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New Longhorns OC Sterlin Gilbert will bring fast, physical offense to Texas

Despite its spread nature, the Texas native will feature a balanced attack that utilizes the talented running backs already on campus.

Sterlin Gilbert
Sterlin Gilbert
Texas athletics

Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong wants an offense that will be fast, fun to watch, and score points next season and on Monday, Strong introduced former Tulsa Golden Hurricane co-offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert, the new offensive coordinator who is now expected to accomplish those goals in Austin.

Like Strong, Gilbert made sure to thank president Greg Fenves and athletic director Mike Perrin for their support in helping get him to Texas, as both key figures accompanied Strong and tight ends coach Jeff Traylor to Tulsa on Friday evening in that last-ditch attempt to convince Gilbert to take the job.

"That situation was about commitment and it was about commitment about me getting here. And I'm here now and that's it," Gilbert said, declining to get into any further specifics about the visit.

"It's a great opportunity. It's THE University of Texas, and that's why I'm standing here today."

In describing his offense, Gilbert wants Texas to be fast, physical, have fun, and score points, echoing many of the same goals that Strong announced on Monday. But even though it's going to be a spread offense that utilizes tempo, Gilbert emphasized that it's going to be a balanced offense, noting that Bowling Green ran for over 2,000 yards in 2015.

"Those two backs we've got sitting right here on campus we're really excited about because of our run game and what we do."

Those two backs, of course, are junior D'Onta Foreman and sophomore Chris Warren, both of whom were able to create explosive runs of more than 90 yards this season.

One of the concerns with Gilbert is what was viewed as a lack of play-calling experience since Tulsa head coach Phillip Montgomery handled that duty in 2015, but Gilbert did say that he called plays when working under Dino Babers. However, he didn't specify whether that was at Eastern Illinois or at Bowling Green or at both places.

Because Gilbert spent Saturday visiting with the recruits who were on campus taking their official visits and then made an in-home visit with junior college quarterback Riley Ferguson on Sunday, he hasn't yet had a chance to meet with his new players, which is one of the next steps for him, along with evaluating the quarterbacks currently on campus. As a result of his coaching obligations at Tulsa, he said that he didn't watch any games or film on Texas this season.

So he'll walk into those evaluations without any pre-conceived notions about senior Tyrone Swoopes and sophomore Jerrod Heard, the two front-runners for the position among the four quarterbacks currently on campus and on scholarship. In his evaluations, he's looking for arm strength, accuracy, and competitiveness.

"Well, the good thing is, starting today we're in the dead period of recruiting, so recruiting is always recruiting, it's always still there, but we've got some down time right now to start evaluating and start looking at where the pieces fit and how they're going to fit and where we are offensively."

Once the Longhorns start practicing, Gilbert is less concerned about the knowledge base and skill level of the quarterbacks, but wants to see steady progression without regression. And he just wants to play the best guy, so he's not afraid of starting a freshman like early enrollee Shane Buechele.

While Texas already has an extremely talented and successful 2017 quarterback commit in Westlake's Sam Ehlinger, Gilbert went ahead and outlined the list of things that he looks for in recruits at the position -- highly-competitive, high-character winners who ideally play multiple sports. Since the offense requires throws outside the hashmarks even on simple screen passes, arm strength is necessary, but Gilbert said that it isn't the most important thing.

There was some talk about offensive line coach/running game coordinator Matt Mattox being a package deal with Gilbert after the two spent multiple previous stops together, including Houston, Eastern Illinois, Bowling Green, and Tulsa, but Gilbert said it wasn't a "cow/calf deal," although he does have an extremely high level of comfort with Mattox. In fact, Gilbert called Mattox "the No. 1 piece" when asked what he wanted to be successful at Texas.

"It's just a fit, from what he does up front to what we do from our perspective with the skill guys. It's just a fit and we've done it," Gilbert said. "This will be the third time or fourth time we've been together installing this offense."

Gilbert is close with Mattox and his family, saying that he gets his "kid fix" by spending time around his daughters when his own nieces aren't around.

At his core, though, Gilbert said that he's a Texas high school football coach.

"To be able to stand here today feels very important for me and feels very important for Texas high school coaches," Gilbert said. "I've gotten numerous calls and numerous texts from guys that I've coached with, guys that I've networked with, guys that I've known throughout the state of Texas who are very excited about this and very excited about helping the University of Texas get back where it's supposed to be."

After reportedly accepting the job and then declining it, Gilbert was asked what changed his mind and cited conversations that he had with "high character" mentors Art Briles and Babers, his former head coach at Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green. Briles was the first one Gilbert mentioned, saying that Briles always answered the phone when he called during the process, despite the fact that Briles was deeply involved in recruiting at the time.

In the end, Gilbert said that the two were "instrumental" in him taking the job.

The unprompted statements from Gilbert seemingly cast doubt on an unsourced report that Briles was bad-mouthing Texas to Gilbert before he took the job.

Among members of the current staff, Gilbert already has a bond with Traylor because of their shared ties in Texas high school football. However, Gilbert wasn't ready to speculate on which his West Texas twang is heavier than the East Texas drawl of Traylor. Regardless, the Horns certainly have themselves a pair of real country boys in Gilbert and Traylor.

Along with Mattox, who hails from a rural Kansas town of just more than 3,000 people, Gilbert and Traylor form the nucelus of a Texas offense that has to improve enough to provide the defense some margin for error in a league that features numerous high-octane offenses.