First, I apologize for being MIA lately. I actually recently wanted to post my thoughts about the week-long coaching search that could have been a hit TV show series (someone seriously needs to create a fictional show based around a modern day college football program. Holy smokes, that could be TV gold). But my original post was actually deemed too long (about 4,000 words), and I never got around to cutting the original piece down. So instead, I want to circle the wagons and scattershoot on some various topics pertaining to Texas football.
Now that we have that out of the way, let's do this thing.
Texas OC search
By now, we all likely have a general idea of how things played out. And thanks to some good reporting by Orangebloods' Anwar Richardson and the crew there, HornsDigest's Chip Brown and his crew, and a few various other reporters who were on the beat that week, we got a pretty good peak inside the Texas athletic department.
But during that week, as I sat back and watched everything unfold, all I could think when Gilbert was finally announced as the new offensive coordinator were two things:
1) Thank goodness this is over and ended with head coach Charlie Strong and Texas not ultimately getting turned down by a coach at Tulsa (after a second attempt).
2) Wow... The administration inside the athletic department working with football did not make the second half of that week easy for anyone...
I don't know if we will ever truly know exactly what went on behind the scenes that week. But based on what I read and gathered, here are a few thoughts I have as I look back at that weeklong drama.
1) I think I initially read this report from Anwar Richardson of Orangebloods, but apparently Cumbie was not Strong's first choice. Instead, some higher ups at Texas (whoever those fancy and apparently omniscient people are) decided they knew what was best for Texas instead of letting Strong lead the way with the hiring of HIS offensive coordinator.
This should be concerning and telling for all Texas fans. If you didn't believe it before, believe it now. There are clearly higher ups" and people with a say within the Texas athletics department that doubt Strong and his ability as the Head Coach of te Longhorns. And they are seemingly trying to push their thoughts and agenda in front of Strong's.
Whether you're a fan of Strong or not, it's never a good thing when you have multiple cooks in the kitchen; especially when those in the kitchen aren't cooks (or those making football decisions aren't the coaches).
2) Cumbie saying no wasn't nearly as big of a shock as Gilbert initially saying no. Cumbie is in a good spot now. And he's likely one play-calling gig way from being looked at for FBS head coaching positions. His next move has to make sense. And moving from a good, stable situation at TCU to instability and question marks at Texas didn't make sense for him. The risk didn't outweigh the reward. And I don't blame him.
But Gilbert initially saying no was a major red flag. His move from Tulsa to Texas is clearly a step up and a great opportunity. And sure, Texas isn't a perfect situation to walk in to. But not all open coaching jobs are. The bottom line is his move would be from coaching at Tulsa to calling plays for a Texas team that is a major brand in a Power 5 conference. As long as nothing weird happened during negotiations, it's almost certain he would be hired.
[Twitter - 12/10/15, 4:14 PM] @WesKCrochet: "Something very strange and weird will have to come out if Gilbert is not hired by #Texas. Hopefully CS learned his lesson from '14..."
By Thursday afternoon, after Texas still had not officially announced the hiring of Gilbert, my mind began to wander. As you can see, I was even thinking the hold up was Strong reluctant to let go of certain staff members. Well the hold up wasn't staff members. But, as we would learn, something weird did happen and Gilbert turned down Texas' initial offer.
My burning question (that I still don't have a crystal clear answer to) is who exactly was involved in the constructing, communicating, and offering of the contract to Gilbert? Who ultimately hashed out the contract, got it approved, and offered it? That was one of the major faults in the process that led to the initial breakdown of the talks between Texas and Gilbert.
We may never know exactly how the exchange went down and who was specifically involved. But the formal contract Gilbert was offered was apparently different than what he and Strong discussed. On top of that, like Cumbie, Gilbert couldn't get a clear answer on Strong's (and ultimately his own) job security. And those mistakes in execution and communication are things I blame more on Perrin and his staff than Strong.
3) At this point, you have to wonder exactly who is supporting Coach Strong and in what capacity. Yes, Fenves and Perrin got on the plane to go fix they mess their athletic department had made and get the deal done with Gilbert. But how do they really feel about Strong? Do they genuinely support him?
What exactly does Perrin think? He's a former football player that is no stranger to alumni and big money donors. Sure he says all the right things. But politicians also say a lot of things. How much of what Perrin says is genuine and true? He likely has a lot of people in his ear. Who is he listening to and influenced by? Does he really support Strong as much as he says he does? Or is he expecting (and at this point, possibly wanting) Strong to flop? I'm not sure...
