It only makes sense that the Big 12 Conference provides the most absurd and prolonged dramas in major college football.
This is the conference without a long history. It's the conference hastily formed from the fragments of two longstanding leagues, the Big Eight and the Southwest Conference.
It's no wonder that the Big 12 -- which almost died several years ago; still can't seem to make up its mind about expansion; and has seriously pursued a conference championship game despite a round-robin nine-game league schedule -- constantly contradicts itself, reverses its direction, and generally looks foolish... even in moments when it achieves something.
Such was the case for the league's most powerful, wealthy... and aimless... football school this past offseason.
It was one of the stupidest, clumsiest, most head-scratching dramas ever to involve a non-head coach. The University of Texas -- tying itself in knots over its weak handling of head coach Charlie Strong -- engaged in a courtship with all the smoothness of a nerdy and extremely repressed 17-year-old. The Longhorns needed a new offensive coordinator. More precisely, they needed an offensive coordinator who would usher Strong and Texas into the spread passing game which is par for the course in the air-show realm of the Big 12. Texas and Strong were far behind the times on offense (why Texas didn't insist on a certain caliber of coordinator from the start is beyond me, but it's too late to change that now...), and they had to play catch-up.
The problem, which TCU offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie recognized when he turned down an offer from Texas, was that Strong might not last beyond the 2016 season. Texas had to convince a coordinator that Strong will have the job for at least two seasons. (Real talk: That guarantee can't be made.) As a result, Tulsa offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert became the centerpiece of Texas's pursuits, but the negotiations were as messy as the Big 12's recent dances about "One True Champion," the conference championship game, and (currently) expansion to 12 or 14 teams.
Texas was optimistic about landing Gilbert. Then the parties reportedly moved far apart, to the point that many people felt the negotiations would collapse. Maybe it was little more than an especially elaborate Kabuki dance, but at any rate, the whole saga was far more exhausting -- and far less linear -- than it should have been.
An offensive coordinator at Tulsa was courted by the University of Texas... and needed a very long time to be convinced he should go to Austin.
It's a commentary on the tenuous situation enfolding Charlie Strong, yes. It's a commentary on how little Texas has backed Strong in public, and how desperately a lot of well-heeled boosters want Tom Herman to be the Longhorns' coach in 2017. Nevertheless, this was as much publicity and intrigue as Tulsa football had encountered in quite some time.
The Golden Hurricane used to be one of the big overachievers in college football. Steve Kragthorpe, before his disastrous move to Louisville, made Tulsa into a regular winner. The Hurricane -- from 2003 through 2012 under Kragthorpe and two successors, Todd Graham and Bill Blankenship -- won at least eight games in eight of 10 seasons. The program was one of the best mid-majors in the sport, doing more with less not only in terms of recruits, but in terms of the salary paid to the head coach. Blankenship was a bargain-basement hire, and so when he won 11 games in 2012, it seemed the program had it made.
However, Blankenship -- when he pulled in his own recruits and Graham's classes graduated -- showed that he had lived off his predecessor's talent. Tulsa crashed and burned in 2013 and 2014, making it necessary for the school to find a new boss in 2015. That man became former Art Briles assistant Philip Montgomery. If you're a Briles man, you're a believer in spread passing. Gilbert was brought aboard as one of Montgomery's chief offensive assistants.
Seeing Gilbert not only leave, but leave after a period of profound indecision in the public spotlight, might not affect Tulsa at all in terms of results, but that's what we'll have to see on the gridiron. One cannot deny that the move HAS affected the Golden Hurricane in an immediate way. In 2016, Montgomery will take on the duties of offensive coordinator. It is a way of stepping into a cluttered and complicated political situation to ease fears and increase confidence in his leadership capabilities (probably an astute move). However, Montgomery won't be able to delegate as much work, and in the coaching business -- especially for someone not used to being an FBS head coach -- that can be a problem.
Tulsa becomes a fascinating case study this year. Will Montgomery be able to author a do-it-yourself narrative of excellence, or will the Sterlin Gilbert offseason drama drain the Hurricanes more than one could have reasonably imagined?
These kinds of questions will be foremost on the minds of Navy fans when the Midshipmen face Tulsa in the 2016 season.