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Tulsa co-OC Sterlin Gilbert accepts Texas job after previously declining it

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As in recruiting back in February, persistence helped Charlie Strong make the most important hire of his coaching career.

Sterlin Gilbert
Sterlin Gilbert
Tulsa

The Texas Longhorns have their offensive coordinator, as Tulsa Golden Hurricane co-offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert finally accepted the position on Friday hours after declining the position, capping a wild day that featured incredible swings.

This time, the news trickled out much more slowly. The Statesman was the first outlet to report that a deal with Gilbert was finally in place, but the news was confirmed much more slowly -- it took an hour for the first confirmation to emerge, but then it started to come in quickly with reports from the Tulsa side as well.

Tulsa co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Matt Mattox, who also worked with Sterlin Gilbert at Bowling Green, will reportedly join Gilbert at Texas, replacing offenisve line coach Joe Wickline.

A second, more favorable decision by Gilbert regarding the Texas job came after a visit from Texas president Greg Fenves, athletic director Mike Perrin, head coach Charlie Strong, and tight ends coach Jeff Traylor in a last-ditch attempt to land Gilbert, who had reportedly accepted the job on Thursday evening before the news broke on Friday that he had in fact declined it.

Seemingly missing on Gilbert had appeared disastrous for the Horns after getting so close to getting him in place and Gilbert's initial reticence was reportedly because of a lack of support from the administration on key contract details that soured Gilbert on the Longhorns. So the support from Fenves and Perrin was surely critical in allaying any concerns that Gilbert and Mattox had about making the move to Austin. Both deserve credit for providing what ended up being an extremely public display of unity and purpose.

There's also a report that Baylor Bears head coach Art Briles tried to talk Gilbert out of taking the Texas job by bad-mouthing the Longhorns. Seems believable.

The process started in earnest when Gilbert visited Austin on Wednesday morning, interviewing with head coach Charlie Strong just before TCU Horned Frogs co-offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie decided to stay in Fort Worth, However, it was not clear whether Gilbert had been offered the job and then things went quiet, with Strong interviewing Cal Golden Bears offensive coordinator Tony Franklin on Thursday hours before the news broke that Gilbert is in fact taking the position.

Now Strong has his guy and it needs to be the right hire for him because previous mistakes with the offensive staff have cost him his margin for error. Gilbert faces a tall task faces the difficult task of resurrecting a Texas offensive attack that mostly sputtered in 2015, finishing No. 8 in the Big 12 in scoring offense, No. 7 in yards per play, and No. 6 in play sof 30 or more yards. The national stats are just as concerning -- the Horns ranked No. 67 in offensive S&P+, No. 114 in pashing S&P+, and dead last in adjusted sack rate. Given that the two Texas quarterbacks combined to average only 7.9 yards per attempt, which ranked tied for 78th nationally.

The new offensive coordinator's first big decision at Texas will be in regards to his offensive coaching staff. For weeks now, the widespread belief has been that Traylor and perhaps wide receivers coach Jay Norvell are the only likely candidates to remain on staff. So it's still likely that assistant head coach for offense/quarterfbacks coach Shawn Watson and running backs coach Tommie Robinson will all depart with the expiration of their respective two-year contracts. With the news that Mattox is part of the deal with Gilbert, offensive line coach Joe Wickline is out.

On the surface, the biggest reason to like the addition of Gilbert is because he has extensive ties to the Art Briles coaching tree after working with Briles himself at Houston and then serving as the offensive coordinator for Briles proteges in Dino Babersand Phillip Montgomery.

What is the Briles spread? Nobis60 has a good synopsis:

Advantages:  CFB's most consistently devastating offensive approach since 2011.  Carries the potential to play Power against CFB's elite if you force honest box numbers.  Undeniable broad-spectrum recruiting appeal for every offensive position.  Can maximize 10+ carries a game from the QB position without relying on them.  Can make a lot of the QB's reads for him allowing for a solid degree of plug-and-play functionality for guys with the right toolkit.

Disadvantages:  Tough to find a real coaching tree practitioner out there.  Probably needs a minimum 7 out of 10 on pure QB arm strength to make the vertical stretch component click

Tulsa played fast in 2015, as well, finishing third in the FBS in getting plays off quickly, spending only 20.1 seconds in between each offensive snap.

And here's a deeper look at Gilbert's resume, courtesy of his Tulsa bio:

Prior to his appointment at Tulsa, Gilbert was the co-offensive coordinator and quarterback coach for one season at Bowling Green State University. In his only year, the Falcons gained 432.9 yards to rank 42nd nationally for total yards, while gaining 173 yards on the ground and 259 yards passing.  He helped coachBGSU to a victory over South Alabama in the 2014 Camellia Bowl.

Before his stint at Bowling Green, Gilbert served as the offensive coordinator at Eastern Illinois for two seasons, where in his second year was named FootballScoop FCS Coordinator of the Year in 2013. The Panthers led the nation in yards (589.5) and points per game (48.2) in 2013. In addition, EIUaveraged 372.4 passing yards and 217.1 yards on the ground.

In his first season, Gilbert directed the Panthers up-tempo offense that ranked sixth in the nation in passing, eighth in total offense and 12th in scoring. EIUaveraged 470.9 yards per game, 36.5 points and set several school records, including touchdown passes with 34. 

Under the guidance of Gilbert, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was named the Walter Payton Award winner, the FCS equivalent of the Heisman Trophy - given to the nation's best player Garoppolo threw for 5,050 yards and 53 touchdowns in 2013 and during his two seasons under Gilbert's guidance passed for 8,873 yards and 84 scores. Garoppolo was a second round draft choice by the New England Patriots in the 2014 NFL Draft.

However, if there's a concern with Gilbert, it's that he hasn't called plays in either of his last two coaching stops, so he's relatively unproven in that regard.

On the other hand, he should be an effective recruiter for Texas after several stops around the state as a high school coach at Temple, San Angelo Lakeview, Abilene Cooper, and Springtown. Gilbert grew up in San Angelo and then played quarterback for Angelo State.

In the end, there are some questions about Gilbert, but there aren't really any perfect hires out there, so Strong and the Texas contingent saving the day could be the push that Texas needs to vault the program back into the contention. If that happens, the desperate flight to Tulsa may come to be known as the move that saved Strong's career in Austin.

One can only hope.