Big 12: Mike Leach

LUBBOCK, Texas -- Few assistants in college football have soared up the coaching ladder faster than Texas Tech offensive coordinator Eric Morris.

The 28-year-old Morris, who was a key receiver on Mike Leach’s 11-win team at Texas Tech in 2008, finished his playing career with 184 receptions. After coaching stints at Houston under Kevin Sumlin and Washington State under Leach, Morris returned to his alma mater last year to be Kliff Kingsbury’s inside receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator. This offseason after Sonny Cumbie bolted for a job at TCU, Kingsbury (who is the primary playcaller) promoted Morris to offensive coordinator and coach of the entire receiving corps.

Morris took time to chat with ESPN.com on a range of topics, including the similarities and differences between Kingsbury and Leach, how Kingsbury has grown as a coach over his first year and the benefits and challenges of Texas Tech having such a young staff:

You’ve coached with Kliff, you’ve coached with Leach, how would you compare and contrast the two?

[+] EnlargeEric Morris
Orlando Ramirez/Icon SMIEric Morris sees several advantages in coming back to coach at his alma mater.
Morris: You know, I think coach Leach is, for lack of a better term, really set in his ways, which has really been a positive thing. He really believes in what he does. You’re not adding and trying to game plan every week. You just have this certain amount of set plays and you get really good at them and that’s what you do, and the quarterback has to trust them. Whereas Kliff likes to cater a little bit more to the athletes he has. He likes to sit in there with the whiteboard and think of things, different formations, motions, but he still keeps the quarterbacks’ reads pretty much similar for the most part. Kliff does a great job finding, catering to the athletes on his team, finding a way to get them the ball in space. Those are two things, but they’re really similar as far as running the organization day-to-day. Mike is a really late guy, he’ll stay up all hours of the night. Kliff is a really early guy, he’ll be up here at 4 a.m. pretty much every single morning. That’s a little bit of a difference. Kliff’s dad with his military background and coaching background, what surprised me so far, [is the] discipline and the way he runs a tight ship with the players. And they really respect that. But Coach Leach did the same thing.

Where has Kliff really found his stride as a coach? Where has he improved over the last year?

Morris: He’s always been really good with the players. The players love him, he relates really well to them. Him sitting in a team meeting is like cake to him. The kids really understand where he’s coming from. He uses young terminology, which they appreciate. I would say outside of that, learning how to deal with the media with the instant success with people in and out. With interviews, he’s night and day better from last year speaking in public. He does a great job handling all the girls that want to take photos with him, that want to take selfies with him. He definitely has a lot of patience, he’s not the most patient guy I’ve ever known, but he’s learned how to have patience.

So he’s gotten better dealing with the donors and the dinners and those things?

Morris: Night and day. When we go speak at recruiting dinners or with a lot of our donors, he’s a lot more relaxed, comfortable, himself up there. And just comfortable in his own skin and not trying to impress all these guys. Just being himself, which is good.

This has been written about before, but with five Texas Tech alums on the coaching staff (Kingsbury, Morris, Trey Haverty, Mike Smith and Kevin Curtis), what benefit does that give you guys?

Morris: Yeah, absolutely. It means a little more to us to put on the Double T and represent that. We’ve put in so many hours, blood, sweat, tears in the uniform. So that symbol and putting on that uniform means more to us, because we are so much more vested in it. One, I think it helps as far as recruiting, people see that, the energy, the passion we have for this place. And two, I think it helps with our current players. It’s funny we’ll be in an academic meeting, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, I have Dr. Timmons,’ and I’ll go, ‘I had Dr. Timmons six years ago in the same anatomy class.’ We can relate to them. We passed all the classes. We know what to do and what not to do around town, on campus, with our academic staff. We can just relate on a different level.

[+] EnlargeEric Morris
AP Photo/Lubbock Avalanche-Journal/John A. BowersmithEric Morris was a key receiver for Texas Tech in 2008.
Because most of you all on this staff are relatively young, how do you balance connecting to the kids with still being authority figures to them?

Morris: The worst thing ever is if you mistake our kindness for weakness. It’s definitely a case where we have to pull on the reins a little bit more at times. And Coach does an incredible job of really teaching these guys about how to be respectful to women, to people that are trying to help this program, to donors, to people that serve us food at the training table and things of that nature. And if they don’t, there’s punishment for it. He’s done an awesome job of not letting things go, even though they have excuses. If they mess up, there’s going to be a cost to pay. That’s one thing they know, and you can ask any player right now, if they’re not going to class, if they’re not doing the right things, then there’s going to be a price to pay.

