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The OC: Where Do the Texas Longhorns Go From Here?

Working through the variables for the hire that Charlie absolutely has to nail.

Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

A battered, bruised but (for the moment) unbowed Texas squad carries a 4-7 mark into Saturday's showdown with Baylor.  With news coming down yesterday that graduation APR rates will preclude the Longhorns from joining the Feckless Five teams who'll go bowling with 5-7 records this season, Saturday's outcome is in some sense academic.   We tend to watch individual college football games for their own sake, though (even when the watching gets tough,) so let's spend a moment on the possible outcomes.

Texas could pull a John McClain in McClane Stadium, emerging as a plucky underdog victor if we can keep the broken glass (and our own bullets) out of our feet.

The Baptists could simply treat us like Barry the Baptist from the opening gun:

But the fat part of the Possible Outcomes Bell Curve contains a variety of hard-fought but ultimately futile efforts that come up short in the second half.  Not terribly fun to watch, not terribly terribad - and not terribly different from the last time Texas visited Waco.

While that outcome was sufficient to close the book on the Mack Brown Era, it appears that even a loss and the resultant 4-8 mark won't prevent Charlie Strong from receiving a third season to right the Longhorn ship.

Making that call amidst all the sound and fury of the past couple of weeks may seem premature, but let's file it under the broad heading of Mike Perrin Knows His Business.

Perrin's recent statement of unquestioned support for Strong came with the knowledge that this team likely wouldn't go bowling, and that 4-8 was firmly in the mix of possible outcomes.  Perrin's willingness to take that kind of public stand incorporated his evaluation of Strong's capabilities, plan and trajectory as well as his joint understanding with UT President Greg Fenves around the overall state of play with Texas' biggest-money boosters.

Even more to the point, Texas' search for a new offensive coordinator has been proceeding apace behind the scenes.  Perrin certainly wouldn't allow that kind of kabuki theater to unfold if the plan was to remove Strong at the end of the season.  While there's a ghost of a chance that a 50-point Baptism by fire could change the game, Strong will be back in 2016 with a new-look offense that will be critical to securing his fortunes for 2017 and beyond.

So what will that offense look like, and who'll have his hand on the tiller?

The Leader In the Clubhouse

The name of Texas' top target had been bouncing around inside Texas circles since mid-October, but Orangebloods was FIRST! to bring it out from behind the paywall yesterday:

TCU's 2013-2014 turnaround informs the Patterson Parallel that's so often referenced in reasoned Keep Charlie/Can Charlie discussions.  It's little surprise, then, that one of the key architects of the Frogs' offensive about-face would draw serious consideration from a program that's essentially looking to turn the same trick.  Under Cumbie and co-OC Doug Meacham, the TCU offense went from the post-Dalton doldrums (64th in offensive S&P+ in 2012 and 93rd in 2013) to truly dynamic (17th in 2014 and 12th in 2015), thanks in large part to the Air Raid's transformative effect on Travone Boykin as a passer:


That's a whole lot of of diddley from a guy who spent his first two seasons looking like the conundrum of simultaneously walking and chewing gum might prove permanently insoluble.

With Shaun Watson almost certain to hit the bricks after this season and a Heard/Swoopes/Buechele/Locksley/Merrick/JUCO To Be Named Later(?) grab-bag under center, QB development is a must-have job skill for Texas' next OC.  Cumbie's deep Air Raid experience as a quarterback, position coach and coordinator alongside his proven success with Boykin probably fits the bill as nicely as any legitimate candidate on the radar.  The Air Raid's overall ease of install, teachability and focus on repetition of core concepts also lends itself well to the kind of mas rapido ramp-up that would serve the Longhorns well with Notre Dame, Cal (road), Oklahoma State (road) and OU on deck prior to mid-October of 2016.

But whither the run game?

For some, the Air Raid moniker still tends to conjure the run-game-as-vestigial-appendage approach of the early-aughts Mike Leach.  Since those days, though, everyone from Mike Gundy to Dana Holgersen to Kliff Kingsbury has been tinkering with the components to layer in plenty of effective run-game wrinkles from a wide range of alignments and personnel packages.  The Meacham/Cumbie variant has been far from a pure air show - they've managed a near-even run/pass split over the past two seasons, and while Boykin's legs have accounted for a solid chunk of their success they've also seen #1 back Aaron Green roll up over 2,000 yards at a 6.0 YPC clip with 19 rushing TDs over the same stretch.  Cumbie is widely viewed as a sharp and adaptable dude, and it's easy to envision an offseason Cumbie/Traylor collaboration layering in enough 11-, 12- and 20-personnel variety to effectively marry the Raid with some Texas' most effective 2015 rushing concepts.  (It'd be even easier to envision if the Longhorns had Devonaire Clarington in the mix, but c'est la Clearinghouse.)

