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The Breakdown: Texas Tech OC Sonny Cumbie

Red Raiders welcome back former QB, Expectations high for offensive success in 2021

Photo CC: Texas Tech Athletics

The last few weeks have been deafening, leaving quite the irritation with fans and alum. Could the administration have handled it better? Absolutely –

The hire of Sonny Cumbie comes with surprising mixed emotions from the Red Raiders. If you have been anywhere on Facebook or Twitter (or even just conversing with Red Raiders you know), you more than likely heard a few offsetting opinions about hiring yet another former Tech QB as a coach. In the Raider fan base, there has been a growing push to hire coaches with a non-Tech background. Sure, I get it. The Kliff Kingsbury experiment didn’t work too well in the way of attaining Ws, and some see this as a repeat. Raider fans, I get the concern, but if you want more offense (and miss the days of the Air Raid), Cumbie is your man. 

The expectations coming into the 2021 season with Sonny Cumbie as OC are going to be sky-high. There are enough key players returning on the offensive side for Cumbie to get his footing. And I like seeing a future OC and a four-star freshman QB hitting it off, even before they hit the field together – 

Let’s take a closer look at Cumbie – 

Cumbie as a Player

Let’s not forget that Cumbie is not just a former Tech QB, he’s also somewhat of a local kid coming from Snyder. As a walk-on in 2000, Cumbie waited his time behind Kliff Kingsbury and Bj Symons before grabbing the starting job his senior year (2004). Coming as a walk-on, learning behind Kingsbury and Symons, and finishing your only year as a starter with 4,742 passing yards with a 65.6 CMP% in the classic Mike Leach Air Raid attack demonstrates three things  – football coachability, drive, trust in the process. These will be key in how Cumbie connects with his offensive players. Cumbie has the story, the drive, and the Red Raider Air Raid mentality to bring back a POTENT offense. Impotence should now be a thing of the past, thankfully. 

And yes, I am wearing this hat right now, and you should too – 

Cumbie by the Numbers

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, going by each year of Cumbie’s time at TCU –

TCU 2014

Year in Review – In his first year as the OC at TCU, Cumbie led a Horned Frogs offense that was second in the nation in scoring with 46.5 ppg. What makes this year even more special is TCU was by far one of the most improved offenses in the country, averaging 21.4 more points more than in 2013. 2014 was a massive one for the Frogs, as they would go on to win their first Big12 Championship and the Peach Bowl. 

Stat that sticks out – Look at those 3rd and 4th down percentages at 42% and 50%. Very Potent…

TCU 2015 

Year in Review – For his second season as OC, Cumbie would dominate yet again, leading the Horned Frogs as the best scoring offense in college football. In his offense, Cumbie was instrumental in the development of QB Trevone Boykin (2X All-American, Davey O’Brien, and Heisman candidate). This year would be particularly memorable for Cumbie taking backup QB Bram Kohlhausen and leading the offense to a 47-41 3OT win over Oregon in the Alamo Bowl. Kohlhaisen made his first start after Boykin was involved in a late-night incident that barred his participation in the bowl game. Not many OC’s can bring in a backup who hasn’t played all season and win.

Stats that sticks out – The balanced stats continue in 2015, and the potency is clearly again on display. Yep, third and fourth downs are a major success with 43% and 46% for the season. 

TCU 2016

Year in Review – Going into the season with a Top15 ranking, TCU finished 6-6. The loss of the Boykin and others was hard to recover from. The struggles of QB Kenny Hill this was the lone QB that Cumbie couldn’t seem to get on the right path (Hill would later transfer).

Stats to know – Yep, third downs and fourth down conversions look good with 40% and 58%. And that’s with a struggling quarterback. Tough stat to swallow.

TCU 2017

Year in Review – Well, I might be sounding like a broken record here, but again the Horned Frogs are competing as one of the top teams in Big12. Oh, and what do we have here? Can it be so? Yep, it can – in 2017 TCU led the nation in third-down completion percentage with 67.2. 

