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
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
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
“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.