Before he ever stepped to the lectern on a stage inside United Spirit Arena, Kliff Kingsbury had a crowd of hundreds of Texas Tech fans in the palm of his hand.
And with a few brief, yet measured words, he made sure it stayed right there.
Kingsbury, 33, was formally introduced Friday as Tech’s new football coach in front of fans, alumni, former teammates and media, and he wasted no time reminding all in attendance that he was back where he belonged.
“It’s good to be home,” Kingsbury said after flashing the school’s “Guns Up” signal in front of a standing ovation. “I find it a little poetic that it’s a classic, windy, West Texas day, and I’m going on record that I actually enjoy the wind. You’ll never hear me complain about it.”
It might have been viewed as a jab at former Tech coach Tommy Tuberville, who often decried the effects of the wind, but Kingsbury said he wanted people to understand what being back on the campus where he starred as one of the program’s greatest quarterbacks means to him.
“The outpouring I’ve seen,” Kingsbury said, “this is where I’m always meant to be, and I can’t tell you how thankful I am.”
Kingsbury, who starred as a Tech quarterback from 1999 to 2002, won’t make his debut as a head coach until Aug. 31, so the jury will be out for some time as to what he can bring to the sidelines. But though “winning the press conference” has become an overused cliche in sports, Kingsbury’s first public appearance seemed to mark a victory for Tech.
He drew loud cheers when referring to Texas A&M, where he served last season as an offensive coordinator, as “that other university.”
“When I got into coaching,” he said, “I went to the University of Houston. That was a business decision. When I went to that other university, that was definitely a business decision. But being here now, this is personal to me. This is where I want to be.”
In the wake of Tuberville’s resignation Saturday, Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt said the main objectives of his coaching search were “identifying a winner” and finding somebody who “knows the fabric of West Texas.”
Hocutt termed the hiring of Kingsbury as a “mission accomplished.”
“Kliff is at home and it shows,” Hocutt said after Friday’s event. “He’s comfortable. He wants to be here. He’s excited to be here. The journey ahead is going to be a fun one.”
Kingsbury, who already has hired two former Tech players — Eric Morris and Kevin Curtis — to join his staff, didn’t delve into much detail regarding what the Texas Tech program will look like under his watch. After all, he still hasn’t been able to practice with the team and won’t until the spring.
But he promised that Jones AT&T Stadium will be an exciting place to watch football.
“I’m more of a walking-type guy, not a talking-type guy,” Kingsbury said. “So I’ll let you all see that in the fall. But it’s going to be an exciting brand of football. We’ll be attacking on both sides of the ball. We’ll play with confidence. The kids are going to have fun. They’re going to have swagger, and you’ll enjoy this next year’s team. I promise you.”
Morris, who doesn’t yet know which position he’ll coach at Tech, said the energy level Kingsbury brought to Friday’s press conference will mirror the way he approaches his work as a head coach.
“Kliff won’t say it, but I’ve seen him behind the scenes,” Morris said. “He works harder than anybody I’ve ever seen. He’s the first one there and the last one to leave, and so he deserves this. It’s not like he was given something at a young age. He’s worked his tail off ever since I’ve known him. He’s a great football coach, very charismatic and cares about the kids and is someone that will do a great job. I couldn’t think of anybody I’d rather work for.”
Kingsbury said Tech’s offense will look different than the one he quarterbacked under former Tech coach Mike Leach. Kingsbury pointed out during the 2011 season when he was Houston’s co-offensive coordinator, the Cougars led the nation in passing. At A&M this season, the Kingsbury-led offense led the Southeastern Conference in rushing, thanks in large part to the contributions of Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
“We’ll adapt to the personnel we have and play at our strengths,” Kingsbury said. “Bottom line is scoring points and getting first downs, stopping people on defense and winning ballgames.”
Before Friday’s press conference, Kingsbury met with Tech players as a whole for the first time. He was tight-lipped on what he said to the group — “I can’t say exactly what I said because it would not be appropriate,” he said — but Hocutt said the message was received “extremely well” by players in the room.
Shortly after the press conference, Kingsbury was back on a plane to go recruit. But he didn’t leave without asking Hocutt for one favor. It was one more slight jab at Tuberville, sure. But it was also one more seized opportunity to excite a fan base that appears already to be very much in his favor.
“One last request I have with Kirby,” Kingsbury said. “I was going to see if there’s any way possible we can get Cincinnati on the schedule next year.”
(Staff writer Don Williams contributed to this report.)
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