Gilbert preaching tempo, patience prior to opening night

Michael Shapiro

Sterlin Gilbert doesn’t lead a fast life. 

The Longhorns' new offensive coordinator speaks with a disarming Texas drawl, assuring the Austin media that “everything will work itself out.” He preaches patience not just with the burnt orange's quarterback situation, but with the barbecue he smokes in his backyard. If Longhorn fans were looking for a demonstrative coach akin to former defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, they’ve come to the wrong place. 

But don’t mistake Gilbert’s demeanor with his offense. In his first offseason as the Longhorns’ play-caller, he has installed a whiplash-inducing tempo to the Texas attack, daring defenses to catch up.

“Our kids need to understand what we’re trying to get accomplished,” Gilbert said. “We gotta have a complete understanding of [the offense], be able to do it fast, do it in a hurry, and do it at a high level.”

Gilbert’s offensive philosophy stems from that of former Baylor head coach Art Briles. Both spent much of their early coaching career in Texas high schools before rising to the college ranks. And the tape of their respective offenses can be eerily similar.

But Gilbert insists that Texas’ offense won’t be a carbon copy of Baylor’s high-octane attack. The Longhorns’ arsenal is far different than what Gilbert had to work with at Bowling Green and Tulsa, allowing him to install new features and offensive packages. 

“It’s our offense; it’s our twist on it,” Gilbert said. “We’ve got wrinkles and things that we’ve done different and will do different.”

Perhaps the biggest wrinkle in Gilbert’s offense will be an emphasis on his impressive backfield. The Longhorns sport a pair of bruising running backs in junior D’Onta Foreman and sophomore Chris Warren III, who combined for 1,150 yards in 2015. Texas will lean heavily on the running back tandem in 2016. 

“These guys are big, and they’re really talented,” Gilbert said. “You got a stable of backs that can do a lot of different things. The physicality aspect of what we have and what we do offensively, [Foreman and Warren] fill that void for us.”

Texas’ offensive overhaul is still a work in progress. The Longhorns ranked No. 8 in touchdowns in the Big 12 in 2015 and finished last in the conference in passing.

But an influx of offensive talent has Gilbert and head coach Charlie Strong excited for the upcoming season. In addition to freshman quarterback Shane Buechele — who many expect to start opening night against Notre Dame — Texas added the No. 7 recruiting class in 2016 according to the 247Sports composite rankings.

“Signing 28 guys, you’re hoping those guys are gonna come in and be a great addition to our program,” Strong said during Big 12 Media Days on June 19.

Luckily for the Longhorns, Gilbert has an impressive track record in turning around middling offenses. Upon arriving at Eastern Illinois in 2012, Gilbert helped the Panthers offense gain over 13 more points per game than the previous year. And in one season at Tulsa, Gilbert led the Golden Hurricane to the No. 13 passing offense in college football.

Opening night is just under two weeks away, but Texas has plenty of practices left to fine-tune its new machine. And while Gilbert hopes the Longhorn offense will be an up-tempo onslaught, he will lead it as he always has — slowly and patiently. 

“Every day is big,” Gilbert said. “They’ve gotta go out and execute and do what we’re asking them to do. The ultimate goal is to get it where it feels fast and it feels right.”