Grimes' background is offensive line. It's good news for Baylor to have Grimes overseeing the offensive line, particularly having him there rather than Bell who was offensive line coach when the Bears were awful on O-line under Rhule. I know little of Bell's bonafides as a quarterbacks' coach, other than that he hasn't done it before but did play quarterback for the Bears himself back in the day.

After thinking Aranda might be onto something special initially in Waco, I'm more apprehensive now about whether this is going to work out. It has all the tell tale signs of when a defensive coach is made head coach and can't figure out the other side of the ball. This happens to offensive coaches as well, but offense wins more games than defense.

TCU tries to figure out offense

I touched on this briefly the other day, but TCU landed Chandler Morris as a transfer from Oklahoma. This potentially telegraphed the hiring of Chad Morris to replace Sonny Cumbie.

Morris makes an awful lot of sense for TCU. Patterson has always wanted an offense that could spread teams out effectively in order to bulldoze them with a power run game, which is exactly what the Frogs were trying to do a year ago with great inconsistency. They'll be better suited for it in 2021 with quarterback Max Duggan back, left tackle T.J. Storment, and wide receiver Quentin Johnston all returning. Having Morris to back up Duggan helps as well, Morris can run as well and brings a strong arm to the mix.

The Frogs need to make a strong move heading into 2021. Oklahoma State is strangely going to be in stronger shape next year than they were for 2020 due to improved depth and solutions along the offensive line, likely improvements at quarterback, the emergence of the next wave of skill talents (Brennan Presley, LD Brown), and the fact Chuba Hubbard looked worn down and less effective in 2020. Texas is liable to be considerably more dangerous with a new hire considered one of the finer offensive minds in the game, Iowa State has most errbody back including PFPurdy, West Virginia returns all their key pieces on offense, Kansas State does as well while welcoming back Skylar Thompson, and returning champions Oklahoma figure to improve by a potentially terrifying margin as well.

It's a tough year to be in a "one last hurrah!" sort of season, competition will be fierce and the Horned Frogs' schedule is tough. They draw Cal and SMU in the non-conference portion and draw K-State, Iowa State, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State on the road next season. Patterson needs to really nail this upcoming offseason if he wants to go out with a bang.
 

stilesbbq

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Which of these staff makeovers are most and least likely to succeed?

Interestingly, I think TCU Baylor and UT had staffs that spoiled otherwise formidable talent
 

Ian Boyd

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Which of these staff makeovers are most and least likely to succeed?

Interestingly, I think TCU Baylor and UT had staffs that spoiled otherwise formidable talent
I'd say Sark is most likely to succeed, especially if he's able to bring Kyle Flood with him. Then I'd go Chad Morris at TCU, there's a good set up there for someone like him. Then Baylor, where I'm concerned Aranda doesn't have a firm hand on the wheel.
 

drilled

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I’m generally unimpressed with Morris, but your observation that he’s a good fit for TCU (both Patterson’s desires and the talent available) makes a lot of sense. It might be a successful pairing.

I’m much more bullish about Aranda’s moves. Basically, I see Grimes success at BYU more glass half full than you. Sure, Wilson is super special, but they ran a good offense. Early in the year, it seemed like Romney was the main receiving threat; by the end (at least the last game I saw), they were getting production from many receivers. Also, he should get some credit for Wilson’s development, and unleashing his skill set.
 
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5taylorhorns

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Great read, @Ian Boyd. Since today's game is won mostly on offense, do you think the benefits of having your HC be an offensive mind/OC outweigh the disadvantages? For example, a disadvantage could be that your premier offensive mind is stretched too thin managing the program, but an advantage could be that you don't have to worry about your premier offensive mind getting poached and experiencing a significant offensive drop off a la Joe Brady-less LSU or Kiffin-less FAU. (LSU may not be a great example with all the talent they lost as well but it was the first that came to mind)

Additionally, do you foresee the trend that most HC's are offensive guys and less so CEO or defensive guys continuing down the road at most major programs? We can already see examples of the blue bloods following the script (Stoops -> Riley, Meyer -> Day, Saban -> Sark pre-UT hire)
 
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Ian Boyd

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Great read, @Ian Boyd. Since today's game is won mostly on offense, do you think the benefits of having your HC be an offensive mind/OC outweigh the disadvantages? For example, a disadvantage could be that your premier offensive mind is stretched too thin managing the program, but an advantage could be that you don't have to worry about your premier offensive mind getting poached and experiencing a significant offensive drop off a la Joe Brady-less LSU or Kiffin-less FAU. (LSU may not be a great example with all the talent they lost as well but it was the first that came to mind)

Additionally, do you foresee the trend that most HC's are offensive guys and less so CEO or defensive guys continuing down the road at most major programs? We can already see examples of the blue bloods following the script (Stoops -> Riley, Meyer -> Day, Saban -> Sark pre-UT hire)
I think hires have always trended offensive.

