Kliff Kingsbury spent a fun-filled 2012 season coaching up a dodging, darting Heisman Trophy winner who came to be known as Johnny Football.
Now he’s on to his next assignment: Trying to make Texas Tech football just as exciting.
Kingsbury can’t wait for the opportunity, even if his age — 33 — is a question mark. On Wednesday, Texas Tech made Kingsbury the youngest head coach at a BCS conference school, bringing him home to the place where he threw for 95 touchdowns a decade ago.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Kingsbury said of the last few days, “but I couldn’t be happier — beyond ecstatic to be back — and it feels like home.”
Kingsbury’s hiring came just four days after Tommy Tuberville’s resignation rocked the Tech football world. Kingsbury, wrapping up his first year as Texas A&M offensive coordinator, agreed to a four-year contract to be Tuberville’s replacement. The dollars were not immediately disclosed.
Tech announced Kingsbury’s hiring with new-age technology befitting such a young coach: via a video posted Wednesday on Twitter.
In the video, Tech Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt says, “Red Raider Nation, I’m excited to introduce to you, our new head football coach.”
The camera pans to Kingsbury, who says, “Wreck ’em, Tech,” and gives a Guns Up hand sign.
Two hours later, Hocutt was standing next to Kingsbury in a hastily arranged news conference at Lubbock’s Chaparral Jet Center.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” Hocutt said. “We found the right person, the right fit for Texas Tech. We found a winner in every sense of the word, and we’re excited to have Kliff Kingsbury back home and as the leader of our football program into the future.”
Tuberville jolted Tech on Saturday morning with a resignation that seemingly no one saw coming, bolting for Cincinnati. Hocutt promised to find a replacement who loves Tech and appreciates West Texas culture. Kingsbury is that, and it took Hocutt only 100 hours, practically on the dot, to produce him.
The last time Kingsbury played in Jones AT&T Stadium, he threw six touchdown passes in a 42-38 upset of Texas in 2002. He said he’s wanted to be back ever since.
“I loved it out here,” said Kingsbury, who threw for more than 12,000 yards as Tech’s first Mike Leach-era quarterback. “I love the people of West Texas. I’ve lived in a bunch of different cities, and some of the finest people I’ve ever met in my life are out here, and some of the best relationships that I still have today were formed out here, so I’m thrilled to be back.”
That’s all well and good, but the honeymoon can’t last unless Kingsbury gets the Red Raiders back on a better trajectory than their 12-12 mark the last two years.
According to Tech, there’s only one head coach in Division I younger than Kingsbury — Toledo’s Matt Campbell, by less than four months. Kingsbury’s sure to face questions about his age going forward.
“Yeah, I think everybody’s entitled to their opinion,” he said. “I know what I’ve done, I know what I’m about to do and, like I said, just the fact that Texas Tech believed in me and gave me this opportunity, I’m going to make it work.”
Kingsbury’s task is a tall order, not only because of his shortage of experience. Tech fans have been a divided bunch since Leach’s controversial firing three years ago and Tuberville’s up-and-down results in three seasons.
“Red Raiders are Red Raiders,” Kingsbury said, “and we should all be pulling the same direction. That’s what I want, and I know that it’s time to do that again. You know, we’re a proud group and it’s time to get that thing back on track.”
Returning to Tech means leaving behind Johnny Manziel, the A&M quarterback who set the Southeastern Conference on fire and became the first freshman to win the Heisman. Kingsbury plans to return to College Station today to say goodbye to the players he coached this year.
Asked if he had any hesitation about forgoing another few years with Manziel, Kingsbury said, “If it was any other school. If it was any other school, there would have been. He understands. He knows how I feel about him. He’s as good a player as I’ve ever seen and probably the fiercest competitor I’ve ever been around.
“So it was definitely hard with that, but this is where I belong and where I want to be.”
When Tuberville bolted, he added to an unwanted piece of Tech history. He joined the ranks of Tech coaches such as David McWilliams and Steve Sloan who left the program of their own accord, after a short tenure.
“I think Texas Tech’s in better shape,” said Tech Board of Regents Chairman Jerry Turner, a former Red Raiders player. “I think it is so critical that we have somebody who really wants to be here and who loves Texas Tech. Kliff Kingsbury meets both of those criteria, and he has been successful. I can only conclude that hopefully we’re moving into a new era for football at Texas Tech, so I’m excited about it.”
The deal to bring home Kingsbury was finalized during a three-hour meeting Wednesday among Kingsbury, Hocutt, Tech Chancellor Kent Hance and interim President Lawrence Schovanec. The get-together took place at Hance’s house in Austin.
Hance has known Kingsbury the new coach’s entire life. Kingsbury’s uncle, Mike Miller, was a chief of staff for Hance’s state Senate term in the mid-1970s.
“I think it’s a great day for Texas Tech,” Hance said. “We have someone that wants to be here and that is not going to be shopping around every year. I’ve known him all of his life. I could not be happier. What happened last Saturday was a blessing in disguise, and I feel better about Texas Tech football than I’ve ever felt.”
On day three without a coach, Hocutt mapped out a busy Tuesday in which he flew out to interview Kingsbury in Houston, Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris in Anderson, S.C., and Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray in Nashville, Tenn.
Morris was a successful Texas high school coach before he moved into college coaching in 2010, and Gray grew up in Lubbock as an Estacado High School star.
The popular choice among Tech fans, however, seemed to be Kingsbury. There was only one sticking point: Kingsbury’s been a coach for only five years, because his playing career lasted up to 2008.
During the time he spent as an NFL player, Kingsbury learned under New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and under Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy when McCarthy was offensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints.
“It was a little concern,” Hance said, “but I tell you, his enthusiasm for the job and his desire for the job overcomes anything as far as experience is concerned.
“And you look at his experience ... He’s been under Belichick and (A&M coach Kevin) Sumlin. He’s been under a lot of great coaches. They all speak highly of him. It’s just a great situation.”
As a coach, Kingsbury spent four seasons at Houston, the first two as offensive quality control assistant and the last two as co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
At U of H, he worked with Case Keenum, who set NCAA career records for passing yards, passing touchdowns, completions and total offense.
Kingsbury’s star kept rising this fall with Manziel’s smashing college debut.
Even the chance to ride the Johnny Football train didn’t mean as much to Kingsbury as his dream job.
Turner said he thinks Kingsbury will put an end to Tech’s recent history of fearing its head coaches are frequently looking at other jobs.
“I think players will be excited about it,” Turner said. “I certainly hope recruits will be excited about it. I’m confident he will want to get in front of as many recruits as quickly as he can.
“You’re never going to succeed if you’re led by somebody who is looking over the fence all the time. I don’t anticipate that’s what Kliff is going to do.”
To comment on this story:
firstname.lastname@example.org • 766-8734
email@example.com • 766-2166