The Texas Tech football fanbase has felt like a scarlet-haired stepchild for quite some time now. Mike Leach, who was adored almost unconditionally by the football crazies of west Texas, never completely reciprocated that infatuation. Whether convinced by 60 Minutes and the New York Times that he was too big for Lubbock, or for some other reason, Leach never unequivocally stated his desire to be a Red Raider for the long haul. On the contrary, he seemed to sound out virtually every new coaching vacancy that appeared.
Tommy Tuberville's tenure was a different was a different story altogether. The Tech fanbase, although fully certain that Tuberville was the best available candidate for the Tech job at the time, just never adopted the former Auburn boss as one of their own. Part of the reason was the continued devotion to Leach by many, but too, Tuberville just never seemed to fully mesh with west Texans. The relationship simply never clicked. And a mediocre three seasons in the Hub City did little to warm the cockles of anybody's heart. Thus, when Tuberville suddenly bolted to the University of Cincinnati, no tears were shed on either side.
But in Tuberville's wake there remained a palpable yearning for a true Red Raider to take the Tech helm. Red Raider fans almost desperately wanted a coach who bled the school colors, a coach who genuinely wanted to be here.
And then, almost like something out of prophecy, a coaching prodigy arose. And not only that, this shooting star in the coaching firmament was a Red Raider by dint of degree and blood, sweat and tears expended on the gridiron. Kliff Kingsbury was his name and there was scarcely any real doubt that athletic director Kirby Hocutt would hire him to take over for Tuberville.
But Tech fans are a long-suffering bunch. They've known disappointment far more than most. And because of this, at times excruciating history, some fans had to wonder if perhaps Kliff Kingsbury was too good to be true.
Well, the jury is obviously still out regarding Kingsbury's ability to win football games; he has yet to coach his first game as the boss on the sidelines. But it is becoming quite clear that Kingsbury truly is a Red Raider to the very heart of his soul. The desire to have a genuine Red Raider leading the program has been met in full.
And it is Kingsbury's undying devotion to Texas Tech and west Texas that forms the bedrock of his nascent tenure in Lubbock. It is the crux of the relationship between himself and his players. When he was initially establishing that relationship, he said the following:
"Really just told them I love this place every bit as much as you do if not more, told them this is my school as well. So really, just letting them know from day one that we're all in this together, I'm not coaching from up on a soapbox, I'm down there on the ground level with y'all, and how y'all go, we go. I think that was the main thing, just letting them know we're all in this together."
Note the words "if not more" in the first sentence. They are significant. Kingsbury is completely up front about his love for Texas Tech, and with equal passion, wants his players to feel about the university the way he does. Currently, Kingsbury looks at his squad and finds their Red Raider ardor wanting.
"I don't know if the appreciation for the university is what it was when I was there," admits Kingsbury when asked about the biggest difference between the current program and the one he knew as a player.
"We gotta get those kids proud of being at Texas Tech again and how fortunate they are to be a part of that program. We don't owe them anything; they owe Texas Tech. Just getting back here at the beginning, I don't know if I felt that."
"We're trying to instill that. You're very fortunate to be here, you ought to be proud of this place and act that way on and off the field. So those are things we're trying to instill in our team."
One senses that this is not just a motivational ploy or a tactic to produce inspired play, either. Kingsbury is guileless and sincere in his feelings about Texas Tech and seems slightly perplexed that they are not shared entirely by the players. For Kingsbury, this issue is not about winning games, this issue is personal.
Kingsbury has no reservations about the passion of Tech fans, however. Indeed, he is slightly taken aback by the outpouring of affection they have directed Kingsbury's way, but he chooses to see the real target of this love as the program.
"I think all the positive energy we [the fans] give back to the program is good. I understand we haven't played a game and I joke about how we're still undefeated and that's why there's a lovefest going on. But I do know we have a lot of people that are working their butts off and love this school and want to see it at its highest point," Kingsbury declares.
Kingsbury's Red Raider fire can mean many things, and one of them is that there will be many moments of high emotion in his Tech tenure. For him, a win at Tech will not merely be a win, and a loss will not be a tick in the "L" column. He will live and die a bit on the sideline.
"The passion you have for that place [Texas Tech]--if you're a fan it's tough enough if they lose a game, but when you're coaching and a fan of that school, it makes it that much more intense. But at this time I wouldn't want to be anywhere else," Kingsbury says.
These are the sorts of words Tech fans never heard from Mike Leach and Tommy Tuberville. In fact, they may not have been uttered by any Tech football coach in school history. Kliff Kingsbury's won/loss record remains to be seen, but for those who wanted a real Red Raider in charge for a change, they danged sure got their man.