In an introductory press conference on Monday along with offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert, new Texas Longhorns offensive line coach/running game coordinator Matt Mattox outlined his plans for the Texas rushing attack and showcased a personality that diverges markedly from his predecessor.
Over the years, spread attacks have often been categorized as finesse or gimmick offenses that lack a true running game. In the days when many Air Raid offenses looked a lot like what Mike Leach ran at Texas Tech, that was mostly true. But the Briles offense Mattox knows how to run is not an Air Raid offense and the use of an H-back and gap schemes against undermanned boxes give it a physical nature.
"The number one thing we're going to do is have a physical run game, we're going to be a downhill-type team," Mattox said. "Having multiple backs that can go do that for you is going to be a great opportunity."
Those backs will run behind an offensive line that will feature some physical and athletic players in sophomore left tackle Connor Williams, sophomore offensive guard Patrick Vahe, and senior swing man Kent Perkins. Vahe's ability to pull helped key the power/counter gap schemes that Texas was extremely successful running in 2015 and that emphasis will continue under Mattox with outside zone another play that the Horns ran well and will retain.
"We lean on some power schemes, gap schemes, some zone schemes," Mattox said. "I had a coach one time tell me that we're going to run a play and it's going to be called "Momma;" when all else fails and you don't know what to do, your girl breaks up with you, you go home and you call "Momma." And that's going to be power, we're going to run it. So that's what we're going to do, and we're going to be physical in whatever we do, whether it's running or pass blocking."
So that's heartening news for any fans who have lingering concerns about whether this offense can effectively make use of the running backs and offensive linemen already on campus.
Like Gilbert, Mattox hasn't had a chance to sit down and evaluate his running backs or his offensive line, but he did make an interesting statement that says a lot about how he approaches the interpersonal side of coaching.
"I'm never going to be mad at guys that can make you look good when things aren't going right," Mattox said.
Holding players to a high standard while employing a more gentle touch in working with them is at odds with outgoing offensive line coach Joe Wickline, who was at least partly responsible for the transfers of several highly-talented players. While it was easy to initially excuse departures as those players being poor fits in Strong's new culture, the trend was extensive enough to combine with Wickline's reported lack of engagement in the offensive meeting room and form an overall picture that was not flattering:
Tales of Wickline's tenure at Texas paint an unsavory picture of a coach who couldn't figure out which of his player's buttons were the right ones to push, all while being described as not being engaged to the point of seeming disinterested outside of practices and games.
A certain amount of revisionist history tends to take place after terminations, but that particular nugget came from Horns247 during the season and Wickline has a history of alienating players that was described by one former offensive lineman as "equal hate" for everybody.
With Mattox, the approach is almost the exact opposite.
"We're going to coach them hard, but at the end of the day we're going to love them hard, too," he said. "It's got to be about an open relationship between myself and the players and our o-line."
Anyone who has ever played for a coach who used negative approaches like screaming and yelling knows that some players shut down in those situations and other players might listen for a while, then eventually start tuning things out. It's a delicate balance that Mattox understands and appreciates.
"Having played o-line in this system, I can relate to some of the things they go through whether it's practice and that type of stuff," Mattox said. "That's a little bit about what I am going to do, but it's not going to be anything where I am just tearing them down. I don't find that to be successful with them. I am going to keep them positive and keep things moving."
Mattox believes that offensive linemen are "pleasers" by nature, so he takes that into account in his relationships with them.
"I am always trying to be encouraging and help out," he said. "There is obviously time when it's time to get things done and time to get things right. They know you are going to love them hard, and you are going to be fair this them."
On the recruiting trail, Wickline and Mattox are much more closely aligned in the type of athlete they want.
"Recruiting-wise, I'm always looking for big athletic guys that can bend and can move and that are physical," he said. "When you turn on film, you know, it's easier to pull them back than it is to tell them to go attack. So, we definitely like that and want that style of offensive lineman when they're looking for them."
Where the two offensive line coaches once again diverge is in their approach to building relationships. Wickline was often disengaged from that aspect of his job, too, but Mattox is wired differently.
"At the end of the day, you know, when you get in a room with 17- and 18-year old kids and you're talking about football, that's what I'm comfortable doing and that's what you're used to doing."
For the players already on campus, it's all about getting used to the demands of a tempo system that was the third-fastest in the FBS last season. The conditioning demands are significant, but it also forces players to remain present because there's no time to dwell on the last play.
"The greatest thing about up-tempo is you got to move on to the next play, you can't worry about the last one."
Just like the offensive lineman now won't have to worry about how mad the last coach would get at them all the time.