- David Ubben, College Football
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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.
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.
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.
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