There are two schools of thought dominating offensive football in the state of Texas, emanating primarily from two minds: Mike Leach and Art Briles. The former is everywhere - Texas Tech, TCU, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, et cetera. The other is not. Briles' mesh of the power run and downfield passing attack is employed at Baylor, at Tulsa, and far away Syracuse.
Until now, of course. A new strain of the virus infecting college defenses arrive in Austin over the weekend, and Briles himself is a main reason for that.
"There were several people that were very instrumental in this decision, guys that I leaned on as mentors. The first guy is Art Briles," new Texas offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert said Monday. "That man is a high-character guy, and I guy I leaned on numerous times through this process. You all know we were in the middle of recruiting, he's in the middle of recruiting, and I never called him one time he didn't answer the phone. I leaned on him very heavily."
Gilbert and new Longhorns offensive line coach/run game coordinator Matt Mattox hooked up as graduate assistants on Briles' Houston staff in 2005. Though both left the Briles School of Offense for a time, the two joined up at Eastern Illinois in 2013 and have been together ever since, from EIU to Bowling Green to Tulsa and, now, to Texas.
Though he hasn't worked for Briles for more than a decade now, Gilbert remained connected to his former coach. See this exchange from a 2013 interview with the Baylor graduate assistants:
FS: Are there any other young coaches out there that you really admire?
Anthony: The first one I would say is Sterlin Gilbert. You know Babers’ OC at Bowling Green. He GA’d for Coach at Bowling Green and he’s come up in this system and understands it. He thinks like us. If he was here it’d be a seamless transition. He’d fit right in.
FS: How do you know him?
Anthony: He stayed in touch. He was the OC at Temple (High School) before he took the OC job for Babers when Babers left, but he’s super close with all these guys. He’s really close with Coach Montgomery.
Fate, obviously, intervened from there, as Gilbert left Babers' Bowling Green staff to join Montgomery's staff at Tulsa. And here was Briles, talking him through leaving his own disciple's staff to join a heated rival.
One key tenant of an Art Briles offense is an emphasis on running the football. As one of three teams that ran at least 1,000 plays in 12 games (Texas Tech being the other), Tulsa ran the ball 552 times in the regular season, compared to 448 passes. Baylor was leaned even further to the right, calling 371 passes against 630 runs. For what it's worth, Texas Tech ran the ball 438 times and threw it 564.
"We base out of the spread but we also run the football," Gilbert said. "We're more balanced than people realize. Those two backs we've got sitting right here on campus, we're real excited about because of our run game and what we do."
This is where Mattox comes in.
If Gilbert is the architect of what the re-imagined Texas offense will be, Mattox is the general contractor.
"The number one things we're going to do is be a physical run game. We're a downhill type team," Mattox said. "Running the ball is one way that can make a defensive coordinator break down more than anything. They'll give up a long pass but if you're able to pound it on them, being able to consistently run the football, it's tough on them. That's something we really blend well, with his quarterback coaching and what I've been able to do in this offense as the o-line guy."
An emphasis on the run will assuredly ease the mind of Gilbert and Mattox's new boss, Charlie Strong. A defense-minded coach, Strong realized two seasons later necessary the offense-first nature of the Big 12. An 11-14 record two seasons in created a sense of urgency that promoted Texas president Gregory Fenves to tweet his support for Strong Friday afternoon after talks broke down between Texas and Gilbert.
Shortly after that tweet Fenves joined Strong, tight ends coach Jeff Traylor and athletics director Mike Perrin for an unprecedented, highly-visible trip to Tulsa late Friday night. Fenves reportedly made promises to Gilbert and Mattox about Strong's future beyond 2016 -- Gilbert declined to discuss that topic Monday, saying simply, "it's about commitment" -- but Texas' new offensive braintrust would be wise not to test the supposed strength of those words.
It's a win-now business, especially at a place now on a two-season streak of seven-loss seasons, with a fan base living on a diet of mediocre football for six consecutive seasons.
Gilbert and Mattox's well-traveled history together -- Texas marks the pair's fourth stop in the last six seasons -- should help them hit the ground running.
"This will be the fourth time with the install, so I think I've got it down," Gilbert said.
In his brief introduction Monday, Strong described what he wants an attack that ranked 85th in scoring, 92nd in total offense, 93rd in passing efficiency and 114th in plays of 10-plus yards to look like moving forward.
"We want to be an up-tempo team that can move the football, get first downs and just be exciting to watch," he said.
Gilbert, in his San Angelo drawl, was even more brief.
"Fast. Physical. Have fun," he said. "And score points."