Thu Apr 08 05:43pm EDT
New coaches and the schools that love them (for now). Today: Texas Tech's Tommy Tuberville.
The Old Guy. Mike Leach was many things to Texas Tech — architect, innovator, pirate captain, amateur weatherman — but he was also a royal pain in the eyes of his bosses, who were impatient with Leach's contract demands and suspicious that he was shopping around for another job. The poisonous relationship seeped into the press at the end of 10 contentious months of negotiations over a contract extension last February, and seemed to filter down to the team after back-to-back September losses at Texas and Houston made it clear that the unprecedented heights of 2008 weren't in the cards for 2009. Last season was the first in Leach's 10-year tenure that the Raiders took a clear step backward from the previous year, and even Leach contends the tension was building long before he was fired for making Craig James' concussed son stand in a small, enclosed area on two different occasions before the Alamo Bowl.
For all the petty personal politics and legal/financial maneuvering behind his ouster, the most damning charge against the disarray of Leach's final season came from his own players, who unambiguously trashed their former coach before the bowl game and later suggested the Adam James Affair was "just the last straw" in a long descent into dysfunction. Like Mark Mangino at Kansas, the on-field success could only cover up the behind-the-scenes clashes for so long.
The New Guy. Like Turner Gill at Kansas, Tommy Tuberville is an ideal public relations spritz after a messy, embarrassing split with his predecessor, a veteran, charismatic Anti-Leach who believes firmly in establishing the run, knows firsthand how to survive the pogroms of disgruntled power brokers and is willing to put on a tie if the occasion demands. Tuberville is a West Texas native, and not the kind of guy prone to wearing out his welcome if the record is all right.
Despite the residual support for Leach, Texas Tech doesn't seem like the kind of place to quibble with style if the substance is there, and it was there for Tuberville in the SEC: Tubs was a workmanlike 110-60 in 14 years at the helm of Ole Miss and Auburn, keeping the probation-wracked Rebels' heads above water for four years before leading the Tigers to six top-20 finishes, at least a share of four division championships and the uncrowned, 13-0 finish in 2004 before his sudden ouster at the end of the Tigers' 5-7 collapse in 2008. He built a reputation on the Plains for holding his own in big games — Auburn was 9-6 in its last 15 against top-10 opponents under Tuberville's watch, with winning records against Alabama and Florida and .500 marks against Georgia and LSU — and keeping it conservative on offense, in direct contrast to Leach's non-stop barrage through the air:
Tuberville has insisted the Raiders will continue airing it out, and he took a step in that direction by hiring the nation's youngest coordinator, 29-year-old Neal Brown, whose spread offense at Troy lit up opposing secondaries for 337 yards on 41 passes per game last year and scored at least 40 points in seven of its last eight.
Still, Tuberville has already made the inevitable overtures toward "balance," ostensibly to protect his quarterbacks (potential starters Steven Sheffield and Taylor Potts both missed time to injuries last year and are both are out for the spring with entirely different maladies). Over time, though, expect the team to become defined mainly by the undersized but alarmingly fast defenses that have served Tuberville so well since his days as an assistant on Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson's dominant Miami teams in the late '80s and early '90s.
Immediate Impact or Slow Burn? Texas Tech was a winning program before Leach; predecessor Spike Dykes went out on five straight winning seasons when he retired in 1999. Those teams didn't draw nearly the headlines of Leach's relentless, record-breaking "Air Raid" squads, but they are evidence that Tech doesn't need an eccentric offensive genius to put up winning records and go to bowl games. Those are immediately, obviously achievable goals Tuberville has met in 11 of his previous 14 seasons as a head coach.
Given that Texas Tech hasn't won a Big 12 championship and only won two titles in its entire 40-year tenure in the Southwest Conference (in 1976 and 1994, both shared), a popular, respected coach can conceivably go on winning seven or eight games per year with the occasional darkhorse run as long as he can keep it up. There's no reason Tuberville can't keep the Raiders above .500, but the bigger test may be ingratiating himself among a very divided fan base, many of whom came of age with and strongly identify with the fast-paced, gunslinging style that put the program on the map over the last decade. If they can accept relatively boring wins as wins nonetheless, Tuberville ought to make a comfortable, enduring niche for himself here.