Charlie Strong's Big Gamble

Charlie Strong made two substantial hires in the past 10 days, offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert and new offensive line coach Matt Mattox, both from Tulsa. Gilbert and Mattox are both Art Briles disciples, bringing with them Art’s spread based offensive attack. The hires were curious given where we were just 5 months ago, before Notre Dame, before Jay Norvell, and before what appears to be a sea change in offensive philosophy on the 40 acres. 

What Gilbert and Mattox do are not what Strong’s offenses have typically done. Not even close. They certainly aren’t close to what Sean Watson was hired to do 2 years ago. So why the sudden change? Well if reports are to be believed the natives are restless in Austin and they want results now or a change. 

The attitude from the powers that be may come from newly minted full-time athletic director Mike Perrin who, in spite of very public shows of support for Strong, may be working in the opposite direction behind the scenes. Perrin was scene as an ally of Strong’s after replacing the most hated man in athletics, Steve Patterson. There are reports that Perrin is now working actively to get rid of his football coach. 

So Strong has made a bold move that is against character by hiring Gilbert and Mattox. It’s also a curious move given the quarterback makeup of Texas’ roster. Is Jerrod Heard capable of running the high flying offense? Heard completed less than 60% of his passing attempts with as many touchdowns as interceptions. Junior Tyrone Swoops was worse through the air. 

Taking into account that the new offense does feature a power running game as much as a vertical passing game, perhaps the quarterback position isn’t a deal breaker, but the Longhorn quarterbacks will be running essentially their third system in two years. 

Strong could be counting on 4-star Arlington Lamar quarterback Shane Buechele to play early and well, but that’s a gamble on par with asking Heard or Swoops to be a passing threat. 

There’s a bigger issue at hand here however, it’s something we love to talk about on the Round-Up and that is identity. Identity forms the foundation of a program. You drill it, you install it, and you recruit to it. What is the Longhorns identity? What do they do well? We just don’t know, but we do know that moving to the Briles spread is a giant step in a new direction. It includes identifying not just a new scheme but recruiting and developing player for that scheme.

Perhaps scheme is king and Strong can install and execute the system like Briles did a Baylor or Dino Babers did at Bowling Green or Phillip Montgomery did at Tulsa. Perhaps. Strong has to hope he has plug and play parts for a new system. If not, he may not see year four. 

Posted on December 20, 2015 and filed under Southwest Round-Up.