UT head coach Charlie Strong watches his team warm up before the Baylor game at McLane Stadium in Waco on Saturday December 5, 2015. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Cedric Golden

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Golden: Are Gilbert and Mattox going to be Strong’s last stand?

Posted December 14th, 2015

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Charlie Strong made a big move this week.

He doesn’t have many left.

Next season will make or break the Texas football coach, no doubt. Strong won’t be allowed to continue firing coaches. He’s already parted ways with four offensive coaches who didn’t meld well enough with his philosophy. The offense has been, in a word, offensive, meaning on most Saturdays the Longhorns were the second-best scoring unit on the field.

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It’s past time to rev up this offense. Enter Sterlin Gilbert and Matt Mattox.

At this time last week, the Art Briles disciples were living on Tulsa time, but now that they’re in burnt orange, that clock has been sped up. The feeling around Austin is this football team must show rapid improvement next year, lest the fan base start to turn on one of the most likable coaches on campus.

“Offensively we want to be an uptempo team,” said Strong, who basically reached back into his interview archives for quotes we’ve heard before. “Move the ball and get first downs.”

Sounds simple enough, but the Horns have made that process look like solving a Rubik’s cube with a blindfold. Texas ranked 93rd nationally in total offense and scored more than two offensive touchdowns in only six of 12 games. Speaking of 12, the Horns ranked seventh among the state’s 12 FBS schools in total offense, a number that becomes even more crucial considering the nation’s top three offenses — Baylor, Texas Tech, and TCU — reside in the Big 12. Tulsa’s offense averaged more than 500 yards a game this season.

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Strong is well past the point of staying pat with the crew he hired upon getting one of the most coveted jobs in college football, so these hires represent perhaps his last chance to get things right.

I’m pulling for him. I can say I’ve never heard a member of the Texas media utter one bad word about Strong. We’ve always liked his honesty and admired the principles he set in place when he took over for Mack Brown. He did err at Monday’s introductory presser when he didn’t take questions from the media about his two newest hires or about the events that led to them accepting his job offer.

With that said, the most important questions will be answered in due time.

As for first impressions, Gilbert came across like a middleweight boxer the day before a title fight after being trapped in the gym with a smelly, snuff-spitting trainer for the past two months. He didn’t seem very interested in expounding on the events that got him here, choosing rather to focus on the task at hand.

“We’re here, our feet are on the ground and that means we’re ready to go to work,” Gilbert said.

No one ever said he had to come in here and wow the masses behind a mic on the ninth floor of Bellmont Hall. This fan base will take a man of few words guiding an offense that averages 35-plus over an extrovert who can’t make it past midfield.

When I asked if he and Mattox were a package deal, Gilbert said it wasn’t necessarily a cow-calf deal.
“It was a fit from what he does up front,” Mattox said. “It’s just a fit.”

We’ll see if it fits here.

Mattox has the look of a typical hulking offensive line coach and seemed more embraceable than his buddy, which will make it interesting to find out how this pairing, odd in appearance, made it work in Tulsa and more important, if it will work in the Big 12. I enjoyed Mattox because he had this family vibe working, which fits into what Strong is trying to sell in the locker room.

“We’re going to coach them hard and love them even harder,” he said.

So we’ll see. Looking ahead, there are several nice pieces on this offense with reinforcements on the way. By this time next season, the hope is we’ll be discussing how bowl-bound Texas is thriving under Tulsa time.

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