Little did Texas Tech know when it lured Kliff Kingsbury to be the new leader of its football program that it hired a modern-day, better-intentioned Pied Piper.
A handsome, very hip and cooler than whatever Jay-Z thinks is cool Pied Piper at that.
It’s an analogy that fits, because neither has been a head football coach before. But that doesn’t mean thousands of Red Raiders fans aren’t lining up to follow Kingsbury wherever the former Texas A&M offensive coordinator leads them.
The night Kingsbury was introduced as Tommy Tuberville’s successor, more than 3,000 students gathered in the middle of campus to pay homage. That first week, the ticket office sold more than 3,500 season tickets for next year, a season that unveils the third-youngest FBS head coach on a Friday night at SMU and showcases him in a Thursday home game versus TCU two weeks later.
Just two weeks ago, Kingsbury packed up his team on three buses and traveled with the band and cheerleaders 120 miles south to Midland to treat one of the school’s largest alumni bases to — drum roll, please — a football practice. Well, a scrimmage to be exact, but tailgaters were out in droves, the marketing office sold 50 season tickets on the spot and more than 7,000 showed up at Grande Communications Stadium to get a glimpse of Kingsbury.
Oh, and his team, too.
For his part, Kingsbury’s more than a little uncomfortable with all the buzz surrounding his arrival. He nixed a request for cardboard cutouts of his likeness at retail stores around the state selling Red Raider merchandise. He probably won’t be on the cover of the fall media guide. He recognizes the fanfare and wants to do nothing to dampen the runaway enthusiasm, but a staffer said Kingsbury “learned a lot from Mike Leach” and he’d very much like to keep the focus on quarterback Michael Brewer and the task of rebuilding an offensive line that lost four starters and a scoring defense ranked 90th nationally that four times gave up 50 or more points in an 8-5 season.
Of course, a ton of this is out of his control.
An all-access video on the coach was a YouTube sensation, drawing more than 35,000 visitors. Sports Illustrated has already dropped by to chronicle the arrival of the hottest young coach in America. Kingsbury acknowledged that he was approached by other schools for jobs besides Texas Tech, but never interviewed and wasn’t looking for work. “I had a pretty good gig where I was with that quarterback,” he said.
Not sure how the Pied Piper would look in Frogskin Oakleys and a visor with a day’s growth of stubble on his chiseled chin, but Kingsbury cuts quite the dashing figure. Local clothiers had trouble stocking their shelves with T-shirts that challenged the rest of Division I with the statement, “Our Coach Is Hotter Than Yours.”
Hiring Kingsbury, a highly successful Red Raiders quarterback who set school passing records with more than 12,000 yards, was a big a no-brainer. Kingsbury has one of the youngest staffs in America. Including the head coach, the average age is a green 35 1/2 years.
None of his nine assistants has more than five years’ experience at the FBS level except for new defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt, who skews the average with 19 years of Division I coaching. Kingsbury recruited five former teammates/Red Raider alums for his staff before he signed 23 prospects, including Prosper quarterback Davis Webb, a savvy, strong-armed type who is pushing Brewer for the starting job, but Kingsbury will coach the quarterbacks and call the Tech plays as he did for Johnny Manziel.
Kingsbury will rely on his experience not only under Kevin Sumlin — Kingsbury and his offensive staff spent a day with Sumlin’s people last month to pick their brains — but as a former backup quarterback to Tom Brady with the Patriots and a keen observer of Bill Belichick and Charlie Weis.
The lack of experience has very few worried on the South Plains.
“I had somebody believe in me when I was 33 and got my first AD opportunity,” said athletic director Kirby Hocutt, who met with Kingsbury in Houston the day after Manziel won the Heisman Trophy and again two days later in Austin to consummate the deal. “Age was not as much a consideration as Kliff’s preparation and pedigree.
“When your gut tells you something’s right and you believe it, there’s no reason to delay it. we knew very quickly Kliff was the right guy to lead our program. I’ve seen a level of excitement and enthusiasm unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.”
And Tech figures to stick with him because he may be the one guy who wouldn’t mind sticking around Lubbock for a while, unlike Tuberville, who never really fit the West Texas culture as Kingsbury does. The two are as different as the 10 helmet styles — including a red one — that the school is considering.
He makes no predictions for his first season, but knows expectations could easily outrun the talent on his team, given his notoriety and success as an offensive whiz. Kingsbury will race to keep up with them.
Until then, he’ll remain Lubbock’s most eligible bachelor. Right, Kliff?
“We’ll see,” he says.
You see, ladies. As with the football team, he’s selling hope for all. He’s saying there’s a chance.
SPRING TOUR: TEXAS TECH
2012: 8-5, 4-5 in the Big 12 (tied for fifth); def. Minnesota in the Meineke Car Care Bowl
They’re gone: QB Seth Doege, S Cody Davis, DB D.J. Johnson, OL LaAdrian Waddle, WR Darrin Moore
But they’re back: TE Jace Amaro, DL Kerry Hyder
Returning leaders: Passing – Michael Brewer (34-48-375, 4/0); Rushing – Kenny Williams (143-824-5); Receiving – Eric Ward (82-1,053-12)
Spring cleaning: Texas Tech’s two biggest issues? Adjusting to a new head coach, and working in a new starting QB in Lake Travis’ Michael Brewer
THE PAST FIVE YEARS
How Texas Tech has fared since 2008:
2012;8-5;4-5;—/—;Meineke Car Care (W)
* AP preseason/final ranking
OUR SPRING TOUR
This is the first of our annual 10-day spring sweep around the Big 12 by six reporters on the American-Statesman’s college team:
April 14: Texas Tech
April 15: Kansas State
April 16: Oklahoma
April 17: Baylor
April 18: West Virginia
April 19: Oklahoma State
April 20: Kansas
April 21: Texas
April 22: Iowa State
April 23: TCU
BIG 12’S SPRING GAMES
March 30: Texas
April 6: Baylor
April 13: Kansas, Oklahoma
April 20: Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, West Virginia
April 27: Kansas State