Kliff Kingsbury Can Save His Job By Doing What He Does Best

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 25: Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Texas Tech Red Raiders interacts with Patrick Mahomes II
ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 25: Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Texas Tech Red Raiders interacts with Patrick Mahomes II /

As Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury enters another season in which his job is on the line, his fate lies in his ability to do what he does best, develop a quarterback.

In life, when your back is against the wall the best you can hope for is to have the use of your greatest talent or skill at your disposal as you try to fight back.  That is the reality Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury faces in 2018.

Coming off a second-consecutive losing season (his third in five seasons) and with an overall record of 30-33 and an atrocious Big 12 mark of 16-29, Kingsbury’s job is anything but safe.  But the ace he has up his sleeve is that his season, and likely his job at Texas Tech, hinge on his ability to develop a starting quarterback.

Grooming QBs is how Kingsbury has made his living as a coach.  In fact, his work with some of the most prolific college passers of the past decade landed him the moniker of “The Quarterback Whisperer”.

While at the University of Houston, Kingsbury spent four years helping groom record-setting QB Case Keenum who left college with nine NCAA record including most career passing yards and career passing touchdowns.  Kingsbury and Keenum were a team from 2008-2011 (the first two years Kingsbury was an offensive quality control assistant and the last two years he was the offensive coordinator and QBs coach) during which Keenum threw for 16,958 yards and 141 touchdowns.

At Kingsbury’s next stop, he had even greater success with an redshirt freshman quarterback.  Former three-star recruit Johnny Manziel took the nation by storm in 2012 on his way to becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.

For all the raw talent Manziel possessed, he needed a coach to figure out how to harness just enough of his over-the-top playing style and personality to make him a star.  That credit goes primarily to Kingsbury whose work with Manziel off the field is an underrated aspect of “Johnny Football’s” improbable Heisman season.

The next season, as head coach for the first time in his career at any level, Kingsbury inherited a mess at the QB position.  With the only veteran QB on the roster sidelined by a summer back injury, Kingsbury had to start a true freshman in all 13 games in 2013.

Though it was a bumpy ride for long stretches of that season, Kingsbury guided his QB duo of Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield to a combined 5,033 passing yards with 32 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.  It is safe to assume that every Texas Tech fan would sign up for a similar QB performance this year.

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But Kingsbury’s work with freshmen was not finished because in 2014 he had to rely on true freshman Pat Mahomes to start the final four games of the season following an injury to Webb.  All Mahomes did in that stretch was throw for 1,547 yards and 16 touchdowns in just over three games (he missed almost all of his first start after a 1st-quarter concussion).

Under Kingsbury’s guidance, Mahomes would throw for 11,252 yards and 93 touchdowns in just 32 career games before being taken No. 10 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft.  Just when we thought Kingsbury couldn’t out-do his coaching jobs with Keenum and Manziel, he yet again produced a QB who will do down as one of the greatest college QBs of his generation.

Now, Kingsbury is in a familiar situation.  Throughout his career, it has been as common for him to enter a season with uncertainty at the QB position as it has been for him to know that he has a proven commodity to rely on.

That experience should serve him well in 2018.  The trio of QB candidates Kingsbury has in the program have thrown a combined 48 passes in college with 46 of those coming from McLane Carter, the owner of the only start among the group.

And before one begins to believe that the current Texas Tech QB crop is less talented than the previous QB’s Kingsbury has coached, consider that Kingsbury has never coached a 4-star QB recruit.

In fact, as a recruit, Duffey was rated almost exactly the same as Mahomes and Manziel by 247Sports.com.  Duffey’s composite ranking score of 0.8726 is virtually even with Mahomes’ 0.8807 and Manziel’s 0.8740.

Likewise true freshman Alan Bowman’s ranking as a recruit far exceeded Keenum’s and rivaled Webb’s.  Bowman was given a composite score of 0.8568, quite a bit higher than Keenum’s 0.7222 and only marginally below Webb’s 0.8671.

As for McLane Carter, do not believe that just because he is a former JUCO player, that means he was less thought of than Nic Shimonek or Baker Mayfield.  Carter was rated as the No. 7 pro-style QB in the country when he left Tyler JC for Texas Tech in 2017.

Conversely, when Mayfield arrived in 2013, he was the No. 42 pro-style QB in his class and Shimonek was the No. 45 pro-style passer in the class of 2013.  All that is to say Kingsbury has as much talent on paper to begin this year as he has had in any of his other seasons.

We didn’t know that Keenum, Manziel, Mahomes, Webb and Mayfield would all develop into NFL  draft picks when they first started working with Kingsbury.  But the so-called “QB Whisperer” turned all of them from mid-level prospects into star quarterbacks.

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Now he must pull of that feat again in 2018 to save his job and get the program turned in the right direction.  No one is suggesting any of the QBs on the Texas Tech roster will win a Heisman Trophy or be a top 10 NFL Draft pick this year but they certainly can be effective in the “Air Raid”.  With a defense in place that many expect to be the best he’s had at Texas Tech, Kliff Kingsbury now can focus on doing what he does best, finding a way to develop his next quarterback.