Texas Tech football: Kliff Kingsbury admits he didn’t like recruiting

DALLAS, TX - MARCH 17: Texas Tech Red Raiders football coach Kliff Kingsbury cheers during the game between the Florida Gators and Texas Tech Red Raiders during the second round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament at the American Airlines Center on March 17, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - MARCH 17: Texas Tech Red Raiders football coach Kliff Kingsbury cheers during the game between the Florida Gators and Texas Tech Red Raiders during the second round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament at the American Airlines Center on March 17, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

In a recent article from ESPN.com, former Texas Tech football head coach Kliff Kingsbury admitted what we all suspected; he did not care for the recruiting process as a college head coach.

The more removed we become from the Kliff Kingsbury era of Texas Tech football, the more we are beginning to understand why the former Red Raider quarterback was a failure as a college head coach.  And in a recent ESPN.com article, we got some insight straight from Kingsbury himself.

When discussing the difference between coaching in the college and professional ranks, the first-year Arizona Cardinals head coach was candid when discussing one of his greatest shortcomings during his six-year run in Lubbock.  He admitted that recruiting was not one of his top priorities, nor was it something he particularly enjoyed.

"“That’s a huge plus for me,” Kingsbury told ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss. “I enjoyed all aspects of being a head coach in college, but the recruiting, that’s the lifeblood of any program. That should be your focus. That may not have been my focus at times as much as it should’ve been because I wanted to coach the quarterbacks and be in the X’s and O’s and study other offenses.”"

The fact that Kingsbury proved to be a poor recruiter was surprising to most given his age, persona, and G.Q. style.  However, none of those factors mattered because the youngest power-5 head coach in history proved rather uninterested in putting in the type of effort required to bring top talent to Lubbock.

Because Texas Tech is not a blue-blood program, the only way the Red Raiders have been able to land high-end prospects is by grinding away on the recruiting trail and outworking other schools.  That was was something Kingsbury and his staff were not willing to do.

Early in his tenure, he seemed to be able to get by on his charm and looks.  In fact, his top recruiting tactic might have been to flirt with the mothers of the players he was recruiting.

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"“Yeah, yeah that’s kind of … you’ve got to play to your strengths,” Kingsbury said on the Dan LeBatard Show back in 2014. “So I kind of encourage that a little bit. It’s part of the deal, man. So, yeah.”"

But when he made those remarks, he was coming off a stellar 8-5 debut season and was the toast of the Big 12, if not the country.  At the time, it appeared as if he was a star in the making and at the end of that recruiting cycle, Tech seemed to be on an upswing as the 2015 class was ranked No. 32 overall and third in the Big 12, the highest of any of Kingsbury’s six classes at Tech.

However, as Tech struggled on the field after the 2013 season, the program’s fortunes on the recruiting front did as well.  From 2016-2018 as Tech had 3-straight losing seasons, Kingsbury’s recruiting classes ranked 44th, 49th, and 72nd nationally according to 247Sports.

In other words, when Kingsbury’s shine faded and the novelty of his looks and style had worn off and he was faced with the prospect of having to grind away on the recruiting trail, it became obvious that he did not have the desire or willingness to do what his program needed and put in the legwork necessary to upgrade his roster’s talent.

That’s not to say that Kingsbury didn’t work hard.  We all heard plenty of stories about his 16-hour workdays that began at 4:30 am.

But far too much of that time was spent in front of a whiteboard diagramming plays or with his attention glued to a computer screen as he scouted other offensive schemes from around the nation and the NFL in an attempt to come up with the latest game-changing offensive wrinkle.  However, plays are only as effective as the players that execute them.

What’s more, there was another critical aspect of the game that got little attention from Kingsbury; the defense.  And it’s safe to assume that a coach who admittedly ignored that side of the ball for the first four years of his tenure was not beating the bushes to find defensive talent that might help remedy his program’s biggest flaw.

Had he been more active on the recruiting trail, especially with defensive prospects, perhaps the program would not have gone just 12-13 in the two full seasons that 2018 NFL MVP Pat Mahomes was leading the offense.  And to make matters worse, Kingsbury did not hire a defensive coordinator with a reputation for being a top recruiter to help offset his own weaknesses in that area.

In fact, David Gibbs was similar to Kingsbury in that he was much more interested in coaching Xs and Os than working the recruiting trail.  As a result, only 45% of Tech’s 64 signees in the 2016-18 recruiting classes were defensive players.  That included only four 2018 signees on the side of the ball that Tech most needed to address.

Fortunately, new head coach Matt Wells seems to have a vastly different approach on the recruiting front.  Since almost the moment he was hired to replace Kinsbury, he has been focused on building relationships with high school coaches across the state and laying the groundwork for upcoming classes.

What’s more, Wells appears to be much more passionate about recruiting and selling his program as a C.E.O. style head coach who will trust his coordinators (especially offensive coordinator David Yost) to handle the majority of the game-planning responsibilities.

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Only time will tell if Wells will have better success on the recruiting front that his predecessor.  But given that Kingsbury has admitted that he treated what is perhaps the most critical component of building a program as an afterthought, there’s reason to believe that Wells’ approach will yield better results.  At least we know he’s actually going to try to recruit.