Kliff Kingsbury Talks Fears, His Image and Much More in ESPN Article


ESPN.com writer Travis Haney is no stranger around Lubbock. He visited the Hub City twice this year to check in on the Red Raider football program and head coach Kliff Kingsbury, and today published the fruits of that labor.

It’s a must-read article for Texas Tech fans because it covers events both known and unknown around the football building this year and contains candid statements from Kingsbury and Kirby Hocutt on the state of Red Raider football in 2014.

It is a lengthy read, so here are some snippets I found that resonated with me.

"There’s no real blueprint for a team that has played four true freshman quarterbacks, including two walk-ons, in two seasons. Even the most promising of the bunch, sophomore Davis Webb, has inexplicably committed 16 turnovers in eight games in 2014. Entering the season, the coaches thought he was a Heisman dark horse.There’s no guide when the defensive coordinator shows up intoxicated for a morning staff meeting, and then later, after being fired, shares your team’s signals with opponents. That’s what the staff on Monday accused former coordinator Matt Wallerstedt of doing, of trying to further damage the program from which he was dismissed in late September."

In two paragraphs, Haney succinctly sums up what’s wrong with Texas Tech football right now. Davis Webb is not the quarterback we thought he was and the defense is still reeling from the effects of six coordinators in six years. Wallerstedt’s departure is particularly dramatic, and that kind of thing wears down a group of young kids like nothing else.

"When athletic director Kirby Hocutt arrived four years ago, he willingly stepped onto a wildly spinning football carousel. The primary objective of his entire job is to get it to slow down, and hopefully stop altogether.Sitting in his office overlooking Jones AT&T Stadium last week, Hocutt highlighted this recent churn:• Kingsbury is the program’s third head coach in six seasons.• There have been six defensive coordinators in six seasons. Finding Wallerstedt’s more permanent replacement would make seven in seven seasons.• Of the 20 defensive linemen signed from 2010-12, four remain on the roster.• Of the 25 recruits signed in the ’11 class, players who would now be third-year juniors or seniors, 11 remain.“When you go through numerous transition periods that we’ve been through, these are the results you get,” Hocutt said."

Laid out like that, it’s a wonder Texas Tech has won anything over the last few years. Nothing will sink a football program faster than turnovers, both on the field and off. A revolving door of coaches leads to a revolving door of players, and that leads to a losing season. It’s a miracle that guys like Jace Amaro, Kenny Williams and Bradley Marquez (all members of that 2011 class) ever had a chance to make an impact, and a true testament to their maturity.

Hocutt goes on to talk about how Kingsbury’s contract extension before the season was born out of a fear that his wunderkind head coach would be scooped up by another program after this year. Seems silly now, but speaks to the kind of faith he has in Kingbury and his desire for stability.

"“We have a coach who wants to be here. I don’t know if that’s been the case around here in recent years,” Hocutt said. “As they say, [Tommy] Tuberville never had both boots on the ground. Mike [Leach], his last number of years, was always looking to interview and to leave.“To have someone that wants to be here … it’s important.”"

And here you have the abridged history of Texas Tech football’s rise and fall. Leach took the program to new heights, but he was always looking for a better gig. Tuberville wasn’t a good fit; he new it, we knew it and it prevented him from ever fully committing to the program’s rebuild. Now Kingsbury is left to clean up the mess, and it’s going to take time for him to figure things out, get the house in order and install a disciplined culture.

"After spending several days around the program, in meetings and practices, the level of discipline would surprise some of those critics. Kingsbury rarely yells, but he consistently and concisely gets his point across to the players. When it comes to running the program, Kingsbury is more Marine than frat boy. Despite the relative closeness in age, there’s a parental quality to the relationship.“More than anything, they don’t want to disappoint him,” said Kenny Bell, Kingsbury’s right-hand operations man. “It kills them when they do. You can just see it.”"

Haney goes on to illustrate this point with a story about how Kingsbury came down on the players after practice for skipping class among other things. A team’s culture is a direct reflection of the leadership, or lack there of.

But leadership isn’t simply the responsibility of the coaching staff, which is why this 2015 class is so critical. Haney talks about how, as bad as the season has been, Kingsbury’s second recruiting class is turning into a monster. Five ESPN300 recruits are currently committed, with the potential for at least two more, to what could be Texas Tech’s best class ever. Even better than Tuberville’s 2011 class.

Then we get this gem of a story.

"Last year, when “College GameDay” was at Florida State, country singer Jake Owen served as a guest picker. Host Chris Fowler asked Owen to predict the outcome of the Oklahoma State-Texas Tech game.“I have a hard time pulling for a team where I feel like the coach spends more time looking in the mirror than [coaching],” Owen said. “The guy’s a runway model, right?”Owen later felt bad about the joke and sent an email to Hocutt to apologize. Hocutt put Owen and Kingsbury in touch. Kingsbury laughed it off — a reaction that impressed Owen.But it was a very public example of a popular opinion: Kingsbury is discounted as a coach because he resembles Ryan Gosling."

We all remember when this happened, and Haney uses it to segue into a discussion about Kingsbury’s public image. Owen may have lost every single West Texas country music fan that day, but he also foreshadowed an image problem that the athletic department seems to have ignored: Kingsbury isn’t taken seriously as a football coach for the very reasons he’s popular.

While he’s wooing moms, exciting recruits and reinvigorating fan bases with his dashing good looks and boyish charms, he’s also fueling the perception that he can’t coach and shouldn’t be taken seriously. Those accusations are aggravated by a losing record, and everyone at Texas Tech would do well to avoid booking any more TV or magazine interviews for him for the foreseeable future.

"“It comes with it. I guess it’s better than people saying he’s ugly and he can’t coach,” Kingsbury said, laughing. “But no, I’ve heard that. You see the guys on ‘GameDay’ or whatever, making comments. It’s motivation to show that you can. We know what we have here. We know what we’re doing and where we’re heading.”Kingsbury continued, “This has been a tough year for everybody, but there’s people all over the country who have these situations. You can look at a Gary Patterson or a Dan Mullen. Dan Mullen’s two games away from getting fired last year, you know? If they don’t beat Arkansas in overtime, they’re probably going to fire him. They win those two, win their bowl game and they go on a run.“Gary goes 4-8 [in 2013]. He’s one of the top coaches in the country and has been for a long time. This year, they’re in the running for the playoff. Everyone goes through it. You’ve just got to stay consistent.”"

Despite the heartache that must come with having to coach your alma mater to a losing record, Kingsbury − God bless him − never seems to give up hope. What guys like Gary Paterson, Dan Mullen and Gus Malzahn have done over the last two years (take middling teams and lead them to national prominence practically overnight) is absolutely extraordinary, and you can tell that Kingsbury believes he can do the same here.

It may take more than a year, but he believes he can get it done.

Again, I encourage you to read Travis Haney’s article in its entirety if you get a chance. It’s a very well written view of what things look like behind the scenes at Texas Tech these days.