Stat to know – Go one more time and read the last sentence above. Say the 67.2% a little louder….

TCU 2018

Year in Review – Sure, this was not as high flying as previous years, finishing 7-6 (4-5 in conference). This was a sharp change from the previous year, where the Frogs were competing as one of the best teams in the country. This year Cumbie’s offense still produced All-Big12 WR Jalen Reagor (72 receptions for 1,061). The Frogs would also go to the Cheez-It Bowl, barely squeaking by vs Cal.  

Stats to know – Sure the completion percentage is down in the 30s for third and fourth down conversions. Something you don’t see from Cumbie. Oh, and losing to Kansas hurts. 

TCU 2019

Year in Review – Finishing 5-7 isn’t going to be remembered fondly, but the play of FR-QB Duggan will be. As one of the few bright spots of 2019, Duggan flourished under Cumbie’s tutelage. Don’t forget that it was Duggan who blew up versus #15 Texas in the air and on the ground with 273 and 72. Pretty stout for a freshman. That’s what happens when you have an OC that develops a QB’s skills. Does anyone else see the possibilities for Brehen Morton? Bet you do…

Stats to know – Freshman Duggan passed for 1,795 yards, rushed for 526, and only threw 4 interceptions. Sure he didn’t play entire games and split times with another quarterback, but for a freshman – that’s development under Cumbie. Oh, by the way… the third and fourth downs were at 47% and 41%. 

TCU 2020

Year in Review – Like all other teams, it’s a COVID year for TCU. Currently, at 6-4, TCU ranks 22nd in rush yards per game (216) and #97 in passing yards per game (196). I’d say that is quite the balanced attack, but not nearly as fiery in comparison to previous seasons. What sticks out about this season is how close some losses were. 

TCU’s near win list – 

L 41-38 SMU

L 24-17 K-State

L 34-27 Oklahoma State 

L 29-23 3OT Baylor

L 28-24 Oklahoma 

That is a ridiculous amount of close games. TCU could easily have a different season if not for a few choice calls. 

Stat to know – At 38% for third downs, it’s far less than what Cumbie is used to. But again, Cumbie kept the Frogs close in almost every game. That’s key.

Takes from @GUNSUPNATION Crew –

Clint Proctor

Listen, I have thrown a lot of stats for you to digest. With third downs being so bad over the last two seasons, it’s imperative to bring in a Coach that can make changes right away. We need to gather around this hire and see that it is not another “Kliff” situation. Tech needs Sonny Cumbie, who understands the school, what it’s like to be a player, and wants to return Tech to the offense it so desperately misses. 

The stats speak for themselves, this was a good hire and you better believe that Behren Morton has a heck of a development-minded Coach back in Lubbock. I’m excited, and you should be too. Cumbie has saved Wells’ job for now.

Jacob Harris –

Cumbie’s return to Tech signifies not only a return to a truer Air Raid system but also energizes the fan base. This hire is someone that most Red Raiders can get behind, even if they don’t think he was the right hire. You also have to think this hire also revolves around keeping the core of your recruiting class in place. Behren Morton was impressed by Cumbie when he was at TCU. I’m decently certain that Cumbie’s name was run by Morton before he signed. Cumbie will no doubt have plenty of weapons to play with between Morton and Alan Bowman at quarterback, Sarodorick Thompson and Xavier White at running back, and Erik Ezukanma and many others at wideout, not to mention the depth at tight end. I see this as a true hit or miss hire for the program. If you hit, Wells and Cumbie could stay in Lubbock for many years. If you miss, this entire staff could be gone in a matter of months. 