What’s one thing about Kliff that’s interesting that people don’t know about him?

Morris: Well, he’s a health freak. He eats extremely healthy. I lived with him for a couple years when we were at Houston and usually you’d hear the cereal bowl get filled at 3:45 a.m. He’d eat cereal every morning, then go work out. And then protein and all of his shakes and supplements that he takes. Then snacks nuts and little snacks throughout the day. Then you’d go to lunch and it’s always grilled chicken, some kind of salad, something like that. He works hard at it and he’s pretty disciplined. That’s really impressive to me, how he stays on the straight and narrow with that.

I think his way of relieving stress is working out. But it has been funny. Because Coach Leach used to always call me late to ask questions about the program. And this semester, Kliff has started to do that. You can tell he’s up late at night, thinking about the program. And so I’m getting more phone calls at night again asking hypothetical questions and recruiting questions, ‘What do you think we need to do here? Do you think I was too hard on them? Do you think I should have called that play?' It’s definitely on his mind 24/7, he’s definitely infatuated about making this place really good. I think still there’s a doubt in people’s mind and there’s a lot of people we lost to last year that Kliff -- I don’t think he’ll ever stop until he gets to the top of this thing. And so losing always pushes him. He hates to lose, and that drives him every single day, to see these kids be successful and win a lot of football games at Texas Tech.

Successful coaches forced out: Big 12

August, 16, 2013
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In the eyes of some critics, Mack Brown is sitting on a seat far warmer than he realizes.

ESPN Insider's Phil Steele says Brown is the No. 1 coach on the hot seat entering 2013, and there is a faction of the Texas fan base that agrees and believes Brown’s best days are behind him. But if history tells us anything about canning coaches, the grass isn’t always greener.

Brown’s contract runs through 2020, and he isn’t looking to retire any time soon. He’s 27 victories away from becoming the winningest coach in school history. Will he reach that milestone?

A look at the recent history of successful Big 12 coaches being shown the door reminds us that a new hire brings no guarantees of success. And there might not be a better example of that than the man considered the league’s best coach today.

[+] EnlargeMack Brown
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesWill Mack Brown get a chance to become the all-time winningest coach at Texas?
Coach on the bubble: Mack Brown, Texas

Big 12 precedents: Bill Snyder, Kansas State; Dan McCarney, Iowa State; Chuck Reedy, Baylor

Bill Snyder, 170-85-1 at Kansas State

Prior to his arrival: The list of coaches who came before Snyder is a long one, but the last to win more games than he lost at Kansas State left in 1934 after one season. Snyder’s predecessor, Stan Parrish, coached the Wildcats for 33 games and won two. The team was mockingly called “Futility U” before Snyder’s debut, and had lost more games than any program in college football history.

Why he resigned: The white-haired wizard was everything to Kansas State and achieved the most improbable rebuilding job college football has ever seen. But there reached a point in time, even after four Big 12 North titles, where KSU was ready to move on, in 2005. Leadership thought that after consecutive losing seasons, Snyder’s heart just wasn’t in it to go another season, even if he was hesitant to surrender the throne.

The aftermath: In came Ron Prince, the 36-year-old Virginia offensive coordinator who had no ties to the KSU program. His best season was his first, and after consecutive 5-7 seasons, he was fired in November 2008 -- after agreeing four months earlier to a contract extension through 2012. Snyder heroically returned, and you know the rest.

Some believe Brown, 61, is getting old. Snyder was 66 when he was ousted. He was named 2012 Big 12 Coach of the Year at age 73 and got a new five-year deal this past offseason.

Dan McCarney, 56-85 at Iowa State

Prior to his arrival: No, the track record of McCarney at Iowa State is not even close to what Brown has achieved at Texas. But no coach won more games at ISU than McCarney, who enjoyed five winning seasons in six years (2000-2005) and nearly won the Big 12 North outright twice. His predecessor, Jim Walden, retired after going 0-10-1 in 1994 and finished his ISU tenure with a record of 28-57-3. No Cyclones coach had won a conference title since 1912.

Why he resigned: McCarney led the Cyclones to five bowl games, but the 2006 season went downhill and he stepped down. At the time he announced his decision, ISU was 0-6 in Big 12 play.

The aftermath: Iowa State got as sexy a hire as it could have hoped in Texas defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. Then, after going 5-19 in two seasons, he bailed on the Cyclones for the Auburn job. Paul Rhoads has done a respectable job in Ames, with three bowl games in four seasons. McCarney is entering his third year as head coach at North Texas. His record there isn’t great (9-15), but the Mean Green at least appreciate that they’ve got a good coach.

