Sunday, December 13, 2015

UT's crazy route to landing Sterlin Gilbert as offensive coordinator and Strong's underreported big score.

Charlie Strong entered this offseason with a problem.  While the talent to win appears to be on hand (as evidenced by games vs. OSU, OU, Tech, and Baylor) for next season, none of the guys on his staff could deliver the offense Strong wants UT to run.

Strong was entering a make or break season, meaning he would have no access to any play calling offensive coordinators in relatively safe power conference jobs today.

He would have to overpay ---likely on a 3 year deal and to hire from the pool of the (reputation)damaged, at risk, or potentially not ready yet candidates.  (That actually isn't a bad pool to pick from...)

Nobis60 did a wonderful article detailing the many directions Charlie Strong could take.

Strong originally pursued TCU Co-coordinator Cumbie.  Cumbie would be looking at gaining play calling responsibilities and a fat raise.  It was a good play. 

They allegedly were offering him a million dollars a year for 3 years to join an at risk coach in a make or break year. After a few days, he turned the job down to stay at TCU. Those who know him say the delay was to be expected as he thinks things through before he makes any decisions.

There was some thought at the time that he might be waiting for his co-coordinator to leave or perhaps angling for the OU job in the near future.

Strong turned to Tulsa's Sterlin Gilbert. They met and it seemed likely Gilbert would take the job.

Why wouldn't you if you were Gilbert?  Gilbert is a Texan. UT is pretty much loaded with freshman and sophomore talent that lends itself to the scheme. Charlie Strong appears to want to offload the offense to someone, so you would likely have a ton of control.  And you are probably talking about a ridiculous raise...It was another good play.

Yet days passed.  The obvious first thought is that UT must have lowballed him.  THAT made sense of the delay, but no sense from UT's perspective.  If you are willing to write essentially a 3 million dollar check for Cumbie, why would you not write one for Gilbert?  They are the same guy.

News broke of Strong interviewing his third OC candidate, Tony Franklin. (Franklin by the way was another exceptional choice.  A lot of high school coaches use his system and have a ton of respect for Franklin.  Plus he is right about to put a QB into the NFL, likely as a first round pick.  Strong probably thought he could pick off Franklin due to a low salary.  Cal approved $3 Million for dispersal among Sonny Dykes' assistants when word of this interview got out.)

Gilbert likely saw a huge payday evaporating and took the job.  Well...More accurately Gilbert and Strong loosely agreed they could work together at a certain pay level.

But then things got weird.

The Austin sources were calling it a 2 year deal.  The Oklahoma papers consulted with Gilbert and corrected the Texas sources advising it was a 3 year deal.

Gilbert's camp claimed there were very specific about a 3 year minimum.  They would later say they left Austin with associate AD Arthur Johnson telling them it would be a 3 years deal in the $650,000 to $750,000 range.  They would go on to say that Strong, not knowing that Johnson had given a 3 year commitment offered a 2 year deal at $650,000 a year.

Now the obvious thought is that Strong would check with someone to confirm Gilbert's claim of a 3 year offer.  For whatever reason Strong stuck to two years...

Gilbert lost his cool and felt he had been mislead by Strong and UT.

In a hot minute, all three of Charlie Strong's offensive coordinator candidates were gone.  UT was left sitting high and dry.

The UT faithful's heads collectively exploded.  Those inclined to hate Charlie Strong screamed it was proof of his incompetence.  Those not, were angry at the athletic director for not getting the coach the tools he needs to succeed.  Those strongly in support of Strong saw this as just another effort made by powerful boosters working through the administration to discredit Strong.

NFL QB Shawn King began to point the finger at forces inside UT trying to hobble Strong.

UT administrators began to feel real heat.

Then word got out that the president of UT Gregory Fenves would be flying to OU with Strong and Athletic Director Mike Perrin to mend bridges and get Gilbert signed.

And they did.

The End, right?

SI's Thayer Evans did a nice write-up on the Gilbert signing. Wescott Ebbots, normally one to point out every perceived failing of Strong --- real or imagined ---actually did a very solid breakdown of what officially occurred up to Gilbert signing last night.

