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Texas OC search: Sonny Cumbie vs. Sterlin Gilbert

Breaking down the search and comparing the two candidates for fit.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

As we wait for a new offensive coordinator to be hired and announced by the Texas Longhorns, here is how I'm seeing it play out. And to be clear, this is more of my perception. I don't have any first level "sources" I'm going off of here. I'm just going off of the information that's being reported and what we know about head coach Charlie Strong's Strong's way of doing things. (Also, my original draft this morning has now been edited to reflect the latest news).

The latest today (first reported by Anwar Richardson at is that Tulsa's offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert is now in Austin meeting with Charlie Strong while he checks out the University of Texas. Since that first report, Sonny Cumbie withdrew his name from the coaching search. So what does that mean for Strong and Texas?

Even before it was reported that Cumbie withdrew his name from the search, flying Gilbert into Austin to check out Texas almost certainly meant that Strong was ready to accept a "yes" from Gilbert at the conclusion of their meeting. And we can assume that based off how Strong recruits. So when I heard Gilbert was flying into Austin, I knew that either Cumbie had said "no" or that Strong would accept a "yes" from either Cumbie or Gilbert, depending on who was the first to accept the job.

Side note: For those that don't know, when recruiting players, Strong has a process where he isn't always ready to accept a "yes" even if a recruit wanted to pick up the phone and commit. This isn't uncommon in recruiting. Often coaches will give their top targets a certain amount of time to commit before beginning to open up recruiting to other prospects. But as many of us know, Strong is more diligent with his evaluations. And he doesn't show a serious interest and recruiting effort into a prospect until he is ready to offer the recruit and then accept a "yes".

Well, Cumbie has withdrawn his name. And now Strong has moved on to Sterlin Gilbert as the guy he is targeting to be new offensive coordinator.

Is it a bad sign that Cumbie said "no"? Not necessarily. And to understand that, you have to understand Cumbie's perspective and reasoning...

1) Cumbie is in a fairly stable position at TCU. Head coach Gary Patterson is not entering the season on a hot seat like Charlie Strong. TCU's roster is in pretty good shape all around. And the Horned Frogs are coming off a season with a winning record. The only question could be "quarterback" since starter Trevone Boykin is graduating. But Kenny Hill (aka Kenny Trill -- sorry, had to) is still a guy with quite a bit of potential. And Foster Sawyer is another name to keep tabs on.

2) If Cumbie is to leave TCU for another coaching gig, it's clear he sees the potential for other options to emerge as better options than what he would be walking into at Texas. One of those options is Oklahoma. If OU's current offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley were to leave to take a head coaching gig (he's currently being linked to Eastern Carolina's vacancy) then Cumbie would likely become a top candidate for Oklahoma's offensive coordinator vacancy. And let's be honest with ourselves -- inheriting Baker Mayfield is a better situation than inheriting the question marks at Texas when comparing the quarterback situations.

3) Another likely factor that effected Cumbie's decision is the deadline for when he needed to decide. Strong needs his offensive coordinator in place before the big upcoming recruiting weekend and Cumbie likely wanted to wait to see if other options (like becoming the sole play-caller at TCU or taking over the offensive coordinator job at OU) were to become available. But Strong couldn't wait until then. He needs someone right now.

Regardless of what Cumbie's exact reasoning was, he didn't see Texas as the right fit for his situation. And I get it. Cumbie is a play-calling gig away from being targeted as a head coach. And if he were to come to Texas and have it not work out, then he'd have to take another lateral step or step back to try to get back to where he is now. Coaching is a business and a profession. It's important to always remember that.

Now, Texas and Coach Strong shift their focus to Tulsa's Sterlin Gilbert. When comparing Cumbie to Gilbert, both check off quite a few boxes...

  • From a scheme standpoint, both Cumbie and Gilbert are versed in spread attacks that utilize effective passing concepts. Cumbie is from (and played for) the MIke Leach coaching tree. While Gilbert is from the Art Briles coaching tree from his brief time in Houston with Briles and his current time with Tulsa head coach and former Baylor offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery. Ironically, Gilbert's knowledge and schemes running the football from the Briles tree may actually mesh better with what Jeff Traylor has brought to Texas compared to what Cumbie would have brought.
  • In developing quarterbacks, both have a solid resume. But the difference is the type of prospect they've developed. Cumbie most notably developed TCU's Trevone Boykin, who came to TCU as a dual-threat prospect at quarterback/athlete. And Boykin even had a stint at wide receiver during the 2013 season, not to mention playing some running back briefly. Comparatively, Gilbert most notably developed Jimmy Garoppolo, who is much more of a pocket-passer. Why does this matter? Maybe it doesn't matter much. But at the moment, Texas' Jerrod Heard, Kai Locksley and Tyrone Swoopes are all considered dual-threat players with skills more similar to Boykin than Garoppolo. Does that mean a Gilbert hire would be bad news for Heard and those dual threats? No. It's not like Gilbert won't have a clue as to how to help Heard (and the rest of the quarterbacks). But when comparing resumes, it's just a slight difference between the two candidates.
  • Recruiting wise, Cumbie has the edge over Gilbert right now when talking about the Texas job. It's not a huge edge, but Texas and TCU have crossed paths in recruiting more often than Texas and Tulsa recently. So Cumbie wouldn't have had as much catching up to do. But with that said, Gilbert can still get caught up quickly. Especially with this weekend being a big recruiting weekend. And then he has about a month-long "dead period" where he can learn all he needs to learn before hitting the road again in January to meet with recruits.
  • Lastly, Cumbie and TCU are just "hotter" names right now. TCU has been on a national stage recently. And his name is more commonly known dating back to his playing days at Texas Tech compared to Sterlin Gilbert's playing days at Angelo State. That's a ticky-tack comparison. But it's still one that exists.
I don't want to get caught up in the minute comparisons. When I look at both Cumbie and Gilbert, I see two guys that would 1) bring a vast knowledge of passing from a spread scheme, and 2) I see two guys that have been coaching quarterbacks and have both done a good job to develop a notable quarterback recently. And at the end of the day, that's what Strong and Texas need most. They need an offensive expert that can improve the passing game from the spread to compliment Jeff Traylor's run-game knowledge. And they need a guy that can find and develop a suitable quarterback to make those passes that were absent this past season.

Soon enough, Texas will have a new offensive coordinator hired. And if you're asking me, both Cumbie and Gilbert check off some key boxes that Strong and Texas are looking for and need. Cumbie may have been Strong's first option, but Gilbert is by no means a consolation prize.