Chuck Reedy, 23-22 at Baylor

Prior to his arrival: Yes, this is a bit of an obscure choice. Baylor had a solid, competitive program during the 21-year tenure of the great Grant Teaff and enjoyed winning records in eight seasons of his final decade in charge. When he retired, BU offensive coordinator Reedy was promoted to the head gig.

Why he was fired: Replacing Teaff wasn’t easy. The Baylor administration wasn’t happy with some aspects of Reedy’s coaching style, including recruiting high-risk players who were unlikely to qualify. But what sealed his fate was going 1-7 in conference play in the Big 12’s inaugural year and losing four straight to end the 1996 season with a 4-7 record.

The aftermath: Baylor didn’t know it was signing up for a decade of futility when it canned Reedy. His replacement, Dave Roberts, went 4-18. The three coaches that came after Reedy went a combined 30-94 and finished last in the Big 12 South eight straight years. Art Briles has led an impressive rebuild, but he inherited enough of a mess that it took five years to get his career mark at Baylor above .500 (32-30).

I know what you’re thinking. We’ve left out three coaching departures that are considered some of the biggest in recent Big 12 history: Barry Switzer, Mark Mangino and Mike Leach.

Considering Switzer resigned amid a flurry of scandal and NCAA probation, and Mangino and Leach departed after allegations of player abuse, they’re not all that applicable to Brown or any current Big 12 coaches. But in the cases of Kansas and Texas Tech, who enjoyed unparalleled rises under Mangino and Leach, respectively, and haven’t been the same since, it’s another reminder that you never know what you’ll get when you let a successful coach go.
We're looking at first-year coaches across the country today, and the challenges ahead of the new guys in each league.

There's only one in the Big 12, but here's what I tab as the biggest challenge awaiting Kliff Kingsbury:

Expectations are the biggest hurdle for Kingsbury

It's not every day fans pile into the streets to celebrate a coaching hire, but when Texas Tech AD Kirby Hocutt posted a short video on Twitter of Kingsbury flashing a Guns Up to officially announce his new job, that's exactly what the Texas Tech faithful did.

Yeah, it was a celebration, but they were celebrating what was to come. A program legend was coming home, but he was bringing with him the promise that brighter days were to come. Mike Leach teams won at least nine games in four of his final five seasons. Tommy Tuberville never hit that mark in three seasons as the Red Raiders coach.

The fans' memories of and love for Kingsbury will give him a longer leash and more support than Tuberville received, but this is far from a rebuilding project. While Texas Tech struggled to a five-win season in 2011, the 2012 record was 8-5. Kingsbury was hired to take Texas Tech to the next level. He has a good roster, but not a roster that looks like a Big 12 title contender. He has to build through recruiting, but in 3-5 years, if Kingsbury hasn't carried the Red Raiders to a 10-win season or two, he's going to find the fan base restless. That's a tough task, and not one many coaches have to deal with. For a competitor like Kingsbury, it's surely a welcome challenge. But among Big 12 coaches, only Bob Stoops, Mike Gundy, Mack Brown and maybe Gary Patterson face the pressure of living up to those kinds of expectations.
Oh, wait, wait, wait, wait. Eighteenth-century agrarian business, but I guess it’s all the same principles. Let me ask you, are you at all concerned about an uprising?

Lunch links: Tech's storied sand pit won't return

March, 26, 2013
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Revolution is back, and I don't care if I'm the only one left watching.
I hope you guys enjoyed our look at new Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury on Wednesday as part of our week-long look at first-year coaches. You can see my column here, as well as another look from colleague Travis Haney.

There was plenty of interesting stuff Kingsbury and I covered that didn't make the piece. Here are a few nuggets that had to be cut from Wednesday's post.

What can Michael Brewer provide?

It's been awhile since Texas Tech's had a truly mobile quarterback, with the exception of Steven Sheffield, whose legs were hardly used in the Red Raiders' offense under Mike Leach and in Tommy Tuberville's first season.

Texas Tech's offensive identity is still being pieced together, but you can bet there will be a whole lot of spread concepts in Kingsbury's playbook. How much will the Red Raiders use Brewer's legs, though? He used them a decent amount in limited duty behind Seth Doege a year ago after running for more than 1,200 yards in his final two seasons of high school football.

