MY TAKE: WHY STERLIN GILBERT CAN SAVE TEXAS' OFFENSE ... AND CHARLIE STRONG'S JOB

HD's Chip Brown gives his take: Charlie Strong has his answer at offensive coordinator staring him in the face.

All Charlie Strong has to do is turn to Tulsa co-offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert, an Art Briles' disciple, and the Texas Longhorns - ranked eighth of 10 teams in the Big 12 in scoring (26.4 points per game) and dead last in passing (145.9 ypg) - will officially join the league's offensive arms race.

Five of the nation's top scoring offenses this season are from the Big 12, including top-ranked Baylor (48 ppg).

It was as a graduate assistant under Briles at Houston in 2005 that Gilbert honed his offensive philosophy.

Strong interviewed TCU co-OC/QB coach Sonny Cumbie on Sunday and Monday, offering Cumbie the job, multiple sources told HornsDigest.com. But talks broke down late Tuesday, the sources said.

Cumbie elected to stay at TCU, and Gilbert was flown to Austin to meet with Strong on Wednesday morning. HornsDigest.com reported Saturday that Strong planned to interview both Cumbie and Gilbert.

Cumbie was part of the transformation at TCU (with play-caller Doug Meacham) that Strong is hoping to emulate at Texas.

Cumbie and Meacham took an offense on a 4-8 team that averaged 25.1 points per game in 2013 and turned it into one that averaged 46.5 points per game for a 12-1 team in 2014. Cumbie had also proven himself as a top recruiter in Texas, helping get commitments in 2016 from QB Brennen Wooten and in 2017 from 5-star Shawn Robinson.

But it can be argued Gilbert is a better fit offensively for who Strong is and what Strong wants from his offense: to run the ball.

Briles' version of the spread greatly values the importance of a traditional running game that uses tight ends and a fullback - the way Texas did with Jeff Traylor's help this season. The spread Gilbert coaches also emphasizes the vertical passing game and values speed at receiver.

That commitment to the running game is not always a staple of the Mike Leach/Air Raid, which, in its truest form, uses the pass to set up the run.

Those who have worked with Gilbert, whose hire would be hailed by Texas high school coaches, say Gilbert is as passionate, confident and competitive an offensive coordinator as you could possibly want  - and that pertains to the recruiting trail as well.

Colleagues of Gilbert say he hasn't had a brand like Texas to take to the recruiting trail the way Cumbie has had in recruiting for Texas Tech and TCU.

Gilbert oozes an I-know-my-offense-kills confidence, which is contagious to the players he coaches. And he's good with a two-year, guaranteed contract, I'm told.

I'm also told Gilbert and Texas run-game coordinator Jeff Traylor are familiar with each other and would work well together. Keep an eye on Tulsa co-OC/offensive line coach Matt Mattox as a possible staff addition.

Those who operate the Briles' version of the spread say Gilbert will need his own, hand-picked offensive line coach and his own, hand-picked receivers coach to teach the "philosophy" of his offense with the confidence it needs to be taught.

Strong will have to completely turn things over offensively to Gilbert, who is in his early 30s, the same way Strong would have with Cumbie, 34, (and the same way Gary Patterson did with Cumbie and Meacham at TCU). For Strong, that means changing the way Texas currently practices in order to maximize the speed and tempo of the offense.

Gary Patterson, a defensive minded coach who used to cherish a ground-and-pound, play-action mindset, told me at Big 12 Media Days in 2014 turning over the offense to Cumbie and Meacham was "outside of my personality."

"It's a changing of the culture of your program - not just a changing of the offense," Patterson said. "But it really helped us in recruiting offensive players (in the 2014 class) and will continue to.

"I gave them full reins, and I watched and evaluated. I think people are looking to see if you can still play defense and practice the way you need to practice for the Air Raid and yet still be physical in practice.

"If we can bottle this, I think it gives you a formula to be highly successful."

Since making the change in offensive philosophy, TCU is 22-3 while averaging 44.1 points per game and has been residing primarily in the Top 10. 

Gilbert, who has extensive ties to Texas, helped run the offense for Tulsa coach (and former Baylor OC) Philip Montgomery this season and spent three years as co-OC/QB coach under Dino Babers at Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green.

Gilbert gained the reputation as a rising star offensive coordinator while OC/QB coach under Babers at Eastern Illinois in 2012 and 2013, helping to develop QB Jimmy Garappolo into an NFL draft pick.

In 2013, Gilbert's second year at EIU, the offense led FCS in yards (589.5 - 372.4 passing/217.1 rushing) and points per game (48.2) while earning honors as FCS coordinator of the year.

Garappolo won the 2013 Walter Payton Award (FCS' version of the Heisman Trophy) after passing for 5,050 yards and 53 touchdowns. In two seasons under Gilbert, Garappolo threw for 8,873 yards and 84 TDs.

This past sesaon at Tulsa, Gilbert helped the Golden Hurricane average 35.9 ppg in a 7-5 season as junior QB Dane Evans completed 63 percent of his passes while throwing for 3,958 yards with 22 TDs and 8 INTs.

In 2014, Gilbert was co-OC/QB coach for Bowling Green's Dino Babers, averaging 30.0 ppg and 433 yards per game (173 ypg rushing/260 ypg passing) in an 8-6 season. Babers called the plays.

Gilbert was an all-state high school QB from San Angelo who went on to all-conference honors at Division II Angelo State. He started his coaching career as an assistant at Temple, Abilene Cooper and Springtown before getting a head-coaching gig at San Angelo Lake View, where he was named West Texas High School coach of the year in 2008.

Gilbert's offense is a philosophical change for Texas and needs to be taught by an offensive staff who live and breathe it. And those close to Gilbert say he likes Texas' personnel, including its current QBs, and that Strong and Texas fans will be surprised how quickly Gilbert will be able to transform it into a high-scoring machine.

All Strong has to do to save his job at Texas is hire Gilbert and give him whatever he wants to be successful - and then watch the points start piling up. Letting Gilbert get away could have devastating consequences.


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