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Q&A with Arizona offensive line coach Joe Gilbert

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Hear from UA’s new o-line coach

Joe Gilbert is the Arizona Wildcats’ new offensive line coach under Kevin Sumlin.

Gilbert spent the last six seasons with the Indianapolis Colts under Chuck Pagano.

Gilbert is a native of upstate New York, graduating from Horseheads High School in 1983. He attended Division III Hamilton and started on their offensive line for all four years. He was a DIII All-American his senior season.

Gilbert has been coaching ever since, slowly migrating south and then west. He worked as offensive line coaches and numerous small colleges in the Northeast, before becoming offensive coordinator at Maine from 1996-99.

He spent the 2000 season as head man at Mansfield High School in Pennsylvania, a few miles from his hometown. He then moved onto Toledo as an offensive line coach, then to UCF, then back to Toledo to coach tight ends.

In 2008, Gilbert spent the season with Sumlin at Houston in charge of the offensive line. After a short stint at Illinois, he moved onto the Colts.

Gilbert spoke to the media Friday for the first time since being hired at Arizona. Here is what he had to say.

Offensive line coach Joe Gilbert talks about work ethic, Kevin Sumlin, restaurants in Tucson and the difference between college and the NFL.

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Friday, April 6, 2018

You coached at Houston in 2008. Is that when you first met Coach Sumlin?

I’ve know Kevin way back before then. That was his first coaching job and I ended up getting hired there as the offensive line coach, 10 years ago now.

How has that relationship developed?

Well obviously I was there a year with him. I left and I went to Illinois. And then from there he left Houston and went to Texas A&M. But over the years we’ve stayed in touch and it’s been a good one. You know? I mean we’ve stayed in touch and then obviously at the end of his season this year he reached out to me. We had a couple of conversations. Our situation with the Colts at the time, you know, not a good one. So we were kind of up-in-the-air as well just hanging in there. If things work out somewhere we’d like to reunite. That was kind of what happened.

So how did the opportunity at Arizona develop?

Obviously when the whole situation went down I was with Kevin at the NCAA convention. He said ‘Listen if this thing works out just want you to know I’ll be giving you a call and things will work out.”’I had a couple of other opportunities after the situation with the Colts went down. A couple of different places didn’t work out. Kevin called, offered me to opportunity and I took it.

How has it been adjusting from day-to-day working with college guys instead of guys who are professionals at their position?

Both are different. There’s positives and negatives about both the NFL and being in college. I think one thing that I miss a little bit was developing relationships with the players. Obviously we are both feeling each other out at this point as far as me getting to know them and them getting to know me. So the expectations are high, it isn’t going to change and we’ve explained that. I’ve been very clear. They’re young men but there is a level that we’re going to expect. We’re not going to come off that just because they can or can’t do it. The expectation is going to be high. College athletics, much like the NFL, we’re expected to win, bottomline. In order to do that we’ve got to push these guys to the limit they don’t think they can get to. That’s how they get better.

You mentioned positives and negatives, what was the biggest thing that you’ve really noticed besides building relationships?

When you get into the NFL you’re dealing with a lot of different things. You’ve got a rookie. You may have a 10-year vet that’s been in several different clubs that have coached under or played under several different coaches. He was taught different things. So you got to adapt as a coach. Here, I’ve got the guys, what I believe in, what I think works. So I’m able to just develop those guys and teach them that we’re going to do it one way. You’ve kind of figured out there that you’ve got to have a little bit of ‘we’re going to teach you things.’ But when you’ve got a guy that’s at the end of his career and he’s done it a certain way for 10 years, that’s a hard habit to break. So you’ve got to kind of adjust with that. And that’s a learning phase. It really is. When you first start out saying ‘hey we are going to do it this way.’ You adjust your coaching style a little bit as you get through that.

One thing about the NFL is you don’t recruit and now you’re recruiting. East, Midwest is that your region?

No I’ve got the west side of Phoenix. And I’m going to take Colorado, Washington, and Oregon. And I’m going to recruit nationally for offensive linemen. So I’ll be in Texas, Florida, Northeast, D.C. I’ll be all over in the spring. I think we’ve got a great product here. I think we’ve got a great school, great facilities. The thing I’ve found out at this point is that we’ve just got to get them here. I think that when you get them here and get them in front of Coach Sumlin and the staff, we’ve got a chance. It’s just a matter of getting them here. I was shocked when I came here. I was here back when (Mike) Stoops (was here). My wife’s family is here and so I used to come down here. I used to come to spring practice but the building wasn’t here then. I was shocked when I came back and saw this. I mean I took the job without seeing anything. So I was shocked when I came in and said ‘Man we got something special that we can build around.’

What are your strongest ties around the country?

I would say probably Florida and the East Coast and the Midwest. That’s where I spend most of my time recruiting.

So Phoenix is kind of foreign to you?

That would be new to me, yep. I’ve already reached out to every coach for my schools up there. I think I have 56 schools. I’ve already emailed every one of them. I will be at every school come spring.

How does one get into a new region and flourish right away?

