When TCU hired co-offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie in the off-season, the message was clear.
Head coach Gary Patterson wanted a drastic change in offensive philosophy, a unit that could rival similar offenses in the Big 12 and the rest of the country.
Meacham and Cumbie have been entrenched in separate but similar offensive schemes, Meacham at Oklahoma State for eight seasons before spending 2013 as Houston’s offensive coordinator, and Cumbie as a starting quarterback and later assistant at Texas Tech.
Together, they hope to combine the best nuances of both to create an up-tempo, no-huddle attack that will help the Horned Frogs return to their former glory.
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Head coaches and select players from each team meet for Big 12 Media Days on Monday and Tuesday in Dallas.
Meacham and Cumbie won’t be there. But soon after the conclusion of spring practice, the pair met for a joint interview to explain how they hope to transform the TCU offense.
To read the complete conversation, go to www.star-telegram.com/tcu. Here’s a condensed version of the conversation:
Doug, when you were hired in December, was Sonny already in the picture?
DM: Yeah, I had an idea. Coach [Gary Patterson] and myself had visited [and talked] about some guys. Sonny was a guy I had known for a few years that matched what we wanted in terms of energy and knowledge of the offense and the kind of person he was. Just having that general knowledge of what we’re doing here now was something we were looking for.
You guys knew each other from being on the road recruiting?
DM: Yeah, on the road recruiting. And with similar offenses we had been around. Sonny had been at Tech and when Dana Holgorsen came in [at Oklahoma State] we adopted the same philosophy.
When and where did you two first meet?
DM: We were in a meeting one day with Dana. There’s a lot of spread offenses, but there’s not a whole lot of guys who know particularly what our version is. There are a few: Dana, [Kliff] Kingsbury, [Mike] Leach. Holgorsen kept talking about Sonny before I even met him. That always struck a chord with me. I started talking to him about their summer routines and drill work and things like that. We met at Junior College national championship in Pittsburg, Kan.
SC: It was in December 2010. It was so cold.
Why has having co-offense coordinators become so popular in today’s game?
DM: Two is better than one. [laughter] Even though the offenses we’ve been around are very similar, there’s a lot of differences. There are some nuances that are different, and I think what we’re trying to do is take the ideas that aren’t exactly the same from both offenses and integrate them into one and make this our offense. Not Tech’s, not Oklahoma State’s, not Houston’s, but ours. And that’s what we’re trying to do.
How similar is this offense to the one you quarterbacked at Tech in 2004? Has it evolved?
SC: I think at the core of all of them, the foundation is the same. It’s just how they’ve branched out. Each coach has taken what they like to do and they’ve evolved around that. The basics are still the same.
DM: A lot of it is based on personnel, too. Now that the base package is in and they understand the general workings of it we’ll have to incorporate things that will lend itself to the personnel that we have. So there may be several positions that are different than what he had at Tech or what I had at Oklahoma State or at Houston. And we’ll have to integrate some things that may be a little bit different, but by and large the same philosophy will be the same.
What kind of quarterback is the best fit for this kind of offense?
SC: I think the main thing, is how much mental twitch do they have? How do they process it? If they’re 6-foot and can run and they can process it and they know where we’re going pre-snap or if they’re 6-5 and they can’t run. I couldn’t run a lick. Cody Hodges was after me, and he could run and he had a lot of success. So there’s been a bunch of different guys in this offense. Chris Hatcher [at Valdosta State] is one of the best quarterbacks in this offense ever and he wasn’t very tall. The main thing is, mentally, how do they handle it. If we have a guy who can run with it, great. That’s awesome. If we don’t, then we don’t. But we want a guy who can process it mentally and get the ball where it needs to be quickly and accurately, most importantly.
DM: How you teach it, how you coach it. The terminology and the simplicity of it. We don’t have a playbook.
How odd is that?
DM: It’s pretty odd overall. At Oklahoma State we didn’t have one. At Houston we didn’t have one. I know Dana doesn’t have one.
How many plays is it?
DM: 30-something. We take certain plays and we piece them together based on the defenses we see but we don’t invent plays. We take plays that exist and put certain schematics together and match them up as we go. Our approach is it’s all visual. It’s kind of like, on Christmas, if you put together your son’s bicycle. Do you look at the picture or read the directions? I think we look at the picture. I think these kids nowadays are so much more visual.
Back in the late ’80s Houston had the run and shoot and many considered it a gadget offense. When did the respect start coming?
SC: When Leach first got to Lubbock there weren’t very many spread teams in the conference. Tech was the exception and now it’s kind of the rule. I think the success he had with it had a lot to do with it. And defenses have changed and evolved just like offenses, so they play it better and they recruit differently to stop these type of offenses. If you’re not evolving, with anything, then you’re not getting better. You’re going to get stuck and left behind. That’s kind of the deal with offense.
How come you [Meacham] are coaching the inside receivers and not quarterbacks, as you did at Houston?
DM: Sonny played it. He’s so much more well-versed at that position than I was. I found out at Houston not coaching the receivers, because it’s such an integral part of it because we put a lot of pressure on those guys to read coverages, as well. I just felt more comfortable because I had done it and he had obviously played the position in this offense, and it just made for a better match for us to do that.
