As new Texas Longhorns offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert attempts to replicate the success of mentor Art Briles and forge his own identity as a playcaller, the ability of his close friend and longtime coaching partner Matt Mattox to fashion the offensive line in his own identity will play a critical role in Gilbert's ultimate legacy in Austin.
Like Gilbert, Mattox doesn't have to look far up I-35 for the ideal coach to emulate.
Ask any casual Big 12 fans about the reasons for Briles' success with the Baylor Bears and the name of offensive line coach Randy Clements is unlikely to come up. But Clements was arguably the best offensive line coach in the conference before Joe Wickline's fall from grace in Austin and now occupies that spot without debate.
Likewise, while the Bears don't often receive enough credit for physical rushing attacks, Clements has overseen a ground game that has produced a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the last six seasons. During that stretch, Lache Seastrunk was the only running back to accomplish that feat more than once, so it's become a plug-and-chug operation on the ground as Baylor rose out of the Big 12's basement.
Conversely, Texas hasn't had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2007, in part because of spotty offensive line play over many seasons and the inability to consistently run a large number of plays.
Developing offensive line prospects will be hugely important for Mattox since he'll have to replace two starters along the offensive line and will have to do so without the benefit of likely 2016 starter Jake Raulerson, the only experienced center on the roster with eligibility remaining until his recent decision to transfer after his graduation.
In that regard, Clements is exceptional, having tutored six NFL draft picks over the last seven years entering this season. He also coached three players who signed with NFL teams. By comparison, Texas hasn't had an offensive lineman drafted since 2008 and won't break that streak this year, even though guard Sedrick Flowers was a consensus top-60 prospect nationally and the No. 2 offensive guard in the 2011 recruiting class.
Flowers is just the latest in a parade of highly-rated recruits out of high school who failed to impress NFL scouts or otherwise washed out of Texas since the last Longhorns offensive lineman drafted, Tony Hills, who was a tight end when he signed as a member of the 2003 recruiting class.
Here's the entire list of recruits who were rated in the top 10 at their respective position:
|Cedric Dockery||OG||No. 5||2004|
|J'Marcus Webb||OT||No. 2||2006|
|Buck Burnette||OC||No. 1||2006|
|Tray Allen||OG||No. 1||2007|
|Michael Huey||OG||No. 3||2007|
|David Snow||OG||No. 2||2007|
|Mason Walters||OT||No. 1||2009|
|Trey Hopkins||OG||No. 1||2010|
|Dominic Espinosa||OG||No. 8||2010|
|Kennedy Estelle||OT||No. 5||2012|
|Donald Hawkins||OT||No. 4 (JUCO)||2012|
|Curtis Riser||OG||No. 4||2012|
|Darius James||OG||No. 1||2013|
|Jake Raulerson||OC||No. 2||2013|
|Desmond Harrison||OT||No. 3 (JUCO)||2013|
In sum, that's 15 players, including five who were ranked as the top player at their position. Perhaps most damaging to Texas were the recent flameouts, as one third of the above list washed out in the last two years and only Estelle made any significant contributions before his dismissal.
At least guys like Huey, Snow, Walters, Espinosa, and Hopkins managed to stick around the program and start for sustained periods of time. Otherwise, there hasn't been much success at all.
One shining example of Clements' ability to evaluate and develop players is Cedar Park product Spencer Drango. Espinosa's high school teammate was extremely interested in the Longhorns early in the process, but the offensive line coach at the time, Mac McWhorter, didn't think that Drango had the feet to play tackle. So the Horns passed on him until making a late run after hiring Stacy Searels. By that time, it was too little, too late.
Drango certainly showed he had the feet to play tackle, starting every game for Baylor he wasn't injured since the start of his redshirt freshman season and earning a ton of recognition in the process, including consensus All-America in 2014 and the Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year in 2015. When the 2016 NFL Draft roles around, he's expected to go somewhere between the second and fourth rounds.
Mattox actually had a first-hand view of Clements' work since one of the first moves that Clements made at Houston was to move Mattox from tight end to tackle and later worked with him when his former player became a graduate assistant with the Cougars in 2006.
Since then, Mattox has followed a similar trajectory as Briles and Clements, who have coached together since 1989 at Stephenville, sticking with Gilbert and bouncing from Eastern Illinois to Bowling Green to Tulsa and now to Austin. Currently at their fourth school in four years, the two are experienced as installing Briles' "veer-and-shoot" offense quickly and effectively, but the fast moves have made it difficult to get a grasp on the ability of Mattox to develop offensive linemen.
So the tenure of Mattox at Butler (Kansas) Community College provides the most instructive look, as the former offensive lineman coached 22 all-conference offensive linemen from 2007-11, including four first-team selections in 2010 and three first-team selections in 2011. In his last two years at Butler, all five of his starters earned all-conference recognition.
If Mattox can continue that success in Austin and develop recruits half as well as Clements, the Longhorns should be able to field effective offensive lines that benefit from the tempo of Gilbert's offense and light boxes to run against. With talented young players like Connor Williams and Patrick Vahe already excelling and 2016 Under Armour All-American Jean Delance set to sign in less than three weeks, that shouldn't be an extraordinarily difficult task for Mattox.