Inside the Gameplan: UT’s next OC

Charlie Strong. (Will Gallagher/IT)
Charlie Strong. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Ever since Mack threw Greg Davis under the bus to save his own skin, the Texas OC job has been a revolving door. First the ‘Horns brought in Bryan Harsin, who was arguably an upgrade but that simply meant that his departure was nearly inevitable and it proved to come very early.

Then Mack finally turned to his young apprentice, Major Applewhite, who was frankly over-eager and got his only good QB knocked out of football.

Charlie Strong has now had two chances to hire a QB coach and OC that could handle the pressure and current situation at Texas and leverage the state’s absurd resources to produce a good signal caller that could lead the Longhorns against an offensive-minded Big 12.

In his first attempt, he brought over the QB guru that enabled Strong’s Louisville program to take off and earned Charlie his opportunity at Texas, Shawn Watson. It’s worth noting that Mike Sanford was the first OC at Louisville and then Charlie demoted him and elevated Watson midseason.

Charlie decided to position himself to repeat his Louisville trick when Watson’s QB collapsed at the end of 2015 by hiring Jay Norvell, the recently fired Co-OC of an OU offense that had fallen off due to an inability to develop QBs, as a back-up option at OC. Obviously this hasn’t worked.

So what does Charlie need to do with the next OC hire to get this thing going? I’m going to discuss the competencies Texas needs to look for and then hit on a few of the major candidates so that your savages can form teams and rip each other to shreds.

The necessary competencies for the next Texas Offensive Coordinator

The Longhorns absolutely have to get someone who can double as the QB coach and develop the talent on campus, such as it is, and be great at evaluating and developing future talents that will be coming to Texas.

Making the most of the talent on campus is basically what sunk Watson as his system for developing and deploying QBs did not translate to success for Tyrone Swoopes and hasn’t yet panned out with Jerrod Heard.

The failure of Texas to bring in some QBs that were close to being ready to help has been totally baffling. When Texas failed to get Jake Hubenak or any other JUCO or graduate transfer I cautioned that being dependent on either Swoopes making a huge leap or Heard being ready as a redshirt freshman was a very precarious situation. Well?

Jerrod Heard. (Justin Wells/IT)
Jerrod Heard. (Justin Wells/IT)

The high school recruiting choices were also confusing up to the 2016 class and the signing of Shane Buechele. In the midst of turmoil and doubt about whether Ash would be healthy or Swoopes functioning, Texas made it a point to recruit a raw OOS QB who will probably end up as a TE at Michigan. When neither he nor a more college-ready option were landed, Texas ended up with another raw out-of-state option that’s likely to end up at WR and a raw, nearly grey-shirted player.

In a state that regularly produces QBs well versed in spread concepts, Texas has failed to stumble upon an easy solution for a position that just needs to master some basic competencies.

Failure to get Baker Mayfield in all of this is a particularly frustrating part of the story but the blame there lies more with Mack and his staff who turned him down out of high school because they had five QBs and then shut down communication when Papa Mayfield told them none of those five QBs could even start at Lake Travis.

At any rate, the next QB coach at Texas will need to be able to make something of Swoopes (too late), Heard, Locksley, Buechele, Merrick, or a JUCO (hopefully). For the future, they’ll need to be good at identifying and landing the big-time talents within the state as well as the 3-star kids that often end up being the best players.

I don’t care that Florida Atlantic was his best offer, Texas’ failure to know what they had under their nose in Baker Mayfield is inexcusable.

Another crushing blow to the Shawn Watson era was lack of staff cohesion in the offensive meeting room. Strong seems to prefer a methodical pro-style approach to offense that can control the ball, run clock, and be multiple. The problem was that not only were the QBs on campus ill-suited to this task, but so was the staff he hired to support Watson.

Wickline’s specialty is building OL for the spread and his career took off working with Air Raid coordinators. Les Koenning was from the Urban Meyer school of offense that utilizes entirely different concepts. Then Watson was asked to oversee a move to the spread with new staff Jay Norvell and Jeff Traylor, both of whom are ambitious and know much more about the offense than their boss did.

The next OC at Texas, in addition to being a great QB coach, needs to be someone with command of a system they can teach and oversee.

Jeff Traylor. (Will Gallagher/IT)
Jeff Traylor. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Guys like Norvell and Traylor need to be bought-in to that coach’s leadership and his system.

Strong will build a tough culture, bring in talented players, and effectively challenge his offense but he’s not a guy that’s going to be valuable for helping an OC oversee installation and deployment of a system. The OC needs to set the vision for the offense and have the leadership to see it through.

Some of the candidates

There are lots of popular names floating out there right now, basically anyone who’s currently the coach of a good offense is going to get consideration on message boards. Charlie is probably going to tend to rely more on his connections to find someone he can trust but then Perrin and the powers that be will probably have a firm helping hand in all of this as well. Since we’ve yet to see Strong hire a great OC as the head coach of a program, I’d say a firm helping hand is appropriate.

