The Big 12 looks ready to leave this week no closer to expansion than it arrived. Such is life in the Big 12, where the conference reportedly did discuss expansion during regularly scheduled meetings but did so without mentioning specific candidates or moving anywhere closer to holding any formal vote on whether or not to expand. No conference deliberates quite like the Big 12, and it appears there will be even more discussions on expansion in the months to come.
“I think this is a dialogue that could continue several years,” Texas Athletics Director Mike Perrin said. “The prudent thing is to stay where we are.”
Where the Big 12 is now is a 10-member league that struggles to get everyone on the same page on almost any topic of discussion while continuing to lag behind power conference peers like the Big Ten and SEC without a conference-branded network and plenty of wishful candidates lining up just waiting for any reason to believe an invitation may be coming their way. Schools like BYU, Cincinnati, Memphis, Houston, UCF and UConn are Charlie Brown and the Big 12 is the Little Red-Haired Girl that will never send a valentine.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby is getting e though. With no visible progress made this week, Bowlsby is hoping to have some sort of vote held on expansion by the end of the summer.
“I’m going to push for decisions to be made one way or another by the end of the summer,” Bowlsby said. If that is true, fans of those programs listed above will be watching closely as the media days play out, although expansion decisions could be more likely to come after the media day circuit is wrapped up.
The topic of Big 12 expansion has been floating around for years now, since the league dropped in membership following the departures of Colorado (Pac-12), Nebraska (Big Ten, Texas A&M and Missouri (SEC). The Big 12 has added West Virginia and TCU to maintain a 10-member conference lineup, but the discussions about returning to a 12-member conference have never dissipated. Keeping the Big 12 name is its brand has helped fuel the talk about getting back to 12. So has missing out on the College Football Playoff one year and the lack of a conference championship game.
The Big 12 might expand, or it might not. One thing we know for sure is they will discuss it at length time and time again.
An all-out blitz from Texas leaders apparently paid off. Tulsa offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert will be the new offensive coordinator for the Texas Longhorns. He will not be alone either, as offensive line coach Matt Mattox will be joining him to fill the same role at Texas.
Texas leaders went all out to make a sales pitch to Gilbert so convincing it would lure him away from Tulsa. In addition to head coach Charlie Strong, Texas sent athletics director Mike Perrin and university president Greg Fenves to do the talking, likely in a show of support for Strong as the head coach of the embattled Longhorns for the foreseeable future. Gilbert accepted an offer to join Strong’s staff with a three-year contract paying $850,000 per year.
Texas has also announced Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline will not return to the Longhorns program in 2016 as Strong continues to make staff changes in hopes of turning a corner before it is too late.
So now the work begins on getting Texas to play some offense. In the Big 12, offense is essential, and Texas has been left behind. With Gilbert on board, the hope is Texas will see a quick turnaround, and if possible see the kind of instant impact Oklahoma saw with an offensive coordinator change this past offseason (of course, Texas beat Oklahoma, but you get the idea). Texas will play some good defense, but with programs like Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech lighting up the scoreboard in conference play, the Longhorns are in big need of some quick offensive results.
If you thought the Texas story regarding Tulsa offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert was done, think again. Reports Friday surfaced saying Texas is still going all in on trying to lure Gilbert to Austin. The measures have gone so far as to fly the university president to Tulsa to make a sales pitch.
On Friday, University of Texas president Greg Fenves tweeted his show of support for Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong on his Twitter account.
Not too long after that, reports started spreading that Fenves was en route to Tulsa to try and convince Gilbert to leave the Tulsa program and join the Texas coaching staff. The thinking was having the university president make the sales pitch would show the job security Strong has as head coach of the struggling Longhorns program. Joining Fenves on the recruiting trip was Strong and Texas Athletics Director Mike Perrin. This is an all-out blitz to secure Tulsa’s offensive coordinator, who may or may not have already turned down an offer. You don’t fly in the head coach, athletics director and president and return empty-handed. This is clearly the top target for the Longhorns, and they are working every possible angle to make it happen.
But what if it doesn’t work?
This could be bad for Texas. Forget about the confusion in the reporting leading up to this latest sequence of events. If Texas goes all in for Gilbert and comes away without him, that is a bad look. That doesn’t mean Texas will fail in this process though. If Gilbert does not come to Texas, there is still a chance a good hire can be made. That all must be determined later on though. Until then, the Texas football program faces a tough battle and recruiting rivals are surely going to take notice and use this to their advantage as much as possible.
The University of Texas will reportedly buy out the contract of athletics director Steve Patterson, which seems to be moving quickly.
A report from Brian Davis and Kirk Bohls on HookeEm.com says University of Texas President Gregory Fenves is expected to fire Patterson as early as today. The two are expected to meet Tuesday to make the decision official. Former Texas linebacker Mike Perrin is expected to be named the interim AD. Former Longhorns head coach Mack Brown is not expected to be a candidate for the permanent job, although Brown did meet with the university president before this decision was made, according to the report.
What does this mean for Texas football? For starters, Charlie Strong is not going anywhere. While it would be ideal for an AD to be able to choose his or her own football coach, Strong is just underway in his second season of what was supposed to be a multi-year rebuild. No AD, be they interim or permanent, will step in and make that drastic a change right off the bat. The 2016 season could tell a different story, but let’s hold off on any thought of Strong being let go as head coach of the Longhorns. For now, Strong’s job should be considered safe.
What Texas needs is an AD that will smooth over relations with the donors and fans that support Texas football. That has been one of the biggest issues Patterson has been faced with, with a bulk of the responsibility for a strained marriage falling on his shoulders. Texas needs someone that can come in, make the best decisions for the Longhorns from a budget perspective but also from a public relations stance. Patterson may have been making decent business decisions, but it alienated the supporters in the process. There needs to be a balance between making hard decisions and pleasing those who fund the program and university from their own checking accounts. That is where Patterson ultimately failed, and where Texas can ill-afford to mess up again.
Texas should not simply hire a Texas guy for the sake of making Texas fans happy. It is still OK to think outside the box with its next AD hire, and it remains OK to bring in someone with no previous ties to the Longhorns. A fresh point of view can benefit Texas, but it will also be important whoever the next AD ends up being understands the pressures to make fans happy. Donors will be happy to continue writing checks as long as they feel appreciated and the team is winning. If the team is not winning, then the AD needs to bend over backward to sell the message it is committed to improving without caving too soon on Strong as head coach.