Texas Tech Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt lured the prodigal
son—that would be Kliff Kingsbury—back to God’s country—that
would be West Texas—and has become an overnight superhero.
Such is the giddy euphoria accompanying thoughts of
Kingsbury, that such an act would render Hocutt Batman, Superman and James
Bond, all rolled into one. Give the man a cape and a martini.
And to a large degree, the anticipation over Kingsbury’s
return is warranted. He has been an instant smash hit as an offensive
coordinator at Houston, where he shepherded Case Keenum to quarterbacking
glory, and at Texas A&M, where he husbanded Johnny Manziel to an historic
freshman Heisman. The evidence is still somewhat scanty, but early returns
suggest Kingsbury could be a Leachian offensive mind
without the uber-prickly personality.
But there is much more to being a successful Big 12 head
football coach than knowing your offensive Xs and Os. And Kingsbury, because of
youth and inexperience, simply has not had an opportunity to demonstrate mastery
of these other facets of the job for which he may soon be hired.
So consider what follows a cautionary note. There is reason
to be excited about Kliff Kingsbury’s potential. But there are also reasons for
Can Kingsbury be the
CEO of a multi-million dollar football program? The managerial and
administrative demands on a coordinator are miniscule in comparison to those
placed on a head coach. And Kingsbury has never been a head coach. He will need
to show an ability to delegate authority, to massage and manipulate competing
egos, to issue orders and mete out punishment, to deal with entitled alumni,
and to run public relations campaigns. These tasks can be learned, but
Kingsbury starts with a comparatively small fund of experience in these areas.
If he is hired, he will have to get ahead of a daunting curve very quickly.
conceive and realize a complete football team? All of Kingsbury’s football
experience is on the offensive side of the line. That is not unusual. Almost
all football coaches specialize in either offense or defense. But because he
has never been a head coach, Kingsbury gives us no clue as to what he envisions
for a defense, and how much emphasis he will place on that side of the ball.
The Red Raiders can be very good with a coach who is interested in only one
side of the ball. Mike Leach proved that. But to win championships, Kingsbury
will have to build a complete football team. And we know nothing about his
ability to do that.
Can Kingsbury recruit
successfully? Kingsbury has a brief track record as a recruiter, but little
has been said about it. Presumably, if Kingsbury were a bona fide recruiting
ace, we would have heard about it. But really, that is not the most important
thing here. Kingsbury is young, smart and personable enough. He should be able
to hold his own in this area. Of greater concern is Kingsbury’s lack of
experience. He simply has not been around long enough to cultivate the
relationships, connections and reputation that are so crucial to being a good
recruiter. Kingsbury cannot have established a recruiting network. It will be critical
that his assistant coaches be very well connected in the high school and JUCO
Can Kingsbury hire a
competent coaching staff? This question ties in to the previous one.
Kingsbury, age 33, is so young that he cannot have established truly extensive
relationships and connections in the coaching ranks. He has many ties that
extend to his Texas Tech playing days, and will doubtless tap them to help fill
out his staff. But that could produce a rather inbred staff. Kingsbury may
simply have to conduct traditional searches complete with job applications and
interviews. Mike Leach did this, and had some success. Kingsbury will have to
be a shrewd judge of character and coaching talent.
Can Kingsbury handle
the pressure? Coaching a football program like Tech’s pays well, but it
also entails a tremendous amount of stress. Aside from the daily problems of
running the show, the head coach must deal with colossal expectations from the fanbase, alumni, and his superiors within the university.
Each individual football game is a test. And some of those tests will determine
the future direction of the coach’s career. Kingsbury has dealt with pressure
before, both as a quarterback and an offensive coordinator. If he becomes Texas
Tech’s next head coach, he will deal with much, much more.