LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — Kliff Kingsbury is finally back where it feels like home.
Kingsbury was formally introduced Friday as the new head coach at Texas Tech, where he starred as the quarterback of some of Mike Leach’s high-flying offenses. The former offensive coordinator at Houston and, most recently, Texas A&M, said those jobs were purely business.
“But being here now, this is personal to me,” said Kingsbury. “This is where I want to be. This is a place that’s helped shape me as a man. It’s given me so much.”
Kingsbury, a mentor to Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel this year and the first in a string of record-setting Red Raiders quarterbacks, was hired Wednesday to succeed Tommy Tuberville, who left unexpectedly for Cincinnati less than a week ago after logging three losing Big 12 seasons in West Texas.
The 33-year-old Kingsbury has never been a head coach. He’s the youngest head coach of a BCS school and the second-youngest in the Football Bowl Subdivision behind Toledo’s Matt Campbell.
Kingsbury has a four-year deal that averages $2 million a year — not bad for a guy who just five years ago was making less than $30,000 a year as a quality control assistant at Houston.
He promised a “young and energetic” coaching staff and has already gotten Eric Morris, a former Red Raiders receiver who coached with Leach this season at Washington State, and Kevin Curtis, a former safety, to sign on.
This is all wonderful news to the Texas Tech faithful who have watched the program stumble in the aftermath of Leach’s 2009 firing and Tuberville’s struggles. On Friday, it was clear Kingsbury’s hire was a home-run decision by athletic director Kirby Hocutt.
“I don’t have any doubt about that because he brings a level of enthusiasm and excitement” fans want for the program, said Rick Dykes, who was offensive coordinator under his father, former Red Raiders coach Spike Dykes, and recruited Kingsbury in 1998.
During his time under Leach’s pass-happy offense, Kingsbury helped engineer wins over Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Texas. He led the Red Raiders to a 38-28 win over the Sooners as a redshirt freshman in his first start, throwing for three TDs and running for a fourth. In 2002, Kingsbury’s final home game saw him throw for 473 yards and six touchdowns to outlast the Longhorns 42-38.
On Friday, Kingsbury wasn’t ready to reveal what sort of offense fans will see. He said the program is “not broken” despite back-to-back seasons where the Red Raiders slid down the stretch. This year, they lost four of their last five games and in 2011 they dropped five straight to close the season for the program’s first losing season since 1992.
“I’m more of a walking-type guy, not a talking-type guy, so I’ll let you all see that in the fall,” he said. “But it’s going to be an exciting brand of football.”
There’s little doubt about what kind of offense the Red Raiders will run Kingsbury has been part of some of the most prolific offenses in the country the past few years. His offenses spread the field and moved quickly, favoring a fast tempo that is all the rage.
Kingsbury followed Kevin Sumlin to A&M from Houston, where he mentored quarterback Case Keenum and the 2011 Cougars led the nation in total offense, passing offense and scoring. This year, Texas A&M is third in the nation in total offense at 552 yards per game heading into the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma.
Kingsbury found it a “little poetic,” that Friday’s weather was classic West Texas — plenty of wind. Tuberville frequently complained about the often-breezy conditions. None of that from Kingsbury, a Texas native from New Braunfels, not far from Austin.
“I’m going on record that I actually enjoy the wind,” he said. “You’ll never hear me complain about it.”
Then, near the end of his remarks, Kingsbury got fans riled up when he turned to Hocutt to ask a question.
“I was going to see if there’s any way possible we can get Cincinnati on the schedule next year?” he said, bringing a roar from the crowd.
One fan who’s watched the Red Raiders since he was about 7 gave up his season tickets the year after Leach’s firing. Jimmie Gowens, who said he might change his mind now, thinks Kingsbury’s hiring will reunite the fan base.
“I think people have finally realized that Leach isn’t coming back,” said Gowens, a retired postal worker. Kingsbury is “going to have to produce within a few years, but I think he will be given a better chance than Tuberville.”