Tulsa offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert (Courtesy of the University of Tulsa)

Football

Texas officials fly to Tulsa, land offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert

In unprecedented move, President Gregory Fenves shows support by flying to Tulsa with Charlie Strong, AD Mike Perrin

Posted December 11th, 2015

UPDATED 10:30 p.m. Friday: Texas’ pursuit of Sterlin Gilbert has paid off, a source told the American-Statesman. Horns Digest later confirmed the report, along with Tulsa TV station Fox 23.

The following story was originally posted early Friday evening.

The search for Texas’ new offensive coordinator drifted into the bizarre on Friday, as UT President Gregory L. Fenves flew to Tulsa with his athletic director and head football coach in a last-ditch effort to convince an assistant coach to join the Longhorns.

Tulsa’s Sterlin Gilbert, apparently offended at a low-ball offer from Charlie Strong, abruptly turned down a multi-year contract offer Friday morning to become Texas’ offensive coordinator, according to a Tulsa source with knowledge of the situation.

Gilbert, who hasn’t called plays at his last two schools, wanted a three-year contract, according to a UT source familiar with the negotiations. That wasn’t the problem; the money was. Strong started by offering Gilbert a deal worth about $520,000. Gilbert’s agent balked and asked for more, and the offer rose to about $600,000, the UT source said.

Earlier in the week, Texas had offered TCU’s Sonny Cumbie a deal worth $1.2 million annually. Cumbie, who also doesn’t call plays at TCU, turned Strong’s offer down. Both Cumbie and Gilbert are friends, and while Gilbert didn’t expect to make Cumbie-level money, he felt insulted, the UT source said.

Tulsa head coach Philip Montgomery told Waco ESPN radio host David Smoak, “Yes sir, a big win for us, now we need to get to practice.” It’s clear Tulsa officials thought Gilbert’s decision was final.

But Gilbert’s decision sparked an Internet firestorm with Texas fans. Reports popped up indicating Strong did not have the full support of UT administrators, prompting strong pushback from the Tower.

“I fully support Charlie Strong. I am committed to helping him move Longhorn Football forward,” Fenves tweeted.

That apparently wasn’t enough. Fenves, who spent Wednesday in Washington D.C. representing UT at the Supreme Court, got on a plane with Strong and athletic director Mike Perrin to go chase down a football coach.

The trio left Georgetown around 6:30 p.m. Friday and was expected to fly back to Austin later Friday night. The Longhorns have a big recruiting weekend scheduled in Austin. Arlington Lamar’s Shane Buechele, a top quarterback prospect who has been committed to Texas since February, is on campus for an official visit.

Sending a university president to woo an assistant football coach was believed to be unprecedented in UT history.

“President Fenves absolutely supports coach Strong and is committed to giving him the resources he needs to move Longhorns football forward,” said Gary Susswein, Fenves’ spokesman. “Social media reports are pure fiction that suggest otherwise.”

UT sources have told the American-Statesman that all top-level administrators, including members of the UT System Board of Regents, support the football coach and want him to succeed. However, school officials stop short of indicating whether Strong has a blank check to hire whomever he wants. Per UT policy, regents must approve any multi-year contract or any arrangement that exceeds $1 million annually.

All this activity comes at a time when UT has not announced any changes to the current staff. Assistant coaches Shawn Watson (quarterbacks), Joe Wickline (offensive line) and Tommie Robinson (running backs) are all out of the guaranteed portions of their contracts. UT holds the option for a third year on their deals.

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