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TCU Football’s offensive coaching structure is beginning to come into focus

Jerry Kill is the head coach of the offense and the man tasked with evaluating everyone in the program. Even his boss.

TCU Football at Iowa State (10.5.19)
TCU Football at Iowa State (10.5.19)
Melissa Triebwasser

Gary Patterson was coy — even by his standards — when asked by the media during a Zoom call last week what the structure of TCU Football’s offensive coaching room would look like in 2020. “That’s for me to know and you to find out.”

It was a typical response of the Horned Frogs’ head coach, a man known to be a little prickly with members of the media at some times and secretive at all times. Patterson has long had a standing rule that assistants don’t take the microphone, and it’s so rare, in fact, that when offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie took the podium after the loss to SMU last fall, it was a bigger story than the game itself.

Well, two things happened Monday morning that shattered the status quo; for one, newly minted special assistant to the head coach Jerry Kill took to Zoom himself to talk to the press, and two — he spoke openly.

After months of speculation as to what exactly the former Minnesota head coach and long time friend of GP was doing in Fort Worth, we got some answers — or at least some clarity — in Kill’s call with the media. Saying that Patterson is referring to him as “the head coach of the offense”, Kill was effusive in praising the talent of the players while not being afraid to make it clear that the coaches need to do a better job — something that GP has given him carte blanche to say, even if it’s about the boss. “He told me to evaluate everybody, so that’s what I’ve done. He even asked me to evaluate him. So I just say what I think, and it’s been good.” While he won’t be on the field during games, Coach Kill can be vocal during practice, in meeting rooms, and during film study. He plans to hold the veteran staff to a high standard, while also making sure that they are doing right by their players. “My role is to come in and coach the coaches. I am in the meetings, restructuring the offense, really. I’m the head coach [of the offense], and every once in a while I’ve got to lay down the law.”

While no names were called out, Kill said what anyone who has watched TCU Football knows — the offense has gotten steadily worse despite the fact that the Horned Frogs are recruiting more highly-rated players, and the staff on that side of the ball simply has to do a better job. But Kill believes that that unit isn’t just salvageable, it has a chance to be elite. “I think there is enough talent there to be better than we were a year ago. We should be better, period. I think the talent is there, we have to get it coached up.” Something that Kill preached over and over again, and that will be music to TCU fans’ ears, is that the job of the coaching staff is to recognize what their players do well and put them in position to do it. That has been a key complaint of Sonny Cumbie’s offense, especially the most recent version of it — that the play caller stuck to his card instead of reading his talent. If Kill helps put square pegs in square holes in 2020, he will have gone a long way to endearing himself to the fan base. That’s especially true of quarterback Max Duggan, who has been through the ringer this offseason, and had his feet (unfairly) held to the fire. “Sometimes the first year is tough. But the second year is where you make your biggest improvement. He works hard, he studies the game, he’s got all the talent in the world, so we are excited about year two. He knows what he needs to work on, he’s definitely got a chip on his shoulder — he’s taken a lot of heat. That comes with the position. We have to do what he does best. At the end of the day, a good coach does what his kid does best.”

How the dynamics of the Cumbie-Meacham reunion, along with the addition of Kill and Bryan Applewhite, will play out remains to be seen. But it’s clear who will have the final say in the room. Kill has been given the green light by the head coach, and it will be up to the rest of the staff to buy in. But someone with his experience, and a guy who has been a fixer the last several years, can certainly benefit the program. It would be wise of Cumbie, once one of the hottest young coordinators in the game, to listen to his new mentor. Kill doesn’t want to take over, but he does want to make TCU Football better. “My number one thing is coaching the coaches and helping Gary out with all the stuff he needs not to be doing so he can concentrate on the things he should be doing. I am the checkmark guy on offense; what I say goes, if I have to get on somebody, get on them.”

It’s all well and good if the Frogs get back to winning, but Coach Kill certainly seems to have the right ideas when it comes to accomplishing exactly that.

“I am one of those who believes ‘you take what you got and you put them in the right position to be successful’. You coach them up and you don’t make excuses. If you don’t turn over the ball, don’t take sacks, and you have some big plays, then you’ve got a chance to win.”