"I don’t know if he can run like the one we had last year, but I don’t know anybody else in the world who can," Kingsbury said of Texas A&M Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel. "We’ll play to the quarterbacks’ strengths in this offense just like we did then, so we’ll see who becomes the starter this spring and how it shakes out."

I don't really buy Kingsbury's assertion that there's a real quarterback competition in Lubbock this spring, but there's something to be said for not handing him the job immediately when he hasn't truly proven anything on the field. However, there's little potential for real competition for Brewer on the roster.

Either way, that's one thing I really can't wait to see in Texas Tech's offense. Oklahoma had a decent defense that struggled late in the season, but you saw how much trouble Manziel gave them in the Cotton Bowl. The rest of the Big 12 wouldn't have had much more success, and if Brewer can do anything similar, Tech's going to have big success in Year 1.

Kingsbury's hand in Tech fashion

Kingsbury's contract is public record as an employee of a public university, and within that contract was a clause that allowed him to have "creative license" in the Red Raiders' uniforms.

"I just like to have a hand in things of that nature," Kingsbury said. "It’s a big part of today’s game, kids with the social media and like the style and fashion aspect of college football, so I wanted to make sure I had a hand in that."

For coaches, the uniforms arms race is all about one thing: Recruiting. It doesn't much matter what boosters, alumni or media think. Players love them, and even staunch traditionalists like Nebraska have given in to the trend in recent seasons. Don't be surprised if Tech, which has always had a few alternate looks (I loved the white helmet returning under Tuberville), gets a makeover soon.

"Some traditionalists keep their jerseys. Some are willing to change and have a fresher, hipper look," Kingsbury said, "so it’s kind of a case by case deal."

It's safe to say Tech is in the latter group, and absolutely should stay there.
I checked in earlier today with a column on Kliff Kingsbury's biggest challenge of Year 1 at Texas Tech: The ability to learn as he goes along and adjust his schemes as he learns more about his team.

My colleague Travis Haney also wrote about Kingsbury today as part of our weeklong series on first-year coaches. Haney talked to a handful of coaches around the country about Kingsbury, and no surprise, there were plenty of rave reviews. But Haney says even though Kingsbury is young -- the youngest AQ conference coach, to be exact -- a wide-open Big 12 is ripe for him to build a program within.
"He's not just running Mike Leach's Air Raid that he played in college," the coach said. "Kliff did a great job of using little things he's learned, from Leach and Dana Holgorsen (when he was an OC at Houston) and everyone else. He was Charlie Weis' quality control assistant (in 2003 in New England).

"He's taken those things and created his own thing."

That thing? In an era of accelerating offenses, Kingsbury wants to go even faster.

"He's up-tempo as fast as you can go," one SEC assistant said.

But he is still intelligent enough to be flexible when he needs to be. Kingsbury developed a first-year starter in Johnny Manziel, one who doesn't always abide by the letter of the playbook law, into a Heisman Trophy winner.

Well said. The Big 12 will find out soon enough if Kingsbury's rising star will continue to do so in his new role in a new league. Check out the full piece from Haney. Really great, candid, interesting stuff.

Having held the title of head coach for just a little more than three of his 403 months on the planet, Texas Tech's Kliff Kingsbury can't be expected to know all the answers.

He doesn't.

What's going to be his biggest challenge in his new gig?

"We’ll find out. I’m still kind of learning on the go," Kingsbury told ESPN.com earlier this week.

What's going to be the toughest thing about his first year as the head Red Raider, his alma mater?

"I don’t know until I get there. We’ll figure that out," he said.

How different will his offense look from what he had with Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M and what Texas Tech did a year ago?

"We'll see," he said.

And what about that defense? Does he have a specific scheme in mind yet?

"We’re still figuring that out," he said.

School will officially be in session on Friday when Kingsbury steps on the practice field for the first time with the whistle everybody on the field has to stop for. The first three months on the job have been "fast and furious," Kingsbury says, but there's no replacing hands-on learning, and once that first practice begins, Kingsbury can finally start to answer the questions he has been staring at since December.

"Last year is last year for us, and we want to get these guys in our scheme and see how they fit," he said.

[+] EnlargeKliff Kingsbury
AP Photo/Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Stephen SpillmanTexas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury says his first three months on the job have been "fast and furious."
Kingsbury has watched only a few games from last season, instead electing to let the practice field in spring serve as the place he'll develop his true first impressions of his personnel. For now, he readily admits his feel for his players is "not too great," but expect that to be markedly different this time next week.

