The sounds coming out the War Room during national signing day probably weren’t all that different from those emanating from the Texas Tech locker room when six of the men inside were wearing shoulder pads instead of dress slacks.
The high-fiving and hollering could be heard outside each time another name rolled off the fax machine. Kliff Kingsbury, Eric Morris, Mike Smith, Kevin Curtis and Sonny Cumbie had once, not so long ago, sent their own national letters of intent to this same place, and Trey Haverty went from walk-on to third-team All-American here. So they knew what it meant for the 22 young men who were punching their tickets to Lubbock on Wednesday.
“There’s a bunch of guys who played here and are obviously passionate about football and also about this place,” said Morris, Tech’s co-offensive coordinator, who played receiver at the school from 2004 to 2008. “When you put all that together, you have a lot of competitive guys that want to win at whatever they’re doing.”
Tech’s staff isn’t the only young group across the Football Bowl Subdivision landscape full of competitive, Type-A personalities. But it does offer a unique element most programs don’t: a half dozen coaches who are not far removed from having played on the same turf they are preparing to roam the sidelines of now.
Pitching to recruits, they said, isn’t as much about selling the school as it just opening a vein.
“We go in there and talk to them and they can see how much this university means to us,” said co-defensive coordinator Mike Smith, a Tech linebacker from 2000 to 2004. “We’re not too far out from those guys, and I think they can really relate to us. When we call, when we seem them, they get so excited just to hear our voices. We get them built up on the phone. They really feed off that and I think that’s why you see some of these big-time guys coming to Texas Tech.”
Davis Webb, a quarterback out of Prosper who enrolled early and is already taking classes at Tech as he prepares for spring practice, never decomitted from Tech following former coach Tommy Tuberville’s departure in early December, but other schools did begin bending Webb’s ear when the change occurred.
But it apparently took just one phone call from Kingsbury a few days later to convince Webb he was already headed in the right direction.
“Talked to Coach Kingsbury and... #GUNSUP I am FIRED up!!!” Davis wrote on Twitter. A few weeks later, he had moved on two campus to begin his career with the Red Raiders. That’s not to say Webb wouldn’t have ended up here in the end, but seeing the passion the coach he would be playing for had about the place didn’t hurt, either.
Mike Jinks, the former coach at Cibolo Steele who was hired by Kingsbury to become Tech’s new running backs coach, is one of the members of the new staff — along with defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt, offensive line coach Lee Hays and defensive line coach John Scott Jr. — who didn’t play college football at Tech. But it didn’t take him long to discover the passion the six who did have for the university.
It’s a contagious energy, Jinks said, that has quickly rubbed off on the rest of the staff. It was felt by recruits, too, evidenced by the nearly 15 members of the 2013 class added in less than two months by the new regime.
“They’re invested, and that’s huge,” Jinks said. “Kids know. You know when you’re talking to somebody and he really wants to be here, and you know when they don’t. I think that it’s not only the energy level when they’re in their living rooms. It’s the way they go about their day-to-day operations.”
Morris said he has heard chatter from naysayers who argue that while young and energetic, Tech’s staff is shorter on experience than some others around the country. It only serves as motivation.
“That’s something that drives us every day, people telling us we can’t do something,” Morris. “I think it drove us as players and now as coaches that we really want to take it to the next level here. So that’s something that we work hard at every day.”
It’s no surprise, then, that expectations for this self-assured group are highest within the walls of the coaching office.
“We’re here to win the Big 12 and play in the national championship game,” Jinks said. “That’s it. Period. That’s why I come to work every day. That’s why I get up. I think you’ve got 10 guys in that (coaches) room who understand that, and we will make sure the kids play in that manner.”
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