This is Texas, after all, if the program can’t shore up Strong’s weaknesses to result in an elite product then we shouldn’t assume that the next coach wouldn’t also have some difficulties.

Sonny Cumbie, Co-OC at TCU (QBs)

Cumbie has never risen higher than the level of a Co-OC, but it’s likely that the next hire will have that title and “share” the job with Jay Norvell. That doesn’t matter, what matters is that the new hire excel at developing QBs and brings a system that he can lead.

Cumbie’s system is the Air Raid and he’s coached the Neal Brown version (a classical approach), the Kingsbury version (little bit more run game), and now the TCU edition, which is a balanced and precise attack.

Unless Doug Meacham is responsible for everything good about the TCU offense from week to week, Cumbie excels at game planning and making the most of the Frog roster. Thanks to Boykin’s brilliance and flexible tactics the Frogs have been able to put a lot of points on the board from week to week with a few different skill players serving as the main components.

The way in which they’ve unleashed true freshman Kavontae Turpin should really stand out to a program that hasn’t been able to figure out how to get the most from an uncountable number of similar athletes over the years.

Cumbie has been a QB coach for three years now but in that time he’s flashed some real aptitude for the job. His coaching allowed Tech to field a great offense in 2013 with Baker Mayfield, Michael Brewer, and Davis Webb all seeing action at the position and Mayfield and Webb were true freshmen. Then he turned Boykin into a star QB, which everyone already knows.

What could he do with the Texas roster? Well, you have to assume that he’d get the most of Heard as a passer but there are questions about exactly what that even means. He’s also shown the ability to work with raw players like Jerod Evans (fingers crossed) and to set up freshman like Shane Buechele for success.

The sales pitch for Cumbie is basically: The guy who taught Boykin to play QB like a Heisman! + Air Raid +Texas roster + Charlie defense = WINS!

He’s also familiar with recruiting Texas, indeed it’s where he’s been for his entire career.

Sterlin Gilbert, Co-OC at Tulsa (QBs and WRs)

Gilbert got his start as a Texas HS coach and did work at Temple, San Angelo Lake View, and Abilene Cooper for those who are HS football enthusiasts. His college career has consisted of him coaching with and following around guys from the Art Briles coaching tree (Dino Babers for three years and now Phillip Montgomery) and running Briles’ “veer and shoot” offense.

That started at Eastern Illinois with Babers, where Gilbert coached Jimmy Garappolo, who may be the most successful pro QB to have come from the Briles system.

His Tulsa team is currently 5-5, which will see him disqualified by some hoopleheads, but Gilbert’s offense has scored a lot of points this year in only year one in a system rich with option reads and option routes.

Like Cumbie’s Air Raid, this system requires a real passing QB, which means that unless Heard is up for making a leap that Texas would probably need a JUCO or to start Buechele. This system also puts more of a premium on arm strength than the Cumbie Air Raid because the wide splits require a QB that can throw over greater distances.

The run game attached to this system is more of a gap-oriented approach that would jive well with Vahe and Williams’ talent.

Unlike Cumbie, Gilbert has not worked as an OC apart from a head coach that also knows the system of offense being run.

Tim Beck, Co-OC at Ohio State (QBs)

Beck has been in the spread-option game for some time, knows the Mangino and Urban Meyer offenses, has Texas HS roots, and is a guy that Charlie is likely to have connections to through Urban.

This would be the second time that Beck has replaced Watson as a result of the defensive-minded HC seeking to get someone more suited to coaching a dual-threat QB. That’d be humorous.

Beck’s specialty is building offenses around the zone read and mixing up H-back or RB blocking angles or attaching pass options (RPOs) to get the most out of the concept. At Nebraska he focused on outside zone and has made that a bigger part of the Ohio State approach where inside zone ruled the day under Herman. Texas has good personnel for either but mixing in plenty of power/counter schemes would be more than advisable given Vahe’s stunning aptitude for the play.

In terms of getting the most from Tyrone Swoopes, Jerrod Heard, or Jerod Evans if Texas goes that route, Beck is a hire that makes a good deal of sense. He got good mileage out of Taylor Martinez and Tommy Armstrong at Nebraska and neither were savants throwing the football.

In terms of getting the most from guys like Shane Buechele, Sam Ehlinger, or the other more passing-oriented QBs that tend to come from within the state, this is not a hire remotely as exciting as Gilbert or Cumbie. Given Strong’s need for someone that can come in and install something workable with the current personnel, Beck is a hire that simply makes a lot of sense from the head coach’s perspective.

It’d basically be hiring a QB coach and OC whose expertise lies in what Texas is already doing with Jerrod Heard at the helm.

Of course there are many more options out there but these are some that are likely to be discussed and brought up over the next few weeks. Up to now, Strong has tended to take the long-view with his various moves aiming mostly at “building through the draft” with high school recruits and looking to engrain his process on defense while trusting Watson to make things work on offense.

Gilbert or Cumbie would be great long-term hires that might get Texas playing an exciting brand of football if given enough time to work with…but Charlie Strong probably does not have a lot of time, so keep an eye on Beck.

History major, football theorist.