TCU’s Cumbie: Air Raid staying, but has to evolve, get better

TCU’s Sonny Cumbie talks with quarterback Kenny Hill before a Sept. 17 game against Iowa State at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Cumbie will be offensive coordinator for the Horned Frogs in 2017, head coach Gary Patterson confirmed Friday.
TCU’s Sonny Cumbie talks with quarterback Kenny Hill before a Sept. 17 game against Iowa State at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Cumbie will be offensive coordinator for the Horned Frogs in 2017, head coach Gary Patterson confirmed Friday.

TCU assistant Sonny Cumbie said the Air Raid is staying when he takes over as offensive coordinator, but that he must understand what went wrong for a unit that ranked seventh in the Big 12.

“The offense is not going to change, but we got to get better,” he said in an interview with the Star-Telegram. “We’ve got to figure out what we’re good at and play to our strengths. That’s the biggest thing I see.”

Cumbie will take over as offensive coordinator following Doug Meacham’s departure to become offensive coordinator at Kansas, head coach Gary Patterson confirmed Friday. Meacham and Cumbie were co-offensive coordinators as TCU installed the Air Raid offense and soared to a 23-3 record in their first two years.

But last season, the first year without Heisman candidate Trevone Boykin and NFL first-round pick Josh Doctson, TCU averaged almost 13 points a game less and dipped to 6-7 record.

In a question-and-answer session Friday, Cumbie talked about his new role and plans for 2017:

S-T: How will your role change? Cumbie: “I don’t foresee that much changing in terms of input, as we’ve done the last three years. A lot of it’s been together, as a unit. Coach has allowed me to be the one that organizes it all and to be the voice for the unit. I think it helped to hopefully establish the culture on this side of the ball and to do that with the help of the guys we have on staff who have a lot of experience. I’ve been in the midst of trying to call every offensive player and just talk to them, let them know what’s going on. The offense is not going to change, but we got to get better. We’ve got to figure out what we’re good at and play to our strengths. That’s the biggest thing I see.”

S-T: What did the players say? Cumbie: “The only thing any of them really asked about was the offense. ‘It’s not going to change, is it?’ What has been common was their determination to get us back to where they had been. Nearly every one of them said, ‘Coach, I’m ready to get back and get to work and we’re embarrassed and we know that we have the talent to do what we’ve done.’ That’s what’s been exciting and really encouraging, their mindset right now — let’s hurry and get back to Fort Worth because we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

S-T: What needs to change? Cumbie: “You have to evolve a little bit, figure out where teams are catching up to us, in what area. And also, as personnel changes, you’ve got to stay ahead of the game internally. What are guys’ strengths? What can guys do really well? What do guys struggle with? Offensively, I think that’s the biggest thing — our guys being confident in what they’re doing and doing it together. I think that’s a big deal.”

S-T: What will TCU miss without Doug Meacham? Cumbie: “Doug, he had a great sense of humor, and he was very creative. Great energy, really had a positive energy on the field, was always bouncing around. Kept it loose and light. It’s going to be really weird without him around.”

S-T: Does your decision to turn down Texas last year now look better? Cumbie: “Things like that, you never know how they turn out. The worldy side of me, when you get approached with something like that, you want to do it. But when you sit down, for us as a family, and you pray about it and let it sit with you and you go through all the scenarios, at the end of the day, you figure out what’s best right now and long-term. That’s what we did. That’s what we’ve been doing a lot of this season, as well, just trying to lean on our faith and trust that there’s a plan a lot greater than ours and try to be faithful to that as best we can.”

S-T: Do you see yourself as a head coach one day? Cumbie: “I just want to be the best offensive coordinator I can be right now.”

S-T: How did Gary Patterson tell you about your new role? Cumbie: “He just said, ‘Hey this is what’s going on, this is what’s going to happen, you need to get your mind thinking on this.’ ”

S-T: That sounds like him. Cumbie: (Laughs). “Pretty much.”

S-T: He’s always saying, you gotta get ready to play. Cumbie: “We always talk about it — ‘Next Frog up.’ We got to do that as coaches, as well.”

S-T: Do you believe you have to run the ball more in 2017? Cumbie: “At the end of the day, it’s about winning. How do we win as a team? What gives our team the best chance? It’s evaluating your personnel, your opponent. I do believe you’ve got to be able to run the ball when you have to. I’m a quarterback. I played in an offense that threw the ball all the time, and I love it. But you’ve got to be able to run the ball and play defense to win championships. That’s my thought process — how do we win?”

S-T: Are defenses catching up to the Air Raid offense? Cumbie: “For so long, everybody’s practiced against the spread offense, practiced against tempo. They’re getting more accustomed to stopping them. They’re being built to stop them in recruiting. Now as an offense, you try to stay ahead of the curve. Let’s find another way to attack. It’s always a cat-and-mouse game of back and forth.”

S-T: Will you continue to coach the quarterbacks? Cumbie: “Yes.”

S-T: What were your thoughts on the offense in 2016? Cumbie: “You think how the season ended, the Kansas State game, it was embarrassing. You just try to figure out how and why we got to this point and you try to build it back up to guard against that. We had our moments on offense, but like Doug said at the bowl, just inconsistent. The one position that played consistently was running back. Quarterback, we weren’t consistently accurate, we weren’t consistently taking care of the football. Receivers, any time we had a drop, it was like a third-down play, a critical situation. You’d have a penalty after you’d just run off a 40-yard play. We eliminated explosive plays and third-down conversions on our own.”

S-T: How do you evaluate the talent level compared to 2014 and 2015? Cumbie: “I think we have plenty of talent. It’s just us. It’s two-fold. It’s us preparing them and them going out and executing. I feel excited about the talent we have. We’ve got to get better in some areas. We have a lot of talent. The key is doing things together, as a unit.”

S-T: Eight years ago, you were in minor-league arena football. Now you’re a Power 5 offensive coordinator. That’s a long way fast. Cumbie: “By God’s grace. It’s all about opportunity and timing. I’m not silly enough to stand on third base and think I hit a triple. I’ve had so many people along the way that helped me and so many doors that have been opened for me. The job I had in arena was such a valuable experience — head coach, player personnel, offensive coordinator, equipment manager. That’s the way you learn is to go and do. To think how things have turned out since, to be around the people I’ve been around at an early age in this profession — Neal Brown, Coach Leach, Tommy Tuberville, Coach Kingsbury, Meach and Coach Patterson, not to mention all the assistant coaches. Those are the guys I look back, and I think about how they’ve impacted me and helped me.”

S-T: What does this opportunity mean to you? Cumbie: “I’m excited about it. It’s been fun learning with Doug and being around him and the success that we’ve had. I’m looking forward to it. There’s going to be challenges, no doubt. You’ve got to have a good plan. That’s what we’re doing right now, putting together a good plan. Just been very fortunate to stay here with Coach Patterson and see how he operates from a defensive standpoint and a collective team standpoint. There are new challenges every day in managing a roster, managing people that will probably be on my plate a lot more. You look forward to it.”

Carlos Mendez: 817-390-7760, @calexmendez

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