At first you’ve got to build relationships. That’s what it is. Introduce yourself. Obviously if they have a player, look at them. I’ve never been on Twitter, never been on Facebook so this whole social media thing is new to me. But the thing you got to be I think is still upfront with people. So my style of recruiting is going to be a little bit different than most at my age. I’m going to cut to the chase and say ‘Here’s our options. Here’s where we want you to be here.’ And hopefully you want to be here. I think that’s the way it works. Today with all the social media, kids get caught up. How many stars am I? And all this stuff. They really lose sight of what is important. It’s finding the right fit for them. And we got to find the right fit for us.

Any players that have stood out to you in practice so far?

I don’t want to generalize with certain guys. But I think overall, what I found out, the core work ethic here is really, really good here. I mean they work their tails off during practice. You can coach them hard and at the same time you put an arm around them and try to love them up. Then they buy into it and I think they are. I’ve been really pleased with our overall effort on a daily basis. We’ve been putting a lot of things in, we’ve got a lot in scheme-wise. I think there are guys that have picked it up, the older guys have picked it up better than some of the younger guys. So we’ve got to keep pressing on that standpoint.

At what point do you look for guys to make that transition with schemes and to reconcile what you’ve been saying?

All of them are getting there a little bit. Each one is at a different speed. Layth, who’s coming back for his fifth year, he’s played enough football that he’s going to be ahead of a guy who’s a freshman. That’s where it is right now and we are young up front. We got one senior coming back, three juniors and the rest are freshmen and sophomores. Overall, we are really young up front. There’s going to be some growing pains a bit, but the one thing they do well is fight.

What are some things that might look different about this group this year than fans might be accustomed to?

I don’t know what the fans are accustomed to. I honestly didn’t watch a whole lot of tape on these guys because I wanted to make my own opinion. I wanted to see where they were. I just hope we put a product on the field that plays hard 100 percent of the time, gives great effort. We’re going to make our mistakes. That’s football. That’s why it’s called a sport. Hopefully we make less than the other team and we win. I just hope that we give 100 percent effort for the fans, every single play.

Does it help you have Layth coming back who played left tackle last year? And you have a guy like Nathan Eldridge coming back playing center. Some say those are the two most important pieces on the line. Does it help you coach them knowing you have pieces like that?

It does. There’s no question. Your left tackle, I don’t care what level you play at, and your center are important because they got to put guys in the right direction. Make the calls, make the correct IDs, all of that. So that is important. Having two older guys that have played a lot of football makes it easier to help everyone else get going. That piece of it does make it easier.

How has it gone going from a pro scheme in the NFL to a pretty fast-paced, spread offense that Coach Sumlin runs?

I’ll tell you, it’s been a little bit different because of the pace here is fast. So that’s been different. It’s funny because in the NFL you think you go fast...that isn’t fast. This is fast. The one thing you find out is that you’re going to have to dictate scheme-wise a little bit about what the defense is running. You can get caught in some bad situations by going fast. Whether you’re zone-blocking, man-blocking, whatever it may be. That’s one thing figuring out, coming back and seeing this type of tempo offense, how things may adjust based on what you see game plan wise.

Thiyo (Lukusa) was someone we heard about last year but didn't get to see. How has he progressed this year?

He’s doing well. I’m pleasantly surprised. A guy that’s missed of football for a year, it’s kind of what you expect a little bit. But as a great kid, working his tail off, and a guy I think really loves football, it’s important to him, he’s done a really good job.

Is his foot okay? (He’s walking with boot)

Yeah, he has a light ankle deal. But it’s going to hold him out for a couple of days.

Anything that you’ve seen in Tucson?

I’ve hit a lot of restaurants. That’s been pretty good around here. You guys have good food, that’s for sure. Between work and going out for dinner, at the end of the day that’s been about it. Like I’ve said, I had some family down here so I spent a little time down here before coming down here.

Any restaurants you really like?

I don’t want to turn any of them down. They’ve all been excellent. And the people, one thing I want to say, have been excellent. The people of Tucson have been more than outgoing and really pleasant to be around. It’s been a really great experience so far. Hopefully when we win it’ll be even better.

After a couple of weeks of practice now, what’s your message to your offensive line?

For tomorrow’s scrimmage I just want great effort. Hopefully we can minimize out mental mistakes. If we can go out there tomorrow and play at a high tempo, with great effort and assignment wise, I’ll be happy. Technique-wise, it’s an ongoing process. So that’s what I’m looking for tomorrow.

Talking to the other coaches they mentioned no egos is a theme. How has it been gelling with the rest of the offensive staff?

I got to tell you, Kevin put together an amazing staff. It really is. This is my 32nd year coaching, and I’ve been in a lot of different places and a lot of different people. There are no egos on this staff. We have a great staff, great group of guys. Whether it’s here or afterwards going to dinner. Our families, we’re all from a distance away, so our families aren’t here yet. So basically for us to go out to dinner and get to know each other has really been a positive. And there’s going to be some point in the season when it gets rough and that’s when you’ve got to have each other’s backs. This is a time when you really build the relationships which will get you through those tough times.