This hits me as a very much a sanitized version of the story.

This has been a crazy assed week for UT.

There is more to this story.

...And there likely has been since Strong started. 

If you think about it, coaches work from budgets worked out with the Athletic Director.  Charlie Strong gets a lot of shit about "just bringing his staff from Louisville instead of hiring a 'competent' staff' ".  Who was his boss?

Former UT Ad Steve Patterson, a notorious penny pincher at UT.  Maybe, for once, we should consider whether or not the money was allocated for Strong to consider hiring an all-star cast?

(I am reminded about how much crap Todd Dodge took at UNT for bringing his high school staff with him when UNT paid Dodge $200K, his coordinators $100K and everyone else on his staff in canned tuna.)

Today, with Patterson gone, one would guess that UT would be willing to spend what it took to be competitive, right?

Which makes the whole handling of the Gilbert situation a real head scratcher...

I am going to touch some ideas to be pondered and on a lot of reports here to try and look into to it, but really the there are a lot of ways to interpret this week's journey.

I think there is clearly a coverup here, but I don't say that as in "...someone should be fired."  The bottom line here is that the administration more that made up for the damage and has left Charlie Strong in a very good position moving forward.

This is a transitional moment for UT and these times are always bumpy.  The end destination is the important thing, and the end point is a good one.

Plus we are in recruiting season. Better to not blow this  this up into a huge story.

To me..."No harm, no foul."

But let's trace it out.

Now I can buy that Cumbie as a principle at TCU, a competing organization, would have amounted to a recruiting gain that isn't present in Gilbert.  Valuation for Cumbie may have legitimately been seen as a little higher, and most would expect that... including Gilbert... which is why Gilbert would accept 30% less initially.

Perrin might have authorized slightly more in the budget for Cumbie, but the idea of Strong on a limited budget at all after everything Steve Patterson put the University through, is somewhat damaging for Perrin specifically.   You could term it an oversight, but isn't that just another word for a mistake?  It does challenge the idea of Perrin being the aggressive supporter of Strong that he has maintained he is. 

Now I think perspective is needed.  If Perrin was an unthinking boob put in place to massage the hurt egos of rich boosters like Red McCombs who were angered that Strong was hired without their blessing, I think Perrin would have fired Strong last season and risked damaging the UT brand with allegations of racism.

Perrin is a smart guy and a UT true-believer.  He doesn't hit me as the kind of guy who would actively sabotage a coach.  My thinking is that he likely thought the budget was workable and largely left the details of closing the deal to Strong. 

Perrin's primary role appears to be repairing the booster relationships Patterson damaged.  I think logically Perrin and Fenves do not want to make decisions on Strong until forced to.  That is what "strong support for a coach" means at the FBS level.

(I'd think as an AD or school president, you never want to be seen as in bed with your coach, but you do want to be seen as providing all the pillows, blankets, and bedding your coach could need to make their own bed.)

That appears to have bounced back on both of them.  Johnson or even Perrin may have needed to be involved to make the 3 year deal happen easily.   I think "supportive of Strong to a very reasonable point" is probably fair in describing Perrin, but that is not how the situation was perceived yesterday.

If you look through the articles in between the time Gilbert passed and he was rehired you find this one.  Strong supposedly lowballed Gilbert to start initially offering $520,000 a year....far less than the $1.2 Million offered to Cumbie. If you show up to an interview and they start the pay negotiation at half of what you perceive as your optimal return, you are already a little on edge.

Now imagine you complete a difficult financial negotiation and your guaranteed 3 year deal arrives saying its a 2 year deal.

What do you do?  You call Strong and say, "What the hell?"

(Now given the fact that Gilbert ultimately signed the deal, it seems that his mistrust of Strong must have been satisfactorily resolved, so lets assume that Strong was being above board on this.)

