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Texas Tech hires Sonny Cumbie as offensive coordinator

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Texas Tech is bringing back Sonny Cumbie as the new offensive coordinator.

Coming off a second straight four-win season, Texas Tech coach Matt Wells needed to make a splash in replacing the dismissed offensive coordinator David Yost. He didn’t necessarily go with the most obvious pick, but he did bring in someone with ties to the school, as it was announced on Monday that TCU offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie would return to Lubbock to run the Red Raider offense.

Fans will remember Cumbie as the starting quarterback for the 2004 Texas Tech team that went 8-4, finishing its season with a Holiday Bowl victory over a No. 4-ranked Cal team led by Aaron Rodgers and Marshawn Lynch. He started his coaching career at Tech before leaving to become the co-offensive coordinator at TCU beginning with the 2014 season.

He’s been the sole offensive coordinator for Gary Patterson’s team since 2017, so unlike some of the other rumored candidates, he has quite a bit of experience running a Power Five offense. He’s also been able to establish ties to the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, which could help in recruiting. The move reunites him with outside receivers coach Joel Filani, who caught two of Cumbie’s 32 touchdown passes in 2004.

Breaking It Down

I’m on record as not seeing a Cumbie hire as being much of a possibility, as it’s a lateral move for him. The TCU offense also hasn’t been particularly explosive of late, and there were more exciting up-and-coming possibilities like SMU’s Garrett Riley and now-WKU OC Zach Kittley who still had Tech ties but also oversaw more prolific offenses this year. But since Cumbie is Wells’ choice, here’s what he’s done in Fort Worth.

TCU sits 52nd nationally in total offense and 48th in points per game this year. By contrast, Texas Tech finished 39th in total offense and 62nd in scoring. The Horned Frogs were eighth in the Big 12 in passing, averaging less than 200 yards per game, but led the conference in rushing at 216 yards per game. That can be owed to the skills of their quarterback, Max Duggan, who’s much more adept at running than passing.

It was a similar story in 2019, with TCU finishing seventh in the Big 12 in total offense while compiling more yards on the ground than through the air. They were eighth in the conference in total offense in 2018 and ninth in scoring after finishing fifth in both total offense and scoring in 2017. So in other words, TCU’s offense could best be described as “pedestrian” during Cumbie’s time running the show.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

The numbers don’t support this being an exciting hire, but there’s reason to believe that may not matter. Cumbie might not have been most fans’ first choice, but he’s a Red Raider from the Air Raid background, so that will at least generate some goodwill. But that will evaporate quickly if the Texas Tech offense doesn’t get a jump start.

In addition to this being his alma mater, Cumbie probably jumped at the chance to run an offense that, simply put, has much more talent. Why has TCU been running the ball so much the last few years? Look at who their quarterbacks have been. They haven’t had a primary quarterback who could even remotely be described as exciting since Kenny Hill in 2017.

They’ve always had solid talent at the running back position and they’ve had some good receivers, but the quarterback play for TCU over the past three years has been poor from a passing standpoint. Asking Cumbie to mold that into a top aerial attack would be like asking him to make chicken salad out of chicken scat. He has to work with the personnel available to him.

Whose fault is that? It’s hard to say. Patterson obviously is the head coach and is a well-known defensive guru, so a lot of that is on him. But Cumbie and the other offensive coaches would share the blame as well. At the very least, quarterback talent doesn’t seem to be a problem the 2021 Texas Tech team will face.

Outlook

The bottom line is Cumbie will have more to work with in Lubbock. He’ll have a QB room that includes veteran Alan Bowman and exciting freshman Behren Morton, a deep and talented group of running backs, and plenty of receivers to spread across the field. We’re going to find out how much of TCU’s uninspiring offense was Cumbie’s fault or if Patterson’s influence kept it tamed.

For Wells, this is the hire that will define his tenure as the Texas Tech head coach. For all the strides the defense made under Keith Patterson in 2020, the offense took several steps back. If Cumbie can revive the Air Raid and the defense can continue to improve, the Red Raiders could sneak their way into the top half of the Big 12 standings next season.

Wells obviously wanted someone with a good amount of experience running an offense, and that’s exactly what he got. Hopefully Cumbie can open up the playbook and breathe new life into the Texas Tech passing attack. But if the offense looks too much like TCU’s, the entire coaching staff could be looking for new jobs this time next year.

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