And arguably the program that has done the most to drive offensive innovation and aggressiveness this century has been the Bob Stoops-led Oklahoma Sooners, so you never know.
 
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kevinbelt

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I don't know the answer to the first part, but as for the second part about blue bloods promoting offensive coordinators, those are three pretty different situations. At OSU, the Zach Smith thing took a lot out of Urban Meyer and Ryan Day just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I don't have insider knowledge of Oklahoma, but it certainly seems like they promoted Riley as a way to prevent him from being poached. (This isn't just an offensive thing - it's what Indiana did when they fired Kevin Wilson and promoted Tom Allen.) And Sark is a case that doesn't happen very often: he had already been a Power 5 head coach and likely would have remained one except for his personal issues. Alabama had the good fortune to buy a good stock when the price was artificially low. Looking at a list of coordinators, the aforementioned Kevin Wilson and DJ Durkin are the only two Power Five guys who fit that same profile at the moment, and both have player mistreatment issues (a bit of an understatement for Durkin) in their past that'll probably disqualify them from a lot of openings. And neither was a head coach at a blue blood like Sark. So I'm not sure you can really consider that a trend.
 

oso_serious

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Baylor adds Ryan Pugh (Troy OC) as OL coach
Chanci Stuckey (Clemson player development) as WR coach
And Vic Viloria (LSU Associate S&C) as S&C

Excited about the combo of Grimes and Pugh, I think their vision on offense meshes well with Aranda and Roberts' defense.

Not as sure on Viloria and especially Stuckey, but he's young and will hopefully turn out to be a plus recruiter at the very least.

How do yall think Grimes' offense will translate to the landscape of the B12 as a whole, and to Baylor's personnel specifically?
 

travisroeder

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I'd say Sark is most likely to succeed, especially if he's able to bring Kyle Flood with him. Then I'd go Chad Morris at TCU, there's a good set up there for someone like him. Then Baylor, where I'm concerned Aranda doesn't have a firm hand on the wheel.
I'm kind of the opposite of you on Aranda, I think. I was very worried about him mid-season when I was getting info about the turmoil on the staff and among players. The most worrying thing he could've done this offseason, IMO, would've been to fire Fedora, hand the keys to Munoz, and not change much else.

While you're worried about him making wholesale changes, I'm not. I think it's a good sign that he said "the solution isn't just to choose one of Fedora or Munoz, it's to fire them both cause they both are bad." And he also fired the S&C coach who he inherited from Rhule.

A first time head coach's staff is always going to be his worst. It may not work out with Aranda, but I think him making wholesale changes on offense are a positive sign. People were worried that because he was so soft-spoken he wouldn't have the cajones to fire his friends.
 

oso_serious

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I'm kind of the opposite of you on Aranda, I think. I was very worried about him mid-season when I was getting info about the turmoil on the staff and among players. The most worrying thing he could've done this offseason, IMO, would've been to fire Fedora, hand the keys to Munoz, and not change much else.

While you're worried about him making wholesale changes, I'm not. I think it's a good sign that he said "the solution isn't just to choose one of Fedora or Munoz, it's to fire them both cause they both are bad." And he also fired the S&C coach who he inherited from Rhule.

A first time head coach's staff is always going to be his worst. It may not work out with Aranda, but I think him making wholesale changes on offense are a positive sign. People were worried that because he was so soft-spoken he wouldn't have the cajones to fire his friends.
I think I can see both sides, but just waiting for reports from this spring and then next season to judge these moves. Cautiously optimistic for the offense moving forward, but then again I felt the same way about Fedora and Munoz and we all saw how that turned out.

I'm a huge fan schematically of the wide zone run game paired with pro spread passing so Grimes was one of my dream hires, but we'll need a big jump in OL play and for Zeno (or Shapen or Drones) to pick things up quickly. If you can't keep up with OU on the scoreboard or keep their offense off the field then it's hard to compete in this league.

Slightly off topic but related to my previous question, how does the wide zone/pro spread offense match up against flyover D?
 
