Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury and University of Texas head coach Charlie Strong are both entering what could be make-or-break seasons at their respective jobs. Now, after Kingsbury took a verbal jab at braggadocios comments made by Strong last week, it is fair to wonder if there is a personal rivalry brewing between the two coaches.
Texans are known for their bravado as much as for anything else and last week, Texas Longhorns’ head coach Charlie Strong made one of the brashest statements of his coaching career. But the irony of his remarks has caught the attention of Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who did not hesitate to return fire.
"When speaking about what is going to happen in the Texas football future , Strong said, “They [opponents] might as well move out of the way, because we are going to steamroll everyone. That’s going to happen.”"
Most of America found humor in Strong’s remarks considering the Longhorns are coming off of two consecutive losing seasons including a 5-7 2015 campaign that saw the program miss out on postseason play. Strong is still trying to restore the substance to the Longhorn’s own perceived God-given football swagger as he heads into year three on the sidelines in Austin.
Thus far, the former Louisville head coach has gone just 11-14 on the 40 acres after going 37-15 in four seasons with the Cardinals (though those seasons coincided with the presence of current NFL star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s tenure at Louisville). Perhaps that is why Strong felt compelled to make such brazen remarks.
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Maybe he is trying to set the tone for his team and instill confidence in the Texas players that have been battered by the local and national media for quite a few seasons now. Whatever his motivation was, any time the Texas Longhorns’ coach speaks, it is going to grab the ears of everyone in the state.
When the Lubbock media told Kliff Kingsbury of Strong’s comments, he replied in classic Kliff Kingsbury fashion. Never one to shy away from speaking his mind but also always calculated in his public remarks, Kingsbury lobbed return fire at Strong.
"“He said that?” Kingsbury told reporters at spring practice. “It’s not April Fools’ yet, is it? No? He just cut it loose? “I would not make those statements. But hey, to each his own.”"
For now, Kliff Kingsbury has the bragging rights over Strong via the Red Raiders’ 48-45 Thanksgiving night shootout win in Austin. But there is as much irony in Kingsbury’s remarks as there was in Strong’s.
In 2015, Kliff Kingsbury watched from the sidelines as his defense was actually steamrolled by everyone. The Texas Tech defense yielded over 290 yards per game on the ground last year (second-worst in the nation) including allowing Strong’s Longhorns to run for 408 yards and six touchdowns.
Most of those yards came from true freshman running back Chris Warren II who gashed the Red Raiders for 276 yards and four scores. Texas Tech was able to win at Texas for the first time in almost two decades but to say that Warren II didn’t steamroll the Red Raiders would be a fallacy.
So in the end, both men enter the upcoming season with something to prove and a fun rivalry could be boiling.
Many coaches around the country and especially in the Big 12 are resentful of the attention Kliff Kingsbury has received for his fashion, movie-star looks, pre-practice dance moves and other aspects of the young coach’s tenure not related to football. Meanwhile, every coach in the nation short of Urban Meyer at Ohio State and Nick Saban at Alabama are envious of the money, facilities and player talent Strong has failed to capitalize on thus far.
So could a rivalry be brewing between the in-state rivals? It is not out of the realm of possibility.
Strong has rubbed many the wrong way since coming to Texas. He is an outsider, a hired gun from up north that is trying to lay claim to the football mecca that is the Lone Star State.
Every time he makes remarks similar to those he made last week, the hackles on the other Big 12 coaches (especially those in Texas) are going to stand on end. History has proven that if any native Texan head coach is going to stand up to an outsider, it will be Kliff Kingsbury.
His postgame comments towards Arkansas’ head coach Bret Bielema after Texas Tech’s 35-24 win in Fayetteville, Arkansas on September 19
of last year are proof of that.
Now, with Arkansas no longer on Texas Tech’s schedule, could Kliff Kingsbury aim his sights at taking down the biggest tree in the state’s forest? If so, now would not be a bad time to try as that tree is wobbly and could be on the verge of tumbling to the ground.
In today’s politically correct world, sports have become tamer than in eras past. Coaches know that there are thousands of media outlets and fan blogs that will not only catch everything a coach says but will analyze it to death (as some may accuse this writer of doing in this very piece). Thus, the colorful feuds between coaches, like that between Michigan’s Bo Schembechler and Ohio State’s Woody Hayes, have almost become extinct.
Here’s hoping Charlie Strong continues to make controversial statements that rile up other coaches, especially Kliff Kingsbury. Likewise, many hope that Kingsbury will continue to fire away with his quick wit and bold opinions. Given some of the lackluster performances of each program in the last few years, a war of words between these two head coaches may be as entertaining than anything that takes place on the field.