Senior College Football Columnist

Mailbag: Texas Tech gets a much better fit with Kliff Kingsbury

Here is the weekend mailbag. As always, if you have questions, send them to me via Twitter to @BFeldmanCBS:

From @bobs328: what do you think of the Kingsbury hire and tubs departure?

As fractured as the Texas Tech fan base had been during the Tommy Tuberville era and as much drama as the Red Raiders fans have been through (including the debacle that was the Billy Gillespie era of Tech basketball), AD Kirby Hocutt couldn't pass up hiring Kliff Kingsbury. Clemson OC Chad Morris, a Texas native, is a really good head coaching candidate, but Tech simply couldn't afford to pass on Kingsbury for him or Jerry Gray. Not now.

I know Kingsbury's only 33 and that just three years ago was making less than $20,000 as a quality control assistant at Houston, but he'd emerged as the hottest assistant in college football this year.

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In West Texas a decade ago, Kingsbury was a record-setting Red Raider quarterback and now he is coming back home as a folk hero.

The charismatic Kingsbury came to a down-trodden Texas A&M program that many believed would get trampled in the much rougher SEC. Instead, the Aggies lit up the Big Boy conference, leading the league in scoring and rushing this fall. To top it off, A&M went into Tuscaloosa and upset the No. 1 Crimson Tide. His protégé, Johnny Manziel, goes on to become the first freshman to win the Heisman. People, recruits including, are taking note.

Kingsbury feels like the anti-Tuberville right now and is the ideal replacement to pump life back into Lubbock. You're not only talking about a cutting-edge offensive mind but also a guy who already has energized so many of the Red Raider fans who'd been lost the past three-plus years. As Mike Leach said, Kingsbury was a key part of the legacy that they'd built in the previous decade in West Texas.

Tuberville, obviously, was a horrible fit to walk into a toxic situation in the wake of Leach's controversial departure. Tuberville shuffled his staff often -- had three defensive coordinators in three years. In his second season, Tech lost games at home to Iowa State and Oklahoma State by scores of 41-7 and 66-6 and missed a bowl game for the first time since the 1990s. In three seasons, he went just 20-17 and 9-17 in Big 12 play. And that was after the Red Raiders had finished in the Top 25 five of the previous six seasons before his arrival. By the end of this season, there wasn't any real momentum considering Tech had lost four of its final five regular-season games with the lone victory being an overtime win over 1-11 Kansas. I suspect a big percentage of the Tech fan base wasn't too broken up the night the news spread that Tuberville was bolting to the Big East.

But then, things really got bizarre.

The 247 Texas Tech site had the story of a recruit claiming Tuberville disappeared from a Friday night recruiting dinner before the meal was even served. The recruit's story also undermined the notion that Tuberville and the UC AD hadn't been in discussion till right before the story broke that he was leaving that Saturday -- the same day that Kingsbury was flying to New York to take part in Manziel's Heisman ceremony. Tuberville denied the recruit's story and had a lively exchange with Dan Patrick last Thursday.

I don't buy Tuberville's story, and I'm pretty neither does anyone who remembers his infamous "pine box" quote from his Ole Miss days. Keep in mind, former Cincy coach Butch Jones had been actively talking to both Purdue and Colorado and had been photographed at Purdue the week earlier interviewing there and had been in well-publicized discussions over the CU job. It's no stretch to think that Whit Babcock, the Cincy AD, had been working on Plan B and Plan C scenarios for days, if not weeks. (Full disclosure: I had two occasions in which Tuberville disputed things I'd reported were happening with staffing issues when he was in Lubbock. Both stories, after he publicly took issue with them, proved accurate.) There'd also been other head-scratchers when it comes to Tuberville's explanation of things.

Houston Chronicle columnist Jerome Solomon had an interesting take on the Tuberville-to-Kingsbury transition on Saturday:

Of course, two days before that Friday dinner, (Tuberville) told me on my radio show he was "past all that," in reference to rumors about coaching-job changes. He wasn't.

To me, it isn't important whether Tuberville left the dinner early. It says something that the recruit apparently thought he did. That's how big of an impression Tuberville left, that the young man didn't realize he was still in the restaurant. (If he indeed was.) That won't happen with Kingsbury.

Back to Kingsbury: There will likely be growing pains. He has never been a head coach, and running a major college football program is different than just running a quarterback room. There's going to be a lot of different areas in which he'll have to become more involved in. But for all the talk about his alpha-bro image, the guy is very bright. He graduated third in his class in high school, and no one works harder or is more fiercely competitive, according to those have worked with him. They also credit him for not only being a masterful play-caller but an excellent game-planner who is very adept at tweaking plays and routes on a weekly basis to take advantage of opponents' flaws that he has spied in scouting.