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Ian Boyd

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I'm kind of the opposite of you on Aranda, I think. I was very worried about him mid-season when I was getting info about the turmoil on the staff and among players. The most worrying thing he could've done this offseason, IMO, would've been to fire Fedora, hand the keys to Munoz, and not change much else.

While you're worried about him making wholesale changes, I'm not. I think it's a good sign that he said "the solution isn't just to choose one of Fedora or Munoz, it's to fire them both cause they both are bad." And he also fired the S&C coach who he inherited from Rhule.

A first time head coach's staff is always going to be his worst. It may not work out with Aranda, but I think him making wholesale changes on offense are a positive sign. People were worried that because he was so soft-spoken he wouldn't have the cajones to fire his friends.
If everyone he hired was bad...that’s not a good sign, right? That’s my point.

Quick adjustment is better than a late one or no adjustment but why was the original vision so far off the mark?
 
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Wings N Girls

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I'd say Sark is most likely to succeed, especially if he's able to bring Kyle Flood with him. Then I'd go Chad Morris at TCU, there's a good set up there for someone like him. Then Baylor, where I'm concerned Aranda doesn't have a firm hand on the wheel.
What are your thoughts on Sark? I’d love some “inside the gameplan” going over his offenses and why he’s such a good offensive mind. He definitely seems like one of the finer offensive minds in the game and will scheme guys open and give us an advantage we haven’t had in that way, seems like a recruiting demon, and he seems to have to humility to know his place and how to hire an excellent staff to delegate. Kyle Flood seems likely, as does Wiggins, which I don’t know a ton about. Gideon seems like a really good hire. I pray we get banks but have heard that to be unlikely. It seems like Sark knows what he is doing with staff though. He called up Muschamp and Odom, and although neither appears to be coming I find that encouraging that he’s going for the elite guys.
 

Ian Boyd

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What are your thoughts on Sark? I’d love some “inside the gameplan” going over his offenses and why he’s such a good offensive mind. He definitely seems like one of the finer offensive minds in the game and will scheme guys open and give us an advantage we haven’t had in that way, seems like a recruiting demon, and he seems to have to humility to know his place and how to hire an excellent staff to delegate. Kyle Flood seems likely, as does Wiggins, which I don’t know a ton about. Gideon seems like a really good hire. I pray we get banks but have heard that to be unlikely. It seems like Sark knows what he is doing with staff though. He called up Muschamp and Odom, and although neither appears to be coming I find that encouraging that he’s going for the elite guys.
Forthcoming.
 

Ian Boyd

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It'll be great to not hear "WE ARE GONNNA RUN INSIDE ZONE AND YOU ARE GOING TO LIKE IT. OUR STUFF IS BETTER THAN ANY OTHER STUFF. NO ONE HAS THE GALAXY BRAIN TE SCREENS WITH WALK-ON WRS BLOCKING THAT WE DO IN MY BIG BINDER." anymore.
Alabama was running some now screens for the TE against Notre Dame in the semifinal, haha. It was effective because the Irish were like, "yeah sure, you can have that."
 

travisroeder

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If everyone he hired was bad...that’s not a good sign, right? That’s my point.

Quick adjustment is better than a late one or no adjustment but why was the original vision so far off the mark?
Oh yeah, fair enough. It was a wild swing and a miss from the get go, and that is certainly worrisome.

My point is more narrow: given the ****storm he generated himself, he did the absolute right thing in cleaning house instead of trying to piecemeal it back together.
 

Ian Boyd

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Oh yeah, fair enough. It was a wild swing and a miss from the get go, and that is certainly worrisome.

My point is more narrow: given the ****storm he generated himself, he did the absolute right thing in cleaning house instead of trying to piecemeal it back together.
Yeah, it’s possible he’ll get this on track. Normally when I’ve seen initial staffs go sideways though it has been a harbinger of doom.
 
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oso_serious

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That's right. I think it's fair to give some leniency since it was his first time as a HC. But I think we'll know by the end of 2021.
I think the timing of the hire and then the COVID impact also played into the absolute train wreck we witnessed this season. It's also not as if he hired a staff full of retreads or unproven offensive minds.

A lot of us, myself included, were either applauding his hires or at least cautiously optimistic about the direction the offense was heading. We tend to judge a lot of decisions based on the results they produce, and there is certainly a reason we do that, but sometimes decent or even good decisions can produce poor results due to unforeseen circumstances or situations outside our control.

Aranda admitting that it wasn't working and wasn't going to work and choosing to do something about it is a positive in my book. The jury is definitely still out, but I think his moves this offseason have been solid.