Without knowing that firsthand, Kingsbury hasn't had a chance to truly understand what his team can do or will look like on either side of the ball.

"Offensively, we’re going to adapt to what we’re doing really well. We’ll have to get out there and see exactly the personnel we have and what we’re good at," he said. "Defensively, I would expect Tech to look more multiple than last year. ... The same kind of approach on defense. We’re going to play with what we have and figure out the strength of what we have personnel-wise and then take it from there."

Kingsbury still has plenty of unanswered questions about his team and his own design for what that team will look like, but the past three months have been an exercise in carrying out the best advice he received about taking over his first head-coaching job.

"Just trying not to get it all done in one day," Kingsbury said. "You just try and knock one thing out at a time and don’t lose perspective and the fun part is getting out on the field."

It's finally time for the fun part, but Kingsbury studied his team enough to know what he'll need to work on immediately, besides installing his new offense and defense and fitting it to personnel.

"The two glaring stats for me were last in the Big 12 in penalties and last in the Big 12 in takeaways," he said. "To win eight games and be last in those categories says there’s some good things going on, but there’s a lot that needs to be improved."

The Red Raiders were penalized an average of 7.7 times a game for 75.5 yards a game, nearly one penalty per game more than any team in the Big 12 and 12.5 more yards per game than any team in the league. Tech managed to force only 11 turnovers too, less than one per game and five fewer than any team in the Big 12. That number ranked 122nd nationally. Improve those numbers, and Tech's win total is sure to rise too. Kingsbury didn't need to do much homework to know that.

"Once you have such a glaring statistic as that, it needs to be addressed immediately, so we’re going to take that approach," he said.

Kingsbury was the first quarterback to help Mike Leach build his program at Texas Tech, but the Big 12 Kingsbury finds himself stepping back into this time looks markedly different. During Leach's 10 seasons in Lubbock, Texas and Oklahoma won a combined eight Big 12 titles.

In the three seasons since he left, the Red River rivals have won only one outright, and haven't done so since the Big 12 did away with its championship game and added a ninth conference game.

"With so much parity currently in the Big 12, it’s hard to say who has bigger challenges than who," Kingsbury said. "So many coaches do a great job, and it really seems to have evened the pack a little bit. We’ll see."

Yes, we will. And so will Kingsbury. In Lubbock, he's known as The King. Around the Big 12, he'll earn more of a reputation as The Kid, a 33-year-old coach who shot up the ranks and got a shot to finally prove himself with a big job at his first stop. The fun begins now.

Lunch links: Boone Pickens on the map

February, 15, 2013
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Sloooowwwww daaaayyyyy.

Lunch links: More Stoops staff changes

February, 13, 2013
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Somebody stand up and give the Big Ten a hand!

Mike Leach's lawsuit vs. Tech dismissed

February, 6, 2013
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It's been a saga of more than three years, but Mike Leach's lawsuit against Texas Tech looks to be nearly over. The final count in his wrongful termination suit against the university was dismissed by a judge on Tuesday.

From the Associated Press:
State District Judge William Sowder told the school and Leach's attorney Monday that Texas Tech didn't violate the coach's due process rights when he was fired in December 2009.

Texas Tech spokesman Chris Cook says the school is pleased with the decision. Leach's attorney Ted Liggett tells the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal that Leach is considering options that could include an appeal.

We'll see if anything comes of those appeals, but surely Texas Tech would love for this to be the last word on Leach's lawsuit.
You saw my all-interview team last week, but considering I'm not on campus every day during the season, I only spend a finite amount of time around players. The local media gets a whole lot more time, and as such, has their own set of top interviews across the league.

I enlisted their help to nominate the players who helped readers like you learn more about the game and players they love. Here's what they had to say:

David Ash, QB, Texas: He doesn't mind mixing it up with reporters in a playful manner and offers short and often very blunt answers that are very telling. Sharp guy. And he's always good for at least one Scripture passage. -- Kirk Bohls, Austin American-Statesman

Lanear Sampson, WR, Baylor: Thoughtful interviewee, really listens to the question. Interested in the media so he’s using interview sessions as a training ground. Very well spoken and always available without being a pest about it. -- John Morris, Baylor

R.J. Washington, DL, Oklahoma: Tells it straight, good storyteller, always funny, always brought it to the interview room, whether things were good or bad. -- Jake Trotter, ESPN SoonerNation

Chris Harper, WR, Kansas State: By far the best quote on the team. He was insightful, confident and never afraid to speak his mind. It will be a shame for everyone on the K-State beat to lose him to the NFL. -- Kellis Robinett, Kansas City Star

Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor: Go-to guy for interviews for most people around here because you can always get good sound bites from him. Playful-type interview subject, always a smile in his voice. -- John Morris, Baylor

Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas: The future high NFL draft pick was far and away the most colorful Longhorn to speak with the media week in and week out. Not so much for his Manny Diaz-like analogies or funny outtakes on different aspects of the team/game. But because of his brutal honesty. No moment speaks more to that than when he angered Texas fans by speaking his mind about the loud (or lack there of) the fan base is during home games. "I like without a doubt playing on the road better than playing at home," Vaccaro said. "It's way louder and gets me way [more excited]. No offense to our fans, but [DKR] is not loud." Quotes like that were few and far between in 2012 for the Longhorns. -- William Wilkerson, ESPN HornsNation

Jeff Woody, RB, Iowa State: Articulate, and can talk about nearly any topic. Funny, but not showy. -- Andrew Logue, Des Moines Register

Gabe Ikard, OL, Oklahoma: Always has a good sense of the pulse of the team. Insightful when discussing his teammates. Pre-med, very bright. -- Jake Trotter, ESPN SoonerNation

Jeremiah George, LB, Iowa State: He is the only player I've ever seen who showed up to an interview with opening remarks like a coach at a press conference. He is honest about his play and that of his team. Also, he is plugged in with his teammates and can tell you exactly why someone is playing better. -- Bobby La Gesse, Ames Tribune

Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor: Youthful enthusiasm shows through in interviews. Never shies away from interview requests. Not completely polished but will get plenty of opportunities over the next couple of years. -- John Morris, Baylor

Shawne Alston, RB, West Virginia: It's a shame his thigh bruise kept him out of action (and out of the interview room) for much of the season, because Alston was always honest and direct in answering questions. He was at his best when describing his injury, the painful rehab process (including multiple hospital visits where he went under general anesthesia to have blood drained from the bruise) and the reaction from fans who questioned his toughness. -- Patrick Southern, Blue and Gold News

Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: No one had to deal with the media more, but Klein handled the attention of a Heisman campaign exceptionally well. He never turned down an interview, even when others gave him permission to do so, and always provided insight into his life story and K-State's successful season. I mean, is there an anecdote about his life we don't know? -- Kellis Robinett, Kansas City Star

Austin Zouzalik, WR, Texas Tech: The Red Raiders’ receiver-return man isn’t loud or gregarious, but he puts a lot of thought into what he says and doesn’t stick to just the safe answers. With a dry humor, he’ll share funny anecdotes about his roommates who happen to be teammates. He gave some good insight into how things changed when Tommy Tuberville replaced Mike Leach. And he was one of the players brave enough to stick up for former teammate Adam James, a pariah to a lot of Red Raiders fans after Leach was fired. -- Don Williams, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

Travis Tannahill, TE, Kansas State: Whether you wanted to talk about hunting or football, Tannahill was there for the media. He was capable of breaking down every aspect of K-State's offense, and always had a knack for putting wins and losses into perspective. -- Kellis Robinett, Kansas City Star

Mike Ragone, TE, Kansas: He was an automatic request by almost every local media member every week and was routinely the last guy in the media room on player availability day. Colorful character from New Jersey with a classic accent and a sinister laugh, Ragone always filled his interviews with great stories and a clear appreciation for his chance to play football and love of KU. -- Matt Tait, Lawrence Journal-World

Alex Torres, WR, Texas Tech: Because he came late to the Red Raiders after spending time at Air Force Academy Prep School, Torres was a 25-year-old senior in 2012 and his maturity and comfort level show through in interviews. After he caught the winning touchdown pass to beat TCU in triple overtime, Torres gave an interesting chalk-talk explanation for why the play worked. He’d run the same route stem toward the same linebacker all afternoon -- then threw in a wrinkle on the decisive play that got him open. Sharing that sort of thing helps fans and media understand what they didn’t see in real time, no matter how closely they looked. -- Don Williams, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

