The Avalanche-Journal sat down Wednesday with new Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury for a wide-ranging interview. During a five-year pro career, Kingsbury played for five teams in three countries, then coached for the last five years at the University of Houston and Texas A&M.
Now Kingsbury says he’s back where he wanted to be ever since his Tech career ended in 2002.
What follows is a rapid-fire 15-minute interview, edited for clarity.
A-J: What made you decide to stop playing and start coaching?
Kingsbury: I had went up to the CFL for one year (Winnipeg, 2007) and that weather was pretty intense. So I came back and Dana Holgorsen had just got the job at the University of Houston. He asked me to come over and thought it would be a great opportunity, and I went from there. I loved being around the kids, loved coaching those kids and spent four years there.
A-J: Much has been made of Mike Leach being critical of the way the NFL views his quarterbacks. Graham Harrell’s father has been quoted as saying Graham was taught more quarterback mechanics in the NFL than he was taught by Leach. Do you coach your quarterbacks more like Mike does or more like NFL coaches do?
Kingsbury: I’ve been around a bunch of quarterback coaches, so I kind of took something from each one and tried to add that to my repertoire of working with them. So I wouldn’t say I coach like any certain one. Just whatever I learned and thought was good stuff, I put it into how I teach.
A-J: Who would say is the single coach from whom you’ve learned the most or the one who’s been your biggest influence in coaching?
Kingsbury: That would be coach Leach as far as the offensive philosophy. The base concepts we run are still what I was taught when I got here — or when he got here — and I was at Texas Tech. As far as offensive philosophy, he would be number one.
A-J: What about from an NFL standpoint? What coach or player did you encounter there that influenced you most?
Kingsbury: Bill Belichick. Just his attention to detail, the way he left no stone unturned on anything. Every situation you saw in a game, you’d already seen three times that week in practice. That really stayed with me.
A-J: What did you learn from Tom Brady? Not necessarily what you take as a coach, but how somebody prepares and goes about their business.
Kingsbury: His (influence) was his work ethic and his humility. He treated everybody in that building like they were his peer and his teammate and never got on his high horse on any level. And then his work ethic. I thought I knew how to work hard until I got there and watched him. The time he put in in the weight room and his film study changed how I approach the game.
A-J: How have you noticed so far in your experience as a recruiter that the NFL experience helps you in that regard? What do you bring from that experience to recruiting?
Kingsbury: I think when they know your background and that you’ve been on certain teams and done certain things, it’s some street cred for the players to say, “Hey, he’s played at the highest level. When he speaks, I’m going to listen and know that he’s been there where I’m trying to get.”
A-J: What was it like for you to bounce around to so many cities and teams in such a short time, in terms of having to adapt to new systems and schemes or off the field?
Kingsbury: It teaches you a lot about yourself. You’re thrown into a new room of millionaires (laughs) every six months or a year. It’s kind of sink or swim. And then learning the offense is something that I always took a lot of pride in as soon as I got there, trying to figure it out and learn as quickly as I can. I think that’s really what’s helped me in my coaching career: seeing all those different ways of coaching and different philosophies and things of that nature and taking from each one what I really thought was good stuff and putting it together in my offense.
A-J: Any of those players and coaches from your past who you’re in contact with more than others?
Kingsbury: Mainly guys from Texas Tech. Wes (Welker) and guys like that who played here. He’s still playing obviously, but he’s probably the one I talk the most to.
A-J: Coach Leach, when he was hired by Tech, thought it was important that facilities be improved, and he got a bigger recruiting budget. Tommy Tuberville wanted new weight-room equipment and a different style of weight training. He also pushed for an indoor facility. What type of request might you make that you think you need to succeed here?
Kingsbury: I haven’t even got that far, really. From what I’ve seen, there’s a lot of good things in place to be able to win here and that’s been proven. I’m just excited to get around the team and start working with them.
A-J: You said last week you don’t mind the wind. Coach Tuberville really wanted an indoor facility, and Tech is the only Big 12 program without one. Do you view that as important, either from a use standpoint or a recruiting standpoint?
Kingsbury: Anytime you can have more facilities, I’m sure it’s a bonus. But I always found practicing in the wind gave us a distinct advantage in games, because you’re used to it. When you go out there, you’re not afraid of it. You played in it. You know how to play in it, where your opponents coming in maybe haven’t dealt with those type of conditions.
A-J: You probably knew you were going to be well received here, knew what the people thought of you. But have there been some experiences of people greeting you in ways that you weren’t expecting?
Kingsbury: The outpouring of support has been great. I think it’s more just about people getting back on board and unifying Tech than about me being named the head coach. I’m just excited to see all the Red Raiders are pulling in the right direction.
A-J: Was it frustrating at times to see from afar there was that divide here at your school?
Kingsbury: Yeah. You know, I guess I was too far removed to see how much of a divide it was. I’m always pulling for the Red Raiders every week. I’ve invested a lot of time into this place, a lot of hard work. But that being said, it’s given me more than I could ever pay it back with the things I’ve gained from this university. I’m just happy to see everybody back on board and ready to get this thing rolling in the right direction.
A-J: With the short time you’ve coached, how confident are you in your player evaluation when you go on the road recruiting? You’ve coached for five years, but recruited for only the last three years, correct?