4) And lastly, how does 2016 need to play out for Charlie Strong to be back in 2017? With Perrin and Fenves flying to Tulsa to also reassure Strong's job-security, does that mean Texas could have another 5-7 or 6-6 season and still keep Strong? Is he now safe regardless of what happens in 2016? Or does Strong have to lead Texas to at least an 8-win season? Unfortunately, I don't know that answer either.
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The year 2015 was a wild one for Texas football. On the theme of wild, it had a fitting finish with the craziness of its offensive coaching search. And in a year where many Texas fans were hoping for answers, more questions seemed to arise. But if there's one thing we should all now know, it's that 2016 will be Charlie Strong's most important year at Texas to date. The clock is only continuing to tick.
Ridgeway to the NFL
Over the weekend, news broke that Texas junior defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway has decided to forgo his senior season to enter the NFL draft. For Texas, this wasn't the greatest news they could get.
As some of you may know, I'm a big believer that the best and most consistent teams are the ones that are good in the trenches. And If the Longhorns want to be a better team in 2016, they have to find more consistency along the defensive line. Unfortunately, losing Ridgeway is a step back in that regard. He was a guy that commanded double teams and was capable of creating havoc up front. Had he stayed for his senior season, the Longhorns would have had solid depth in the middle of their defensive line. However, it sounds like Ridgeway likes where he projects to be drafted (I think he'll be drafted between Rounds 2 and 3, and thought this when the news broke), and he feels good enough to enter into the draft. And that leaves Texas with a big hole to fill.
For Texas, losing Ridgeway makes improving the worst defense in Texas football history, statistically speaking, a bigger challenge. Now Texas will likely look to Poona Ford and Paul Boyette as their starters in the middle. Behind those two guys, Chris Nelson and Jake McMillion will likely enter into the rotation more. But neither of the latter two guys have really had much playing time at all. And that just creates more question marks entering into the season.
One positive takeaway this could have as more of a ripple effect is with recruiting. With Ridgeway leaving, this will open up playing time for whoever can win the snaps he's leaving behind. And a high school or JUCO recruit could now see this as an opportunity to get early snaps and be more motivated to come to Texas.
Losing Ridgeway hurts. There's no doubt about that. But what's done is done, and Texas now has to focus even more on landing some big time recruits along the defensive line.
As December comes to a close, Texas is still in a position where it needs to have a strong finish in order to get the recruiting class it truly wants.
The dead period is still active and won't be done until January 13. So until then, the high school All-American games are the next big checkpoints for the recruiting season.
On January 2, everyTexas fan should be paying attention to the Under Armour All-American game when it kicks off at 11 a.m. CT on ESPN2. Nine recruits targeted by the Longhorns will participate in that game.
OL - Jean Delance
OL - Patrick Hudson
RB - Devwah Whaley
LB - Dontavious Jackson
LB - Jeffrey McCulloch
CB - Eric Cuffee
S - Brandon Jones
S - Deontay Anderson
DE - Rahssan Thorton
Of the above nine recruits, I feel Texas has a good shot at landing at least four or five of them. If I had to guess right now which 5 would commit to Texas, I'd say (in no order)...
Patrick Hudson (somewhat rolling the dice here that Texas pulls off the flip from Baylor)
Who knows how many commits Texas will get from that bunch, But for Strong's sake, hopefully the Longhorns at least eventually land several guys from that list.
UT Athletics Dept Academic Investigation
As some of you may already know, over the past few months the Texas Athletics Department has been under investigation regarding academics. I first learned of this from Chip Brown with HornsDigest. And I don't really know many details aside from the fact that Texas is being investigated and it likely will relate to at least football and men's basketball (more specifically a few years back). But with that said, I imagine we will hear more officially be announced sooner rather than later.
I have no clue what exactly will be found and/or what the ruling will be. I imagine it won't be good, whatever it is. Also, I'm just thinking here -- I do not have any source. It's just something to watch out for as we head into the offseason.
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That's all I have for now. Next time, we'll get into some Texas basketball talk. Head coach Shaka Smart is already making his presence felt and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a big fan of the way he coaches and approaches the game compared to Barnes' philosophy and approach. I really do feel Smart is the guy that can take Texas basketball to an elite level. And yes, I'm saying that just over 10 games into his first season.
As 2015 comes to a close, Texas fans can only hope that 2016 is the year that Texas football finally gets things turned around. If not, the Longhorns could be looking for another head coach to help pick them up out of the ditch they've been stuck in for too long.