From a talent acquisition standpoint, Cumbie is regarded as a plus- to plus-plus recruiter with impeccable Texas ties.  You can live with so-so recruiting at the coordinator level if your position coaches can make rain, but Cumbie's rep/youth/energy combo could work really well alongside Traylor's East Texas turgidity and improved trail work at the RB coach slot (at a minimum).  He'd be a near-lock to keep Buechele and Sam Ehlinger in the fold through an offensive transition and might even provide a late lift to a 2016 recruiting class that looks to need one.

If you're looking to meet the brief of effecting a swift turnaround in the passing game by delivering an implementable system alongside quality QB instruction while building a reasonable design and recruiting bridge to the future, Cumbie looks like a fine candidate.    But that hay isn't in the barn just yet, and with a wide number of short- and longer-term variables in play there's plenty of room for discussion around Texas' optimal offensive path going forward.

When we looked at Texas' offensive options following Shaun Watson's extreme unction after Notre Dame, the pros and cons of a few different approaches came into discussion.  For conversation-starter purposes, here's a rundown of a few other possible directions (minus West Coast-style, for obvious pitchfork-and-torch-related reasons) for Texas in 2016 alongside the candidate names who've come down the pike.

Power Spread

Advantages:  Variants have appeared in the past two national title games with one win (Ohio State 2014, Auburn 2013).  A strategic fit with Charlie Strong's love of ball-control, as evinced by his overtures to tOSU's Tom Herman in early 2014.  A natural evolution of Texas' current demonstrated ability to punish with Power O variants while incorporating inside and outside running from QBs.  Can win at a high level with serviceable passing if your QB can consistently hit one on one opportunities downfield and take advantage of free play action candy.  A good fit with stud assistant Jeff Traylor's track record, enabling seamless collaboration and a possibly seamless OC-in-waiting transition in a couple of seasons.

Disadvantages:  Could generate stepwise offensive improvement in 2015 when a (Bill Walton Voice) Great Leap Forward (/Bill Walton Voice) could be required to avoid a Cultural Revolution at the end of the 2016 season.  May not carry the skill-position recruiting appeal in a passing spread-happy state.  Requires your QB to take a lickin' and keep on tickin' and could have Buechele and Ehlinger lookin' for more pass-first pastures.

The Name You Hear Most:  Rhett Lashlee, Auburn.  Lashlee has been lashed to Gus Malzhan for nine of his ten seasons in the college ranks.  While Auburn-to-Texas could appear to be something of a lateral move, proving that he could spread his Power Spread wings outside of Malzahn's shadow could prove attractive.  On the QB development tip, he did manage to coax a Natty appearance a second 2500-yard, 20-TD season from Once and Future Defensive Back Nick Marshall.

Briles-Style 5333 Spread

Advantages:  CFB's most consistently devastating offensive approach since 2011.  Carries the potential to play Power against CFB's elite if you force honest box numbers.  Undeniable broad-spectrum recruiting appeal for every offensive position.  Can maximize 10+ carries a game from the QB position without relying on them.  Can make a lot of the QB's reads for him allowing for a solid degree of plug-and-play functionality for guys with the right toolkit.

Disadvantages:  Tough to find a real coaching tree practitioner out there.  Probably needs a minimum 7 out of 10 on pure QB arm strength to make the vertical stretch component click

The Name You Hear Most:  Sterlin Gilbert, Tulsa.  Unless you think Kendall Briles is about to head down I-35 and fuck up the next five family Thanksgivings, Gilbert may be the closest thing to a true Briles-tree practitioner on the market - he intersected with Briles in 2005 as a GA at Houston and has spent the current season under ex-Baylor OC Phil Montgomery at Tulsa (though he shares the titular OC duties and doesn't call plays.)  From a QB development standpoint, he coached Jimmy Garoppolo to the 2013 Walter Payton Award under another Briles protege, Dino Babers.

Oregon "Kelly Finesse Zone" Spread

Advantages:  Proven high-level success including a National Championship appearance in 2010 and a berth in the inaugural CFB Playoff in 2014.  Successfully utilizes, tempo, stretch and design to maximize a wide range of skill position talent - has prospered with speed and power backs, turned gadget players into devastating weapons and stuffed the stat sheet with NFL first-rounders and pure CFL fodder at QB. Primarily zone-based run schemes that play up with an athletic front five (which Texas should certainly feature next season).  Built around a relatively small grouping of core offensive concepts that are easily taught and rapidly repped to create quick fluency.  Fantastic linkage of the run and pass game through a wide variety of screen and RPO wrinkles.

Disadvantages:  Superior physicality has proven capable of derailing the ground game on multiple occasions.  Relatively slender coaching tree.

The Name You Hear Most:  Scott Frost, Oregon - until he took the UCF job.  Ummm...I guess Bill Lazor is available?

What say you, Barkers?  Would you be fired up to see Cumbie take the offensive reins for Texas in 2016?  Any other candidates you'd like to see in the mix?  Or do we just line up Foreman, Warren and Johnson and run Wishbone come Hell or high water?