Strong replies, "I didn't handle that part....Let me look into it."  He calls up the people who put together the paperwork and they tell him "We have no idea what he is talking about....You are only authorized to give 2 year deals."  Strong comes back explains it to Gilbert and asks, "Would you take 2 years?"

Gilbert says "no" and hangs up.

Now that is one reported story.  It really doesn't pass the sniff test.

There has to be more going on here.

I could not find a credible article laying out the alternate timeline, but the great googler reveals that UT fans are also realizing something is off here.   Here is a post that fills in the blanks.

"Jason Suchomel reporting today on OB that his source said Strong didn't lowball Gilbert, Strong offered the top amount he was authorized to offer in their informal discussions. However, when UT officials entered into negotiations with Gilbert's people to formalize the details, the UT group started-off with a lower amount than Strong had proposed, and it was this lower offer that stymied the negotiations for a while. Suchomel reports his source said the problem wasn't caused by Strong. He also reported that his source said Gilbert was consistently high on Strong throughout the negotiations.

This report might explain the question many have been asking, which is why some UT bureaucrat would rush to tell [UT beat reporter] Bobby [Burton] it was all Strong's fault that negotiations broke down."

Somebody in the administrative office may have actively fucked this deal up either due to a desire to see Strong gone ---or a petty desire to see the right paperwork filed.  Either way, they realized shit was about to hit the fan, so they set about creating their own narrative, likely to try to protect their job.  They call a reporter over at 247sports and throws Charlie Strong under the bus hard, setting off the pro-Strong crowd.  That report reads as a single source hatchet job. (Deserved or not.)

If this is just Arthur Johnson screwing up, would there be that kind of venomous leak saying Strong screwed up on both the offers to Cumbie AND Gilbert?  That is a smear job.  Something is not adding up there.

Is it possible Strong actually didn't follow the right procedure?  Yeah, absolutely. Universities have a lot of procedures and a lot of employees who love those procedures.  Could Charlie Strong have thought that Gilbert would and had accepted a two year deal?  It suggests an overly optimistic view by Strong, but yeah.  Chip Brown did.... Strong may be overly optimistic at times.  Plus, he was offering UT to a Texan coach and apparently handed off the negotiations...

Should that have prevented Gilbert from receiving the correct 3 year offer?  Nope.  There should have been one call from the department that writes the contracts to Perrin to clarify and the necessary levers should have been pulled. 

I would have thought everyone probably knew this may need to be a 3 year deal given the Cumbie offer setting the market on working for an at-risk coach.

Was this key players in the administration actively screwing Strong or someone lower in the food chain?  There is no way to know.

Around this time Anwar Richardson, a writer/tweeter in the mainstream Longhorn reporting circles tweets that Cumbie is alleged to have walked away from the job because no one in the administration would confirm Strong would be back after next year.

Now this may sound weird to you, but when you ask that question, what you are wanting to hear is, "Yeah.  Don't worry about it.  He is not fired yet.  Barring a catastrophic year next year, he will see at least year 4."  For their responses to be an issue for a candidate with a 3 year guaranteed offer in hand, suggests Cumbie couldn't even get that.

That would be lukewarm support.  Who was Cumbie drilling for info?  If he asked the question directly, Perrin and possibly even Fenves?  They are fairly new to their jobs. (Perhaps, if they are true Strong fans, when this got out they may have felt remorse for kinda blowing it with Cumbie, driving the need to fly to Oklahoma to patch things up with Gilbert?)

If not them, maybe it was wormed from the AD's office.  Now does it really mean the same thing as  "Win whatever... 8 games (?) and you keep your job?"  Yeah, pretty much but it certainly is a damning look for a candidate to see.

Anyway, Gilbert then tells the media he has declined the offer and doesn't trust Charlie Strong or UT, setting off the wider UT fanbase.

Now what shouldn't be lost here is that this does imply that Charlie Strong was on a limited budget to assemble his staff.  It rather clearly suggests that next year is his make or break year in the eyes of the adminstration.

This is a big part of what lit up UT fans.  UT was exposed in the national media for 1) being cheap and 2) for not giving their employee the tools to succeed.  There was also some suggestions that there was as racist component to this decision.

