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Tech's Hays goes the extra mile to coach offense

Hays just started his first year on the Tech staff, although these spring practices are far from his first with the Red Raiders.

Posted: April 10, 2013 - 10:30pm  |  Updated: April 11, 2013 - 12:33am
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Texas Tech offensive line coach Lee Hays is well versed in dealing with fast paced spread offenses. Hays spent time with head coach Kliff Kingsbury when they were at Houston. (Stephen Spillman/A-J Media)  Stephen Spillman/A-J Media
Stephen Spillman/A-J Media
Texas Tech offensive line coach Lee Hays is well versed in dealing with fast paced spread offenses. Hays spent time with head coach Kliff Kingsbury when they were at Houston. (Stephen Spillman/A-J Media)
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Lee Hays laughs easily, even at himself. Just ask the Texas Tech offensive line coach why he played his last year of college football, after a long hiatus, at age 29.

Actually, let’s pause and come back to that.

Hays just started his first year on the Tech staff, although these spring practices are far from his first with the Red Raiders. From 2003 to 2005, when Hays was coaching offense at West Texas A&M, he was up and down Interstate 27 to soak up all the strategy he could from Mike Leach’s staff during spring football.

“I would try to make every spring practice I could,” Hays said recently. “Literally, if they had 15 practices, I would probably be at at least 10 of them. Those guys were great back then to me. (Former Tech co-offensive coordinator) Sonny Dykes, one of my great friends, was a guy that helped me get started, really.

“Sonny, after practice, would allow me to come in and I’d listen to the coaching points and take notes and try not to bother them, then head back up to West Texas and tell my staff about it.”

That’s provided his transportation was sufficiently reliable that day.

Now, understand, Hays has nothing but good things to say about West Texas A&M. It’s in the Panhandle; he loves the Panhandle. Buffaloes brass gave him his first chance to be an offensive coordinator.

If only they’d provided him a late-model vehicle for those trips to Tech.

“That old car, I think it was like an old police car, actually, that they had picked up at an auction or something,” Hays said. “I had like a 5-gallon tank of water in the front seat so if the radiator got hot, I could pull over.”

The recollection moves Hays to laughter.

“It had a little red light, dome light, on it that if you pushed it real fast, it was like a siren,” he said.

Sometimes, Hays would come by himself. Other times, he’d bring other offensive coaches. They’d split up and sit in the various Tech coaches’ meeting rooms and learn. They must have learned a lot. They must have applied it well.

In 2005, West Texas A&M won 10 games for the first time since 1950, won a conference championship for the first time since 1986 and made the NCAA Division II playoffs for the first time since ... well, for the first time.

They ran an Air Raid offense, just like Tech ran an Air Raid offense, and they ran it well. Sometimes too well.

Like the day WT slaughtered New Mexico Highlands 90-21 on the road.

Anton Paige, a former Tech wide receiver, was there. At the time, Paige was a WT assistant and remembers the Buffs and Highlands chirping during pre-game.

“We had a little confrontation pre-practice,” Paige said. “Coach Hays was upset and told the guys, ‘We better put a hundred on ’em.’ And we almost did.”

Now it’s Paige’s turn to chuckle.

“He was afraid to sit in the press box,” Paige said of Hays, “because they were going to get him. So he ran down to the sideline and said, ‘After the game, you guys shake their hand. I’m going to the bus.’”

With the success West Texas A&M had under Don Carthel, Hays moved on to Baylor as offensive coordinator in 2006-07, and he landed at the University of Houston helping coach offensive line in 2010, where he was on staff with Kliff Kingsbury.

When Kingsbury got the Tech job in December, he hired Hays for a variety of reasons.

“His background in coaching is pretty impressive, when you look at his resume, where he’s been — he’s been an offensive coordinator in the Big 12 before — and then just his nature,” Kingsbury said. “The way he carries himself, the way he recruits, the way he handles his players is the way I want the offensive line to play, so I was ecstatic he decided to join the staff.”

Tech offensive lineman Beau Carpenter says his first impression of his new position coach is a good one.

“Coach Hays, I like him a lot,” Carpenter said. “He’s the kind of guy who’s easy to get along with outside of football, and then whenever it’s football time he gets really serious and you know to take him seriously.”

At 46, Hays has an unusual work history for a college coach. Not in that he’s been at seven programs, but that he’s managed to stay in one state. His resume includes two stints each at Texas A&M-Kingsville and West Texas A&M and stops at Baylor, Sam Houston State, Houston, Tarleton State and now Tech.

He spent much of his 20s in the U.S. Marines and the reserves, but decided to give up a military career to pursue coaching. So in 1996, he went back to school — and back to strapping on a helmet and pads.

Hays admits now he was operating under the impression that one had to complete his playing eligibility at a particular school to become a graduate assistant at that school. Not so.

A Texas A&M-Kingsville coach clued him in. But by that time, Hays was on his way to the season opener as a 29-year-old walk-on.

“I guess the first game, I was on the plane — somehow had made the travel squad,” Hays said. “I was sitting next to the coach and he said, ‘What in the world? Why would you do this?’

“I said, ‘Well, coach, I want to be a college coach, so I’m going to finish this year and then be a graduate assistant.’

“He said, ‘Well, you didn’t have to play here. But now we need you at tight end.’

“So that was a long year.”

Hays put in his time as backup tight end for A&M-Kingsville. At season’s end, he walked in to see Javelinas head coach Ron Harms, another Hays favorite. Again, he laid out his hopes of staying on as a graduate assistant.

“He said, ‘Sorry, those jobs are all full,’” Hays said, laughing again. “And then I turned around to walk out, and he said, ‘But you can be a volunteer assistant.’

“I did that for a couple of years at that same salary — for zero. Then in 1999, I became ... I wouldn’t call it full-time, but I got the offensive line job at West Texas, making a whopping 12,000 or 14,000 (dollars), which was high cotton then, man, from where I started.”

Ever since, Hays has mostly coached offensive linemen. And he’s never strayed from his home state. That’s a favor to his wife, Roxanne, who has family roots in Rotan and asked only that he stay in Texas.

So when Kingsbury called over the winter, it was easy to say yes. For a coach with two young children, who wanted to raise them in West Texas — not to mention some firsthand experience in Tech coaches office — it was the perfect offer at the right time.

“The Texas Tech part of it, it’s a place where I want my kids to be around,” Hays said. “I’m excited about watching them run around these halls, hanging out with these coaches, watching these players develop.”

And he no longer has to drive an old car 110 miles to get to the coaches’ office.

don.williams@lubbockonline.com

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About Lee Hays

A glimpse of Texas Tech offensive line coach Lee Hays.

Age: 46

Hometown: Del Rio

Playing career: Two years at Cisco College (1989-90), one year each at Abilene Christian (1991) and Texas A&M-Kingsville (1996).

Coaching career: Texas A&M-Kingsville (tight ends/tackles), 1997-98; West Texas A&M, (offensive line), 1999; Texas A&M-Kingsville (defensive line/recruiting coordinator), 2000 (offensive line), 2001-02; West Texas A&M (offensive coordinator/offensive line), 2003-05; Baylor (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks), 2006-07; Sam Houston State (offensive line), 2009; Houston (assistant offensive line), 2010; Tarleton State (offensive coordinator), 2011; Houston (offensive line), 2012.

Family: Wife Roxanne, daughter Shanlee, 10, son Cade, 7

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Sounds like a great guy to go

have some suds with and talk football.

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