Terrance Bullitt, LB, Texas Tech: Serious shoulder injuries have limited Bullitt for two years and led to two surgeries. The fact he’s played in 22 games during that time shows how much the game means to him. It also comes through with the media. Bullitt will defend his teammates when he feels criticism is unwarranted or overdone, but takes ownership for shortcomings when he sees them. He was a junior in 2012, but Bullitt's one of those guys who seemed to carry himself like a leader even when he was young. -- Don Williams, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: Open, honest, witty and comfortable in the spotlight. He'll do very well under the NFL media glare at the next level. -- Jimmy Burch, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Austin Stewart, S, Texas Tech: Stewart made headlines last April when he accidentally smacked his scooter into a bus at an intersection on the Tech campus. Luckily, he came away uninjured. The mishap certainly did nothing to impair Stewart’s speech, which is fast and unfiltered. As loquacious a Red Raider as you’ll find, Stewart said the bus accident felt “like I got blindsided by [Brian] Urlacher.” Discussing a two-tiered, two-color hairstyle he sported this fall, Stewart said that “going to California (for JUCO ball) helped.” Too bad he played in only four games in 2012, because he’s a sound bite waiting to happen. -- Don Williams, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

Nick Florence, QB, Baylor: Thoughtful and well-spoken. A solid citizen, all the way around. -- Jimmy Burch, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Offseason to-do list: Texas Tech

January, 23, 2013
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Every year, there's lots of turnover and change for every college program. What do the Big 12 teams need to do before next fall? Let's continue our look with Texas Tech.

1. Get used to new faces, terminology and schemes. Texas Tech's offense hasn't changed much since Mike Leach's exit, and new coach Kliff Kingsbury will throw it around, too, just as offensive coordinator Neal Brown did in three seasons in Lubbock. Still, the Red Raiders are preparing for their fifth defensive coordinator in five years in Matt Wallerstedt, who came over with Kingsbury after coaching linebackers at Texas A&M. Tech won't look markedly different, but it's still going to be an adjustment for everybody involved. Different coaches do things different ways and use different terms and approaches. Getting those relationships off to the right start is imperative.

2. Develop Michael Brewer. There doesn't appear to be much competition at quarterback next season in Lubbock. Brewer looked solid in spot duty and his potential is sky-high. Still, in this offense, he needs to be great for Texas Tech to succeed. As a first-year starter, Brewer will be a redshirt sophomore in his third year in the program, but he'll have to weather that transition, and a new offense, too. The basic principles will be similar, but expect Brewer to get a lot of opportunities to use his impressive wheels, too.

3. Fill out the secondary. Tech's secondary finally figured it out last season and made some huge strides, but now it's back to being gutted. Safeties D.J. Johnson and Cody Davis, the team's leading tacklers in 2012, are gone. Cornelius Douglas and Eugene Neboh are gone, too. I'd expect Wallerstedt and secondary assistants Kevin Curtis (cornerbacks) and Trey Haverty (safeties) to go into spring with an open mind. If unheralded players are going to emerge, those 15 practices will be the time to do it. All bets are off with that group.

More offseason to-do lists:
IRVING, Texas -- Before Kevin Sumlin hired Kliff Kingsbury, Kingsbury got Sumlin fired.

From Texas A&M, no less, too.

Sumlin jokes about it these days, and of course, it's not quite that simple, but Sumlin was on R.C. Slocum's staff in College Station back in 2001 when the Aggies headed to Lubbock. They lost, 12-0, to a Kingsbury-led Red Raiders squad.

[+] EnlargeKliff Kingsbury
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsThose who know him say Kliff Kingsbury will bring passion and enthusiasm to the Red Raiders.
"Probably the only game I’ve been a part of that we got shutout," Sumlin said, adding that Tech fans tore down the goal posts (among other activities) that night.

A year later, Sumlin faced questions from folks wondering if A&M would score against the Red Raiders this time around. They did -- on the game's first play. It didn't change the outcome, though. Missed extra-point attempts meant overtime, and Kingsbury joined Wes Welker in knocking off the Aggies, 48-47, in overtime.

"Wes Welker and those guys hung around us at Houston -- Wes is around all the time, that’s Kliff’s guy -- and they proceeded to really cost me my job at the end of the year," Sumlin said.

Slocum was fired at the end of the 6-6 season and Sumlin landed on Bob Stoops' staff at Oklahoma. Still, less than a decade later, Sumlin brought Kingsbury to his staff at Houston and brought him to Texas A&M for the 2012 season, too. He helped Johnny Manziel become the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, and the Aggies to make a splash in the SEC with 10 wins and a status as one of the hottest teams and biggest surprises in college football.

Kingsbury parlayed that success into a head coaching job at his alma mater.

"They’re getting a heck of a coach. He worked hard this year. He was there every day at 5 a.m. and he was the last person to leave. I know you hear that and you think it may just be people saying that, but it was true," Manziel said. "Every morning I was up there to work out or whatever it was, he was already there for hours ahead of time."