UT boosters plow money into this university.  Having UT seen as cheap lights those guys on fire.

This is where former NFL starting QB Sean King and other started talking openly about things only race shock jock Steven A Smith was saying a few months ago.

"UT's boosters never wanted Charlie Strong. They won't support a black coach.  They won't give strong the tools to make it while they would have no problem making those assets available to a White coach."  And the most damning... "Strong should have walked out on UT and taken the Miami job."

Austin is the most liberal city in Texas.  Patterson may have burned every bridge in town with his coarseness and penny pinching ways, but there are a lot of liberals who like the fact he hired two black men with deserving resumes to fill the two revenue coaching spot vacancies.

Whether Strong and Shakka Smart succeed on their own merits or not.

This is transformational moment at UT.  And a lot of UT's more liberal fans (like myself) are glad for it.

The idea that the university might be actively sabotaging Strong at the behest of influential boosters is a very toxic idea.

This is why the administration started getting scathing calls and posts from fans and boosters. And the media.

People were not kind to the Fenves and the administration yesterday.  At all.

Fenves have always presented himself as a fan of Charlie Strong.  There is little reason to suspect Fenves was actively sabotaging Strong. 

I have to think what happened in Missouri with black students deposing the president had to cross Fenves's mind as well.  One would think it would cross any university president's mind.

This is probably why UT's president (who allegedly is not a fan of "the sporting") packed up the AD and Strong ...and his checkbook ...and made the problem go away.  The problem wasn't in UT's best interest.  And making problems go away is what Presidents are paid to do.

No less than UT authority Chip Brown traced it out. "Fenves spokesman Gary Susswein told HD, 'Any suggestion that Greg Fenves and the UT administration are not supporting Strong fully in his search for an offensive coordinator is just fiction.' Those comments were followed by a chorus of criticism directed at Fenves, calling for him to back up his words with actions.

Next thing you knew, a plane was being chartered to Tulsa."

There is an interesting footnote in one of the last articles after Gilbert signed. "Strong will get 'whatever he needs to bring in the right coaching staff,' university spokesman Gary Susswein said without elaborating."

This makes a ton of sense in terms of "making the problem disappear" and rehabbing UT's image.

That is worth potentially an extra $1-4 Million.

The Big Takeaway

So it looks like Charlie Strong can hire whoever he can convince to join his staff.

And there are reports by Anwar Richardson that Gilbert was assured by Fenves and Perrin that Strong would be the coach in the 2017 season.

"From what I was told, Sterlin Gilbert wanted a face-to-face meeting to hear that pledge. After receiving it, he agreed to a 3-year deal"
"Texas administrators told Sterlin Gilbert that Charlie Strong would be retained after the 2016 season during their Tulsa meeting last night"
"The promise Greg Fenves and Mike Perrin made to new OC Sterlin Gilbert about Charlie Strong's future at Texas"

That would be surprising, but if that guarantee was made (and the Administration is sticking by it) that would be 1) a baller move by Gilbert to use his status as UT's last chance to land one of their top 3 OC candidates to not only get a nice raise over UT's original offer, score a nice raise & title for his buddy OL coach Matt Mattox, and an added guaranteed year for his boss (--- something Cumbie couldn't get!)*  and 2) a pretty cool move by the administration towards a head coach.

"We gave you a 5 year deal to change the culture here and we are actually going to take the unusual step of effectively guarantee 4 of them."

To reach this point has been a horribly bumpy path for UT.  But this is kind of where UT probably should have been from the start.   

If you want to attract the best candidates for future openings, it is probably good to be seen as supporting the coach you already have at an appropriate (or even generous) level.  Providing the means for today's coach to succeed only makes future candidates know they will also probably receive the support they need to succeed.

It's a good image for UT and obviously a great turn of events for Strong.

* final thought... Dude...I want to be friends with Sterlin Gilbert.  That guy not only has some balls, he is apparently quite a good friend...Move that dude up to rockstar status.

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