The most noted receiver on Tech's roster last season can look forward to be scrutinized for ... football.
|As Tommy Tuberville settles into his new office, his team will have to settle into their new roles. (Provided to CBSSports.com)|
The door is, well, open -- for everyone. This time, Adam, you're not alone in a cold, dark place. In fact, you're lucky. No one could have blamed Tuberville -- legally or ethically -- for not renewing James' scholarship.
But like all coaches in new jobs, Tuberville needs players first and allies second. The Mike Leach mess won't touch him but a slow start will. James was The Pirate's problem. To Tubs, he's a potential asset with 32 career catches. Besides, Tuberville has been in a lot worse situations. He arrived at Ole Miss in 1995 with only 55 scholarship players. At the end of his 10-year stay at Auburn, his position became untenable with the administration and a mega-booster who thought he ran the university.
After a year out of coaching, Texas Tech has been a comfortable landing zone for Tubs. The Leach unrest is not of his making and will not be inherited. Tuberville says the bad stuff "will go away" with time as he establishes his coaching style. But when the new coach says, "we're not going to be predictable," you wonder what other flash fires can ignite in Lubbock. Then you realize it's about football again.
It's clear that Texas Tech isn't going to sink back into mediocrity. In fact, the hiring of Tuberville indicates that Tech isn't going to automatically cede the Big 12 South to Texas and Oklahoma.
Leach averaged 8½ wins in 10 seasons while finishing higher than third twice in the South. Tuberville had six nine-win seasons in the SEC, one of those a perfect 13-0 finish in 2004. The first, and really only issue, was convincing players and fans that Tech will continue to have a wide-open offense.
"I want to continue to throw it 45-50 times, maybe run it 20-25. We'll be a little bit more balanced," Tuberville said. "Mike got a little bit overboard sometimes. Sometimes he'd throw it 75-80 times. He'd like working on those stats. I'm not a stat guy."
Tuberville is also a defense guy. Eighteen of the 25 players who signed last week play on the defensive side. The class was heavy on d-linemen and defensive backs. This is where hearts and minds are going to be won in Lubbock. The difference in any current argument between SEC and Big 12 loyalists is philosophy.
The Big 12 has better offenses. The SEC has better defenses. Tuberville made his bones helping win three national championships at Miami (1987, 1989, 1991) as a grad assistant and defensive coordinator. A three-man front will be installed at Tech to better combat modern spread offenses. James Willis, with Tuberville for six years at Auburn, left Alabama to become the new defensive coordinator.
"An offensive coach wants to score, a defensive coach wants to shut everybody out," Tuberville said. "It's just a different philosophy. We're going to throw it and hopefully score the same amount of points but play better defense and have a chance to get to the championship game. We wouldn't trade our offense with anybody but defensively we have to get much better."
If James got lucky, then so did Texas Tech. Only three days after Tuberville took the job, Lane Kiffin left Tennessee for Southern California. The 55-year-old son of the South (born in Camden, Ark.) who had coached at two SEC schools would have been a perfect fit at Tennessee. A school in desperate need of a coach matched with a coach in desperate need of a job.
Tuberville even had a track record of having a wandering eye. Two days after telling Ole Miss fans, "They'll have to carry me out of here in a pine box," in 1998, he left for Auburn.
This time? No regrets. Tuberville said he took the job that was perfect for him. After an offseason of disarray, call it a perfect match.