Kingsbury: Yeah, but I think having been around great players for four or five years, knowing what they look like, knowing what you’re looking for, has gone a long way. Being on that many different teams and being around that much talent, I feel like I have a pretty good feel for what to look for.
A-J: Do you feel like you can capitalize on your age in recruiting considering it’s not too many years ago you were in the recruits’ shoes?
Kingsbury: Right. I think it can help you relate to them. And we’re bringing in a younger staff — a bunch of guys with a lot of energy that want to be here — and I think they’ll relate well to the kids that we’re recruiting.
A-J: It’s known that you’ve hired Kevin Curtis and Eric Morris — two young coaches that played at Tech. Is that a sign that additional hires will be similar, or do you balance it with some more veteran coaches?
Kingsbury: We’ll see. We’ll see. We’re still figuring that out. But I think it’s a young man’s game, and to have guys that can relate to the players and their age, I think, goes a long way.
A-J: How many defensive coordinator candidates have you talked to?
Kingsbury: Um, enough. Enough. We’re getting there on it, just kind of sorting it through.
A-J: Does that mean several?
Kingsbury: Yeah, quite a few.
A-J: Will you name an offensive coordinator? Or will you be your own offensive coordinator?
Kingsbury: Still figuring that out. Still figuring that out, as far as titles go, things of that nature. But should know by, I’d say, mid-January.
A-J: But you will be calling plays the way Mike Leach did?
Kingsbury: I will be calling plays.
A-J: Elaborate on that. That comes from a belief in knowing what you’re doing ... ?
Kingsbury: Right. And I’m sure there’s guys who’ll be on the staff that can do it just as well, but I just feel comfortable in what I can do in that regard. And dealing with the quarterbacks, being on the same page with them, I would want to keep that responsibility on me.
A-J: What is your recruiting philosophy in terms of where you want to go geographically?
Kingsbury: Once we get the entire staff here, we’ll obviously coordinate on that, but continue to hit the state hard. I think it’s such a hotbed of talent in Texas, obviously, that we have to take advantage of that and get more of the top-tier players out this way.
A-J: Do you believe — and you said this last week — that it’s more about players than Xs and Os?
Kingsbury: No doubt. No doubt. I think you’ll find out very quickly you’re not as smart as you think you are if you don’t have the right guys running the plays. It’s about players, not plays.
A-J: Obviously, it helped to have Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M. The way your team was able to run the ball is something (athletic director) Kirby Hocutt said was important to him, to have that sort of balance. What do you think from the success you had running the ball at A&M will be able to translate (to Tech)?
Kingsbury: I think we got there and we wanted to play to our strengths, and they had a veteran offensive line coming back, some really good running backs and a young quarterback that was probably more comfortable with his legs than with his arm. So we played to those strengths. From what I can see coming back at Tech next year, there’ll be some similar-type things going on. We’re going to do whatever it takes to win ballgames. That’s kind of my thing, my philosophy.
A-J: How much will you watch these Tech players over the next week?
Kingsbury: I just stuck my head out for one practice, but not much. I want to get them out in the spring and have a fresh opinion of them and not worry about what’s been done in the past. Have it be a fresh start for everybody.
A-J: Some of the assistants on staff now — Sonny Cumbie and Tommy Mainord with ties to Tech, Chris Thomsen from Vernon — are any of those guys that you can say you want to retain or plan to retain?
Kingsbury: Not yet. Not yet. We’re still sorting it out.
A-J: Everyone knows you’re a coach’s son. That’s been well-documented. But we’re curious, what would you want people to know about your mother, how she influenced you and what it was like going through that period before she passed away? (Sally Kingsbury died from soft-tissue sarcoma, at age 51, in December 2005).
Kingsbury: That was tough. That taught me what it was like to see true courage. The thing with her, she always had a positive outlook and that really rubbed off on me. She never had a bad day in her life, and that’s something that’s always stuck with me and I try to approach it the same way. Watching her go through what she went through with cancer, it’s hard to have a bad day after that, seeing a woman show that much courage. She’s always with me. I’m sure she’s fired up that she can cheer for the Red Raiders again.
A-J: You were with which team during that time, and to what extent did it make it difficult to focus on your job?
Kingsbury: I was with the Jets during that time and got to come home and see her before she passed. It was rough. Anybody that’s dealt with that, it’s a tough deal on an entire family, but like I said, she’s my greatest inspiration and really influenced me more than anybody in this world.
A-J: Her personality, last week Spike Dykes described your mother as “athletic,” “very, very active” and “really, really a live wire.”
Kingsbury: Yeah, just very outgoing. Never got embarrassed by anything. She was always the one smiling and always the character in the room. It’s something I definitely got from her, just the positive outlook on life and never have a bad day.
A-J: In addition to getting your staff in place, what are these next couple of months going to be like before spring practice starts?
Kingsbury: It’ll be hectic. I’m excited about the staff, the guys coming in. I want guys who want to be a head coach. I think that’s how you get the best work. I want them to want to have my seat. So we’ll hit the ground hard running on recruiting and then figure out offensively, defensively how we want to practice, what our strengths are here and go from there.
A-J: When was your last conversation with coach Leach and what did he have to tell you?
Kingsbury: Probably just text. He just was fired up. He thought this was a great deal and just was excited for me to get this opportunity.
A-J: Can you tell us your non-conference scheduling plan?
Kingsbury: I haven’t even got there yet. That’s something Kirby and I will have to sit down and go over.
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