Texas Tech Coaches Face Similar Challenges in Rebuilding


Texas Tech football and basketball head coaches, Kliff Kingsbury, and Tubby Smith have faced eerily similar challenges in rebuilding their respective programs.

There are no two more important coaching positions in an athletic department than those of the head football coach and head men’s basketball coach. This is primarily because they’re almost single-handedly in charge of producing teams that generate the revenue that finances the rest of the university’s athletic expenses.

And there is no disputing that the money Kliff Kingsbury and Tubby Smith generate for Texas Tech, helps fund an indoor track for Wes Kittley’s track team, a new softball stadium for Adrian Gregory’s team, and helps cover travel costs for Candi Whitaker’s Lady Raider basketball squad.

There is no mistaking the importance of the health of the football and men’s basketball programs for Texas Tech. But unfortunately, no one will argue that either of these teams is in great shape.  Kingsbury just led the football team to a 4-8 record, and his overall record as a head coach is 12 – 13. Meanwhile, Smith has not been able to take his team over the .500 mark in his two years on staff, going 26-35 with two more games on the regular season schedule for this year.

While there are few similarities between the two coaches, Kingsbury is 35 and has two years of head coaching experience under his belt, while Smith is 63 with 567 wins and a National Championship in his 24 seasons on the bench. But despite the aesthetic contrasts, the similarities between the rebuilding tasks facing both men are remarkably similar.

Cleaning up the mess of inconsistency

Kliff Kingsbury is the third head football coach at Texas Tech since 2009, following Mike Leach and Tommy Tuberville. The old adage says that a coach must have three or four years to bring in his own recruits and implement his system. For example, Mike Leach’s first four years were mediocre but the last five years of this tenure are where the program took off. And Tuberville stayed only three seasons before bolting for Cincinnati.

Every coach has unique leadership styles and coaching philosophies, so the quick turnover of the coaches has prevented the football program from developing an identity both on, and off the field. Also consider the fact that David Gibbs was recently hired to be the 7th defensive coordinator in the past seven seasons. That is the recipe for the type of atrocious defense Tech has played in recent seasons.

However, the basketball program feels no sympathy for their football counterparts.

When Tubby Smith was hired in 2013, he became the 4th different head coach in four years. I’ve not heard of another program experience that type of insanity and the results on the court bear the fruit of inconsistency. If you don’t think that’s a problem, consider this: former basketball player Jaye Crockett played four seasons at Tech, and never had the same head coach two years in a row.

Pat Knight was fired in 2010 after four unsuccessful years. And in 2011, Billie Gillespie was hired to resurrect Tech basketball, and his own reputation after a stint in alcohol rehabilitation. He resigned only a month before the 2012-13 season was to tip off after allegations of rules violations and player mistreatment surfaced. Assistant coach Chris Walker was the interim head coach for the 2012-13 year. But wanting a more experienced and proven coach, Tech hired Smith for the 2013-14 season and he finally ended the parade of coaches, by coaching this season.

I took a class at Tech with the popular professor Dr. Carl Anderson who said something that I’ve always remembered, “Inconsistency is a crazy-maker.” The state of the Tech football and basketball programs reflect Dr. Anderson’s wisdom.

Nov 15, 2014; Lubbock, TX, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders head coach Kliff Kingsbury during the game with the Oklahoma Sooners at Jones AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Relying on Youth

When there is frequent head coaching turnover, the roster also experiences quite a bit of turnover as players transfer, or become expendable to the new staff — a feeling no player enjoys, considering the recruiting lure is usually the promise of playing time.

Left with a painfully thin roster by the poor recruiting of the Tuberville staff, Kingsbury has had to rely too heavily on freshmen and 1st year junior college players to contribute.

In 17 of his first 25 games as head coach, Kingsbury’s starting quarterback has been a true freshman. To make matters worse, in 2014 only 10 seniors played significant roles for the Red Raiders (two of those seniors were the punter and the place kicker). Meanwhile, 16 freshmen or sophomores started, or were part of the two-deep rotation. These young players lacked discipline, fundamentals, consistency, and the physicality to compete against more experienced foes.

Likewise, Smith has had to rely on true freshman in a way that no one this side of Kentucky’s John Calipari would want to. And as the conference season has progressed, Tech has begun to start four true freshmen (Evans, Odiase, Manderson, and Smith). Another True freshman, Josh Gray, was starting before his season ended due to injury.

Tubby Smith has only three seniors on his team, of which only one (Robert Turner) is in the regular rotation. Some look at Smith’s record at Tech and grumble about his lack of wins. But one must consider that Smith has had only two losing seasons in his career — both of which have been at Tech, where he has been trying to build a program by playing young talented players in order for them to gain experience.

