(Photo Courtesy: USA Today Sports)
SAN DIEGO, CALIF— I guess I should start this whole thing, this Holiday Bowl recap by saying I was wrong. It doesn’t happen often (ok, that’s a lie— whatever you do, please don’t Google “Aaron Torres + Lane Kiffin,” ok?), but when it does, it only seems appropriate I fess up.
Which is what I’m here to do today: I’m here to tell you that I was wrong on Kliff Kingsbury. After seeing Texas Tech in person Monday night, after seeing their team, the players, and specifically how their head coach interacts with them all, I was wrong, man.
The dude can coach. And it seems like the best is yet to come for Texas Tech football.
Let’s talk about Monday. But let’s do so by actually skipping conversation about the game itself. You saw that semi-sloppy 37-23 Texas Tech victory over Arizona State, so frankly, there’s no need to re-live it here. Essentially, it was mostly forgettable football.
What wasn’t forgettable to me however, was Kingsbury himself, and the presence he had about him. And since the whole reason you watched Monday night’s game, and the whole reason any of us paid any attention at all to Texas Tech football this year was Kingsbury himself, it only seems appropriate that I instead use this space to talk about him.
I should probably start by saying this: After seeing him in person, seeing how he acted around his team, I couldn’t have been more impressed.
It started when I got down to the field for pre-game warm-ups, where I was both not surprised by what I saw, and totally surprised at the same time.
The reason I wasn’t surprised, is because the two attributes which are used most to describe Kingsbury- young and energetic- were on full display the second I got down there. Again, you already knew that though, since those are literally the two words that every single writer in America has used to describe Kingsbury for the last two years.
But really it wasn’t so much that he was young and energetic, but that when you were around him, you could actually feel that youth and energy oozing out of him. Kind of like how you can practically feel sexuality oozing out of Sophia Vergara every time you see her on the TV screen, or something.
What do I mean by that? Well again, it all started in warm-ups.
Look up, and there was Kingsbury running around giving dap to his wide receivers like they were long lost frat bros, reunited on Homecoming Weekend (When I saw it, I literally thought to myself: “Wait, didn’t he just see these guys in the locker room five minutes ago?). There was Kingsbury taking snaps in warm-ups himself, throwing slant routes to his wide receivers, like was a walk-on just trying to help out as best he could. There was Kingsbury pacing- efficiently, but not too fast- smiling, clapping, laughing. And the whole time he had a look you don’t see from many football coaches at this level: One of pure joy. Like he loved his job, and there wasn’t a place in the world he would’ve rather been.
And damn it, if it didn’t rub off on his team.
Seeing the two teams warm-up at the same time, there was just something different about the way Texas Tech prepared. Arizona State was just another team, playing another game, exhibiting the same excitement you did when your girlfriend told you a few days ago you’d be spending New Year’s Eve at some boring dinner party her boring friends were having.
Then there was Texas Tech. You can’t fake the enthusiasm that those guys ran around with in warm-ups. They were sprinting around, chest-bumping, doing those awkward hand-shake things that are usually only broken out after big home runs in the Major Leagues. It was real, and it started with their coach. To quote the movie “Remember the Titans”… “Attitude reflects leadership.” It certainly did with Tech on Monday.
It also reflects the evolution of this program in the short time Kingsbury has been in town.
After the game I was talking to one of Tech’s key offensive players, when he dropped what was quite possibly the most candid quote an athlete has ever given me (Because it was the heat of the moment, I’m not going to give the player’s name. The quote speaks for itself).
When I asked him about the attitude Kliff Kingsbury had brought to Texas Tech when he arrived, the kid told me:
“Coach is the first one in the building every day. You couldn't say that about the last head coach.”
WOAH! Bomb dropped!
And while it might be an indictment on the previous coach, it also speaks volumes about Kingsbury. Especially when the kid, who was a senior, later told me, “I only wish I could’ve played all four years for Kingsbury.”
Either way, it proved a point to me unequivocally: These dudes LOVE this guy. Love, love, love him. You got that sense in warm-ups, during the celebration on the field, and in the postgame press conference, where he was more like a stern older brother than “coach.”
You could tell those kids would run through a wall for him. That they believe in him. And now I do too.
Had you asked me a year ago, I’d have guessed that the ceiling for this program was probably as a pretty consistent 7-5 team. One that with the right breaks, with the right quarterback and with the right down-years from perennial Big XII powers, could make sneak out a nine-win season here or there.
Yeah, about that.
Kingsbury just won eight games in his first year, and did it with players that weren’t recruited to his system, and did it with basically two true freshmen taking virtually every snap at quarterback. What happens when he gets a few recruiting classes under his belt? Or an experienced quarterback? Or just more experience himself as a head coach all the time?
Not to mention that he seems to be hitting the Big XII at the perfect time, where the only program that I’d really consider to be “ascending” is Baylor. Beyond them, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are very consistent, but as the Pokes loss to West Virginia proved, still beatable on any given night. Texas will be great again, but aren’t there right now. TCU is on the way down, and so too is West Virginia.
Does that mean this team will win a National Championship next year? Of course not, but with Texas and Oklahoma at home and Baylor on a neutral field, I see no reason they can’t build off this eight-win season. Then add in a few good recruiting classes (because again, who wouldn’t want to play for the guy?), let the quarterback develop, and who knows.
Yep I was wrong, and I’m totally ok with that.
Safe to say, it’s good to be a Texas Tech fan right now.
It’s also good to be The King.
For all his analysis and opinion on college football, follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.