A&M fans remembered Kingsbury from his days at Tech and Sumlin had to deal with minor blowback from bringing the Big 12 legend on staff in the Aggies' first year in the SEC.

"People were worried, like 'Why is Kliff Kingsbury here?' I just said, 'Get over it. He’s here to do the best job he can,'" Sumlin said. "Obviously, he has. He’s going to be highly successful."

That's the hope for Texas Tech, who hired the 33-year-old in hopes of rediscovering the spark and big wins that Mike Leach brought to Lubbock and Tommy Tuberville had difficulty maintaining.

"Coach Kingsbury brings a lot of energy, brings a lot of passion. He’s going to come, and he was the guy that gave us a spark whenever we needed it. Whenever we were dragging a little bit, whatever it was, he was the guy that brought a lot of spark," Manziel said. "He was a young guy, energetic and that’s what he brought to the table. He would get everybody fired up, he would give a speech. He’d be running around just like we would be, and that was cool for us to see."

Sumlin also knows the advantage that Kingsbury has in being an alum at the school that just hired him. Texas Tech, like many others, comes with unique sets of challenges and desires that sometimes aren't tangible. Experience inside the program is the only solution.

"The difference in college football and pro football, it’s not a plug and play. You have to have a background and an understanding of what particular institutions value," Sumlin said. "He gets that."

And Tech gets Kingsbury.

Q&A: Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury

December, 20, 2012
12/20/12
9:00
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It's been a little more than a week since Texas Tech brought in program legend Kliff Kingsbury to run its program. This week, he sat down with ESPN.com to talk about a variety of topics.

ESPN.com: Can you take me through the first few days on the job? What have you been up to since last Wednesday?

Kliff Kingsbury: It's been fast and furious, really. I've been behind closed doors just trying to put a staff together and maintain recruiting and try to get a focus on that.

What'd you think when you first got the call that Tech was interested?

[+] EnlargeKliff Kingsbury
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY Sports"I've always thought that being young in this profession is a benefit," said Kliff Kingsbury, now the youngest coach in the Big 12 by eight years.
KK: I was excited to have a chance to even have the thought of coming back here as the head coach. It was a dream come true. I was up in New York doing that with Johnny (Manziel) at the Heisman deal, and my phone started ringing and things started happening. It's a crazy profession, but I couldn't be more thankful where I ended up.

When Tommy (Tuberville) left, did you expect that call, at least on some level, to come?

KK: Not really, not really. Like I said, I've been so focused on our season at A&M. I was so proud of what we accomplished that I was shocked that that had happened, but didn't really expect much to come from it.

Mike Gundy, your new peer at Oklahoma State, famously called his job his "New York Yankees" job. You guys had kind of similar stories at this point in your careers, but would you consider this your dream job?

KK: No question. It's a place that really changed me as a man and shaped who I am as a person. It's great to come back as a head coach and try to take this place to the next level. I couldn't really ask for a better opportunity.

As a guy who's eight years younger than any coach in this league, what's your response to people who might say it's too soon for you to be a head coach?

KK: I've always thought that being young in this profession is a benefit. I think you relate to the players and having played, and not too far removed from having played, I think you can relate to them and give you some street cred there. You just played the position and when you tell them how to do something, they'll listen because you've been there, where they are.

How would you describe these last five years, going from a new guy in the profession to a head coach at a BCS school?

KK: It's been fast and fortunate, I'll put it that way. I know how this profession works. By no means am I the smartest or greatest coach, and I know that's the case, I just try to work as hard as I can at all the places I've been and I've had things fall into place for me.

There's been so much talk about 'uniting the fan base' and that whole concept. What's your view on that idea after the controversy surrounding Mike Leach's exit?

KK: Yeah, I just think there's a lot of proud Red Raiders out there and we all just need to be pulling in the same direction. We all want what's best for this university and we all want what's best for these student-athletes and students, and it's just time for everybody to pull together once again and make this program the best that it can be.

How close are you and Mike still?

KK: We talk. We talk. He's been busy this year, obviously, getting that (Washington State) program rolling. I've always had a great amount of respect for him and what he accomplished and what he meant to me in my life.

What's he told you since you got this job?

KK: Just been excited. That's it. Fired up for me and some of the other coaches I'm bringing in that he's coached during their time. He's just really thrilled.

Come back later today for more from Kingsbury on the 2013 team he inherited, his attitude and thoughts on Tommy Tuberville's departure, and some thoughts on the search for his defensive coordinator.

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