One of his top assistants, Eric Morris, another former Tech standout, told me the other day that one of the keys to Tech's rise under Leach was that the coach wasn't afraid to be different from other Big 12 coaches in the state of Texas. That resonated with recruits, and it also galvanized the Red Raiders' program. It had a personality. It had an edge. Morris said the Kingsbury regime and Tech will, again, be able to make a connection with kids because they are different because they'll embrace the identity and feed off it.

On Friday at his introductory press conference-turned-Red Raider rally, Kingsbury mentioned "swagger." I bet that is part of what he meant. Anyone who watched the Aggies this season saw Kingsbury's energy and spirit, and that'll be the Red Raiders' new personality going forward, and that is a very good thing.

Kingsbury also wasn't shy about jabbing his predecessor on Friday when he said: "I find it a little poetic that it's a classic windy West Texas day, I'm going on record that I actually enjoy the [West Texas] wind. You'll never hear me complain about it."

Tuberville, as Tech fans will tell you, made it no secret of his frustrations with the windy conditions that you often get in Lubbock. Before Kingsbury was finished, he made sure to get one more dig into Tuberville: "One last request for Kirby [Hocutt],” Kingsbury said in the direction of his new boss, "I was going to see if there is any way possible we could get Cincinnati on the schedule next year."

From @Josh_Wayman: Not really a question but please tell me that Butch Jones can bring us back to relevance.

Even if Tennessee had landed Jon Gruden, it still would've been a big crapshoot. It's not like UT would've been hiring Nick Saban or Urban Meyer. Gruden hadn't been a college coach before. I'm also not sure Charlie Strong would've proven to be any better of a fit than what the Vols got in Jones, who, by the way, was 2-1 against Strong's teams.

I get that Strong has SEC coaching experience and Jones doesn't, but as I noted a few weeks ago, not having SEC experience hasn't been an issues for almost every top coach in the league now (Saban, Miles, Sumlin, Richt, Franklin just to name a few).

Jones has assembled a good staff. He knows what he's doing running a program. The guy is much more of a proven commodity than either Lane Kiffin or Derek Dooley were. Jones has won four league titles in his six seasons as a head coach. I believe he's ready for a job as big as Tennessee's.

From @Frizz527: Is Duke Johnson a dark horse Heisman candidate in 2013?

Johnson should be a legit candidate given how spectacular he was when he was healthy in his true freshman season. Johnson battled turf toe and some other nagging injuries at mid-season. but by November, he was closer to 100 percent and ripped off 100-yard rushing performances in three of Miami's final four games. He averaged 8.8 yards per rush in those games.

Obviously, if a guy is going to be a true Heisman contender, his team needs to be better than 7-5 (see Marqise Lee). The Canes should be improved in 2013, but how much better? Miami returns almost every player of note in 2013. The D, O-line and receivers should be much stronged as should QB Stephen Morris. If they can win more than nine games in 2013, Johnson can certainly be a factor in the Heisman race given his explosiveness and production. Look for him to continue to blossom as he gets bigger and stronger. After the season, a UM staffer remarked how Johnson is as mature as any freshman that he has ever been around. If the Canes become a national factor again, Johnson figures to be the headliner of that resurgence.

From @NoleJoe: thoughts on Eddie Gran?

Gran, the former Florida State special teams coordinator and running backs coach, will be missed in Tallahassee. Conversely, he's a great addition to the Cincy staff. For the past two decades, Gran has proven to be one of the best recruiters in the country. He has great ties in Florida and is a great communicator. He's a guy who was in the mix for a few head coaching vacancies this month and ultimately ended up reuniting with Tommy Tuberville as the Bearcats' offensive coordinator. It'll be interesting to see what Gran does as an OC. I've heard he's going to spend some time with UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone to get a better handle on the Bruins' version of the spread.

From @gomerschlep: do you see Texas A&M as a legitimate SEC/Nat'l title contender over the next 5 years!

No doubt. Maybe even in 2013. If the Aggies return both of their standout junior offensive tackles, Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, for their senior seasons, I think A&M opens up in the top four next season.

Two weeks or so ago, I'd heard that both were leaning to staying because Matthews' dad, former NFL great Bruce Matthews, had talked to Joeckel's family about how college is the best time of his life. We'll see what both do.

Obviously with Johnny Manziel returning, along with a deeper crop of backs (adding in Oregon transfer Tre Carson and Oklahoma transfer Brandon Williams), the Aggies will be explosive regardless. Kevin Sumlin is also upgrading the talent on both sides of the ball. That's going to provide much-needed depth on defense especially. Another key decision will be whether DE Damontre Moore opts to stay in College Station for one more season. My hunch is Moore is the most likely of the big three juniors to leave. If all three return, the Aggies are a legit BCS contender.

Even if they don't, Manziel still has three more seasons and there's a lot of good young talent around him. Better still, the Aggies have become the "It" program in college football. Recruits want in. Of all the coaches out there who have yet to win a BCS title, if you asked me which is most likely to win his national title in the next five years, Kevin Sumlin would be my first guess.

 
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