Sonny, was that part of the attraction for the job, that you would be hands-on with the quarterbacks here?
SC: Yeah, that definitely was a big part of it. To be able to coach the quarterbacks and bring that side of it to the offense.
Was knowing TCU’s defense is usually pretty solid part of the attraction?
DM: The thing that really interested me was hearing all the things about Coach Patterson over the years. I liked the kind of guy he is. He’s the kind of guy you want on your sidelines on game day. He’ll fight you; he’ll fight for the team. He’s a guy who’s up-front. You know what you’re getting. I really appreciated that part of him. Also, every other school I had ever been a part of was all about offense, offense, offense. So it’s really cool for me to integrate this style of offense at a school that was all defense and see how that mixes. And, obviously, the location. Just being right in the middle of Texas has always been something that interests you. One of the problems we had at Oklahoma State was just getting them up there. Of course, you don’t have that problem here.
SC: Absolutely. I know how the guys on this staff have recruited here. I know the type of players they had in the past and the players they’re recruiting currently. That was a big part of it, too. If we could get this offense going, we’re going to play great defense. And to match those two together. So far it looks like it’s been a good marriage. We’ll find out this fall ultimately when we get to the field. The type of players you’re around in this area as far as the recruits you can attract having a high-octane, up-tempo offense in the DFW area that the kids are going to want to play for … that was a big draw for me.
Has that already happened?
DM: Yeah, there’s a lot of interest from skill-set guys offensively. It definitely helps. But I think once you put the product on the field and actually show them what you’re doing; once they see it on TV, I think it will really help a lot.
There was much made of the offense struggling during the spring game. How much was that you not wanting to show much and keeping it vanilla?
DM: We’re just bad coaches. It was a combination of things. We had some young players first time playing in front of some people in a new offense. We just wanted to keep it base and let them play fast and not having them think a whole lot.
Is the up-tempo aspect more physical or mental?
DM: It’s a lot mental because you have to process a lot really fast. It’s not like you have time to sit there and think about A, B, or C. It’s pretty much: you’ve got to know. And a lot of things. Receivers read coverages so they’ll see a certain coverage, and then when the ball moves they’ll morph into a different coverage and the receivers will morph into a different location on the field. So it takes a little bit of time because of the speed of it. The quarterback is reading their progressions and the communication part of it. You have to have some mental twitch. You have to be able to think fast and how you do that is you don’t have a million plays. You just get really good at what you have and you try to do it better than they can defend it. And you can play at a faster level because you’ve run that particular route or that particular run play or that particular read over and over and over again.
Doug, you’re going to be the lead play caller and on the sidelines. What kind of input will Sonny have?
DM: I will call them, but I’m going to listen to ideas. Sonny will be up top so he’ll have the best angle to see it. Plus, being the guy coaching the quarterbacks, so a lot of the input will come from him. And a lot of the run input will come from the offensive line coach [Jarrett Anderson].
You’re comfortable in the booth?
SC: Yeah, I was in the booth for three years at Tech. You just get a better picture of what’s going on. You’re removed from the emotion of the game, but you see everything. The thing is, when you move quickly on offense you don’t have a lot of time to talk about what happened. You just have to process current information right now and then after the drive you can kind of go through it and dissect this is what happened on this play and that play. You don’t have time because it happens so fast.
TCU’s receiving unit had a down year in 2013. How would you assess that area of the team from the spring?
DM: I thought they were great. They played fast, they played hard, they’re trying to adapt to the speed of it in terms of the volumes of reps they’re getting. What you’re trying to do is simulate anxiety. You don’t want it to be comfortable for them at practice. You try to make it harder out here and making them think and process and be under duress as much as you can in practice so [games] will be easier. We actually probably go faster in practice than we do in games to get that sense of urgency and anxiety.
That’s the same thing that Patterson has been doing on the defensive side for 10 years.
DM: Yeah. He coaches defense a lot like offenses. They run plays, they play that match clue zone. It looks like zone but it’s really not. It’s more of a zone. They’ve got a good scheme.
You think it’s going to help the defense practicing against an up-tempo offense, which is so prevalent in the Big 12 and all around the country?
DM: I think so. You look at the percentages and I think the teams that do what we do is greater than the teams that run the option or power football. I think overall it’ll help them. And we try to integrate the physicality parts and the short yardage goal-line stuff. We get big and we try to smash each other and try to keep the physical part of it, too. It’s a finesse offense, but you don’t teach it finesse. You teach it physical and hard and try to keep that mentality.
Coach Patterson said Trevone Boykin was the No. 1 quarterback after spring practice. Is there still a chance that could change?
SC: If we played a game tomorrow Trevone would be our guy. Those two guys coming in are very talented. But how fast will they learn? How fast do they adapt to our system? How fast do they adapt to college? How fast do they adapt to other teammates? You don’t know. The toughest thing is figuring out how we rep it and give everybody a fair shake at it. That’s the hardest thing to figure out how to give everyone the proper amount of reps. You’ve got a guy [Boykin] who has played in some big-time games, won some games in the Big 12 and hadn’t played as well in the Big 12 at times, but he has a lot of experience and a lot of ability.