Texas Tech football: Program growing pains should have been expected

Following the Texas Tech football team’s 34-24 loss to No. 7 TCU on Saturday, the team’s second-straight loss to a hated in-state rival, there seems to be a growing sense of anger and frustration within the fan base.  In fact, a sizeable portion of the Red Raider populace is now expressing its doubts about the capabilities of head coach Joey McGuire and offensive coordinator Zach Kittley.

To that, I say…Really?  What in the world did you expect in year one?

This isn’t Alabama or Ohio State where a new coach can simply slide into place and contend for a conference title.  This is a Texas Tech program coming off of a decade of irrelevance.  Mid-tier FBS programs don’t simply jump from the bottom of their conference’s hierarchy to the league title game in one season.  Rather, they have to build both their roster and their culture over time.

For instance, in year one of Dave Aranda’s tenure at Baylor (2020) the Bears went just  2-7 one year after an 11-3 campaign.  Last year, Lance Leipold at Kansas, who is everyone’s darling this year after securing bowl eligibility for the Jayhawks this weekend, managed just a 2-10 record.

Similarly, in 2005, Mike Gundy went just 4-7 at Oklahoma State despite the fact that the Cowboys were coming off of three-straight winning seasons.  What’s more, look at Oklahoma this year.  The Sooners are now just 5-4 overall and 2-4 in the Big 12 in Brent Venable’s first season on the job after nearly three decades of dominating the league.

So to expect Joey McGuire to lead Tech to an eight-win or better season was always likely to be a pipe dream.  Yet fans seem to already be frustrated with the first-year head coach despite the fact that he’s already done more for this program in his first calendar year on the job than his predecessor did in three years at the helm.

In fact, it’s that predecessor that should garner more hate from Texas Tech fans than McGuire.  After all, in a coach’s first season with a program, he is in many ways at the mercy of the roster that his predecessor left him.

In McGuire’s case, all the problems plaguing this year’s team can be traced back to Wells.  Wells is the one who didn’t recruit well enough along the offensive line to field even an average group at that position leaving McGuire to have to scramble to rebuild that all-important unit on the fly.

Wells is the one who brought the three quarterbacks that McGuire has had to rely on this year into the program.  While Behren Morton looks like a future star, Wells’ decision to go with Donovan Smith in the class of 2020 as the program’s only QB now seems like a mistake.

What’s more, it was Wells who brought Tyler Shough into the program via the transfer portal prior to last season.  That move also hasn’t worked out as injuries have turned the Oregon transfer into Alan Bowman 2.0.

In fact, of the 22 starters on this year’s team, all but center Dennis Wilburn and right tackle Monroe Mills were brought to Texas Tech by the two previous coaching staffs.  So the shortcomings of the program, especially on offense, can’t lay entirely at the feet of McGuire.  Rather, he’s had to make the best of a piecemealed offensive group and that’s proven to be this program’s downfall in 2022.

Also, McGuire is dealing with factors beyond his control, namely injuries and the rise of the Big 12.  Any coach who has to start three different quarterbacks in a season, as McGuire has, is bound to see his team struggle.  That’s simply no way to build the type of continuity that is required for an offense to click.  Additionally, the offseason injury to OL Cole Spencer was a huge blow to the Red Raiders as the Western Kentucky transfer is believed to be the best lineman on the roster.

Meanwhile, the Big 12 is simply a better overall league this year.  First of all, Kansas (Tech’s next opponent) is now a legitimate FBS team meaning there are no layups in conference play anymore.

What’s more, four of the conference opponents that Tech has faced this year have been raked at the time they played the Red Raiders.  That’s one more than last season.  And to make matters worse, Tech has faced three of those teams on the road.

Speaking of the overall schedule, it has been a gauntlet.  Tech has now squared off with six ranked teams with four of those games being played away from Jones Stadium.  That’s more ranked opponents than either Matt Wells or Kliff Kingsbury ever had to deal with in any season in their time as Texas Tech head coach.

The point is that those expecting McGuire to work miracles this year were simply misguided all along.  Has he been perfect?  Of course not.  His fourth-down philosophy has backfired a number of times for instance.  But remember, he’s learning on the job as well this year.

In that sense, he’s no different than Kingsbury, Mike Leach, or Spike Dykes, all of whom got their first taste of being a college head coach on the South Plains.  Thus, he should be afforded a bit of grace as he tries to build the type of program that he wants.

So again, to all those who have already grown frustrated with the current coaching staff, I ask – What in the world did you expect in year one of the McGuire era?  All we could really ask for were signs of progress and a team that plays hard and both of those boxes have been checked.

Progress?  Absolutely.  This program has found its quarterback of the future in Morton, has taken a step forward on defense, and is working on a top-25 recruiting class.  Also, McGuire’s presence, or perhaps the absence of Wells, has brought unprecedented funding to Texas Tech football which will begin its facility renovations following this season.

Ultimately, I hate the fact that Tech has lost four of its last five games and is going to have to scratch and claw just to reach a low-level bowl game.  But the big picture is what we must all keep in mind here.

McGuire was never going to be able to wave a magic wand and instantly turn one of the most downtrodden programs in the Power 5 into a top-25 team overnight.  This is truly a massive rebuild and it is going to take time.  Anyone who thought differently is now finding out that harsh reality in real-time.

So strap in Texas Tech fans.  There are no quick fixes here.  This is going to be a bumpy ride.  But in the end, McGuire is still worth believing in, even if it means we have to live through some frustrations in the early going.