Only time will tell if these inexperienced players will develop into legitimate Big 12 players, but watching them grow is often painful and frustrating.

Lack of Facilities

When TCU completes its renovation of its basketball facilities, Texas Tech will be the only team in the conference without a specific practice gym for its men’s basketball program. As of now, Smith must share the main court and practice court at United Supermarkets Arena with the Lady Raiders, and the volleyball team. Tech’s locker rooms have received little attention since the opening of the arena over a decade ago; the weight room is also outdated and needs to be expanded; plus the lack of bells and whistles makes recruiting an up-hill battle for Smith.

When Tuberbville was coach, he immediately began to bemoan the fact that Tech has no indoor practice facility for the football team. Tuberville was obsessed with the weather and complaining about the wind or snow in Lubbock, and he used his complaints about what the program does have as a crutch to justify his poor results.

Kingsbury has made no such claims, but the truth remains that Tech lacks that which has become commonplace in most big-time football programs: and indoor practice facility. It is admirable that Kingsbury refuses to make excuses, but the truth is that the weather in Lubbock is unpredictable, and an indoor practice facility is desperately needed. For example, Tech begins spring football this weekend when snow and ice are forecasted for Lubbock. While Kingsbury will not complain about the weather, it is human nature to perform at less than one’s best when the man’s main concern is staying warm and dry. An indoor facility would eliminate this distraction from the minds of the players thus allowing them to focus on football.

While plans for a new indoor facility have been released, Tech is nowhere close to raising the money needed to begin construction. Imagine being in a recruiting battle against Oklahoma and Texas (who have everything a football program could want), and trying to explain to a recruit why there is no indoor facility at Tech. “No son, we don’t have an indoor practice facility yet, but here are some pictures of what we hope to have after you’ve graduated.  But don’t worry, you’ll get used to the smell of feed lots and the grit of sand in your teeth.  It breeds character.” Tech needs an indoor facility as soon as possible. I propose that Tech take a collection at each home game by passing a bucket down the isle. I’d pitch in five dollars or so each game. Anything to get this facility built soon is worth considering.

Jan 17, 2015; Lubbock, TX, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders head coach Tubby Smith reacts to a call in the game with the TCU Horned Frogs at United Supermarkets Arena. TCU defeated Texas Tech 62-42. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

A Divided or Apathetic Fan Base

When Mike Leach was fired in 2009, a large crevasse split the Tech family in half. One faction became known on Internet message boards as “Leachers,” who supported Leach, and were so furious about the pirate’s firing that they lost their passion for the program. Attendance at home games decreased during the dark Tuberville era, and there was no harmony in Raiderland. Fortunately, the hiring of Kingsbury seemed to reunite all Red Raiders, but even Kingsbury was aware of the divide as he acknowledged the issue at his introductory press conference when he encouraged all Red Raiders to “Ride Together.”

While Kingsbury’s name and legacy at Tech was able to bring unity to the fans, Smith faces a greater challenge:  he is trying to build a basketball fan base in the heart of football country. Even when Bob Knight had Tech in the top 25 rankings, the U.S.A. was rarely sold out. Now that the program is the worst in the conference the fans are not showing up. Smith has resorted to buying lunch for students on campus to get them to show up, and the marketing team has pulled out every stop they can to increase attendance, but to no avail.

The reality of the situation is that West Texans will sit in snow, rain, heat, or wind to watch football at any level, but to get them to give up two hours of their weekend to sit in a climate controlled arena to watch basketball will require a winning team. It is sad to watch a home game on television from Colorado, and see thousands of empty seats in the camera frame as the game is played. Bringing interest and enthusiasm to the basketball program may be the biggest challenge Smith will face in his hall-of-fame career.


It is painful to admit but no one can deny the fact that the two most important athletic programs at Texas Tech are near the bottom of the conference, putting the man in charge of each program in a difficult situation. In our instant gratification society, patience is as dead as chivalry, or $0.99 gasoline. Yet, fans must be honest about the messes Smith and Kingsbury are being asked to fix.

The only thing Tuberville taught us is that complaining does not bring about change. Only actions can make a difference.

Thus, as fans we must be fanatical about our teams regardless of their recent performance. If we are willing to put our full support behind Kingsbury and Smith, the tide will begin to turn more quickly. We all love our school and our athletic teams, so why not show up and support them in famine, as well as in feast? Doing so will not only relieve some of the burden on the coaches, but it will also show the rest of the nation that the loyalty for which West Texans are know, is not a trait of a by-gone era, but rather an ingrained characteristic by which we daily live and breath.