It was very strange for me Saturday night in the Alamo Dome. I've watched Tech play countless times all over the country but have never felt as conflicted and confused as I did sitting in those stands. I know all of you are very passionate about the program and I want to thank Seth and all who contribute to this site. Finally deciding to post some thoughts and getting your feedback is great therapy. So, here is my first attempt at starting up a discussion:
The administration will give Tuberville, Bowden (wasn't he run out of Clemson because his players didn't like him?) and a few others an all expense paid mini-vacation in beautiful Lubbock, TX, but I feel that Ruff already has this job sewn up. If you weren't already convinced, here is what Guy Bailey had to say about his meeting with Ruff yesterday in the LAJ:
"First of all, I think he is a terrific guy," Bailey said. "I love him, and I think he is a great coach. I think a lot of the success that has come to this program the last two or three years is because of what he did as defensive coordinator. The big difference in last year and this year and earlier years is really the defense, and Ruffin is really responsible for that.
"He is a guy that is fully committed to the program and the student-athlete, and he’s a student/family focused guy, and we think he’s terrific. He did a great job, he’s a phenomenal man, and I have the utmost respect for him."
In my mind this is a done deal and Ruff will be the next coach. I've always admired Coach McNeill but have some concerns, including:
1. Not exactly a meteoric rise. He began his career at Tech as a linebackers coach and coached the special teams as well. Leach stuck with Setencich for four mind boggling years before replacing him. In part due to hard headed loyalty (probably the same hard headedness that made him think he could develop Adam James into a legitimate inside receiver/tight end when both of his position coaches didn't think so) but also partly because maybe he didn't see any viable alternatives. Ruff was named interim DC after the debacle in Stillwater in 2007 and given the job officially after the season. Not exactly a complete vote of confidence. What held him back for so many years?
2. Nice guys finish last. It's obvious that the players love him. They are ready to run through a brick wall for him (I know because I keep hearing it on the WWL). But will they be prepared to run through that wall? The stars were aligned in San Antonio. The players had the coach they wanted and the evil pirate was nowhere in sight. Hell, Ruff even did the Tuberville march into the stadium locked arm and arm with his players. It was a perfect setting. This team could now show what they were really capable of if given a little positive reinforcement! They had their coach!Then they almost lost the game to a vastly inferior Spartan team that had 14 players suspended. Raw emotion and love for a coach usually vanishes the first time you get hit in the mouth. Adrenaline and good vibes are replaced by preparation and repetition.
3. He can recruit, but can he develop them into stars? We all know one of Mike's strengths was taking 2 and 3 star recruits and developing them into players that could compete (and win) against blue chip athletes and blue blood schools. One of the more frustrating aspects of his getting fired is the fact that we were on the verge of seeing what he could do with blue chippers on both sides of the ball. (I think the administration knew this too and realized this was their last shot to get him out. If they had waited through a few more recruiting classes and subsequent BCS berths/championships, they would not have been able to toss him overboard without the entire city burning down, but I digress). Ruff has proven to be a great recruiter. I'd welcome him into my home with open arms. But, Franchione had some great classes too. And so did Weiss. The great Steve Spurrier has had top recruiting classes in South Carolina that have proven to be very consistent in posting 7-5 records. Even Colorado has had some studs commit over the past few years- and then they transfer to UCLA. He'll be able to get them to Lubbock, but then what?
4. What will happen the next time the team faces adversity? I mentioned the team struggled in the Alamo Bowl but am proud of them for overcoming obvious adversity and pulling out a win. What happens though now when new issues pop up? The "love 'em up vs. beat 'em up" philosophy can cut both ways. Obviously some players respond negatively to being called out and challenged, but not all of them. Think of the true champions in various sports. They are assassins. Tom Brady will cut your heart out with a smile. Michael Jordan will too. How would Jerry Rice respond to his coach telling him he was soft and didn't want to get hit? He would go out and score 4 touchdowns the next week and break a few arms in the process. Do you think Rod Woodson wanted a coach to give him a hug, or give him the tools he needed to dominate on the field? Now granted, those guys are the cream of the crop and not every college player can fill those shoes, but there are those with that mentality in Tech's locker room. I saw that in Leach's biggest supporter to date, Graham Harrell. In 5 years will we bemoan the fact that Ruff lost his team because he was too nice?
5. Did Mike see some of these limitations? By all accounts Ruff and Mike are very good friends. Did Coach Leach realize that Ruff has a very solid set of strengths (father figure, genuine affection for everyone in Lubbock) but that in the violent business of big time college football (both on and off the field) those particular strengths could also be limitations? Usually when a contest involves raw emotion and good vibes on one side and calculated, analytic cold bloodedness on the other-- the cold-blooded bastards win. Might not be fair, but it's true.
I remember when Spike was coaching the special teams in addition to being the HC. A few times every season we'd see a horrible special teams breakdown (blocked field goal returned for a touchdown in Norman comes to mind) and Spike would always laugh it off after the game and say he'd probably have to fire the special teams coach. Big laughs in the press room and everyone would feel all warm and fuzzy. Spike's teams weren't always well prepared but he's such a good guy! Let's order a few thousand more "I Like Spike" bumper stickers and give them away on KLLL! "I like Ruff" just doesn't have the same pop but you can count on our guys to come up with something.
I wish Ruffin the best and hope that these challenges can be overcome. I do not want to go back to the days of losing to North Texas and Baylor with a popular, lovable, bumper-sticker guy...