Andrew McCleary –

Cumbie returning to the Hub city certainly moves the fan base needle. It’s hard not to get excited about the potential of the weapons the Raiders have on offense with a return to more of an actual air raid attack. But there are long term concerns still. What does the dynamic between Head Coach Matt Wells, Cumbie, and Athletic director Kirby Holcut look like? If the team performs well, will the praise go to Wells or will it be because another prodigal son came to Lubbock and rescued this team? If this team is off to a slow start, how quickly do the cries to replace Wells with Cumbie begin to bubble up? And are Tech fans healed emotionally after how things went during the Kingsbury era to give another alum a chance to elevate the program? In a vacuum, the Cumbie hire is a terrific fit for this offense, but how the relationships between the coaches, fan base, and Holcut play out will need to be closely monitored.

Trent Wycoff –

Sonny Cumbie is a smart hire for Matt Wells, as he is a name familiar to Red Raiders who will run the favored Air Raid scheme, without immediately presenting a threat to Wells’ job if he’s successful.  While the TCU offense has been hit-and-miss overall in Cumbie’s time there, it is worth noting that Gary Patterson neither prioritizes nor cares for the offensive side of football.  In fact, there were several times at TCU in which Patterson openly threw Cumbie under the bus when the offense struggled.  Yet Gary has proven rarely willing to take ownership of the defense when they would struggle, nor has Patterson much acknowledged that his preference to put the team talent on the defensive side of the ball gives his offense less to work with.  Outside of Jalen Reagor, Cumbie largely had to make lemons out of lemonade in turning players like Kolby Listenbee, Kavontae Turpin, Jaelan Austin, etc. into quality players at TCU.  Even Trevone Boykin was a 3-star (with his only other offer being UTEP) who arrived at TCU as more of an athlete than a quarterback, and Cumbie managed to develop him into a star.  Sonny will be coming into a much better situation at Tech, with by all accounts an incoming elite talent at QB and plenty of skill-position toys to play with.  More importantly, he’ll have much more program and fan support to run a wide-open passing attack.  Cumbie will be able to turn Morton loose knowing he won’t be publicly second-guessed in the postgame by a “leader” seeking to pass the buck, and the Texas Tech fanbase will be patient while Behren develops as long as the offense resumes being prolific, as it should.

RC Maxfield – 

Was it ever really in doubt that Matt Wells would make a good hire? I kid because it feels appropriate to now. Here was my Top 5 list of OC’s I thought that Tech should go after… peep #2! 

What a hire by Matt Wells taking Sonny Cumbie away from a rival Big 12 school you compete with on every recruiting trail. Cumbie has proven to be a great recruiter and developer of talent at the QB position. Much has been made that TCU’s offense hasn’t been “great” while Cumbie was at TCU. He did have success with Boykin early on in his time in Ft. Worth, every Tech fan remembers the tip ball game against TCU. Some of the “struggles” have to do with the style of play Head Coach Gary Patterson wants to enforce. He wants to play an aggressive defensive and ball control type game, this didn’t do any favors for Cumbie in terms of eye-popping stats. 

What will Sonny Cumbie be bringing back do for Texas Tech? Cumbie will bring back the best qualities that the Air Raid has to offer and looking at the current roster, the Tech offense should see a major uptick in downfield passing and explosive plays. He will help maximize the talent on the roster by putting players in the best possible situation by adjusting the offense to the players’ strengths. The offensive line is still an issue for Tech, but again, Cumbie has proven to be able to recruit high-quality talent at the position. Cumbie is by no means Graham Harrell, but this is the next best option. He brings some spark to the fanbase and a knowledge level of the Air Raid that few coaches in America have. This is a really good hire by Matt Wells and for Texas Tech.

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mack steffey
mack steffey
3 years ago


Lawrence Pilkinton
Lawrence Pilkinton
3 years ago

I thought Sonny was untouchable and just never considered him. But Wells, and especially Hocutt did. After being limited by Patterson for years, I expect Cumbie to open up Tech’s offense so it will be explosive and score bunches of points, winning lots of games and making it fun once more for the Red Raiders on the team and in the stands. WRECK’EM, TECH!!

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