Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Spo
Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt sat down to talk with Viva The Matadors.
This interview took place on February 1, 2013. I'll have a follow-up post about the day preceding the interview and the day of the interview. I also realize after transcribing my questions that I need significant work as an interviewer. My initial question picks up after Kirby and I catch up for a few minutes and I tell him who I am and what I am about.
Seth: It is very much a process for you, your decisions are very much a process.
Hocutt: Yeah, you grow as a leader, every day I believe. I try to learn something new. I believe in professional development. Continuous growth. I have had mentors early in my career who have been positive influences, who have helped me grow and helped me expand my wings and helped me develop who I am today. I would say that I believe in principle based leadership and at the end of the day, I've got to make the decisions, but we, as an organizations, we as an athletics department, have to have a shared mission statement, that we have to have a set of shared guiding principles, so that individuals within this department, should be able to predict what a final decision should be before we get to that point, if we all believe in the principles that we've established as a department, that we've said are non-negotiable that these are what define us and what we believe in and we stay within those parameters. At the end of the day, there can be some very difficult decisions, but as long as we take our time and we go through the process, and we remain consistent to those guiding principles that define who we are and then we're going to know that we're making the best decision, excuse me, we're making the decision that is in the best interest of the students that we have the privilege to lead each and every day. And at the end of the day, that's why we're here, to educate, serve and grow fearless champions. Fearless champions are our student athletes and that's our mission statement. Everything that we do in the course of a day should be in alignment with educating, serving and growing fearless champions. When we do that, then I can get up and look myself in the mirror and say that while, some people may not understand that we made the best decision for Texas Tech University and our 400 student athletes.
Seth: And I appreciate that. For sure I do. I don't know if I say it enough, but I do, or if I write it enough. Because it is hard, especially when it seems like everyone is pounding at the window saying that you gotta make a decision, you know that this is totally artificial. Pressure is usually artificial, usually because of your anxiety or someone else's anxiety, there's no reason to make a decision immediately. I do appreciate the fact that you go through a process. I understand, I appreciate you explaining that it is the principles that help guide you. You strike me as a person, I live in Dallas, I oftentimes as I am driving and going to court or something like that, I hear a Jason Garrett press conference. He says process, it's a process. It's a joke, but that's how I see you. I don't think that's a bad thing, a good thing. He may not work as a coach. I was going to go back to one of the things that you mentioned when we were talking about blogs and getting the right message out there, so is there a vision as to how you want to do that in the future, or is there something, as far as a background for me, I started writing and it just mushroomed. I didn't think the site was going to get as big as is did or is. And it still has the potential to get bigger, but I always thought that the website I ran, was kinda like, well, they're just doing their own little thing over there, but your attitude is changing a little, bit, is there a way that you want to present information in the future?
Hocutt: If I could step back, born and raised in the state of Texas, grew up in North Central Texas. And to me, growing up, there were certain big time universities, and when I was growing up, all I wanted to do was play college football. That was my dream. Growing in the state of Texas, Texas Tech was a big time university that played college football at the highest level. Spike Dykes was a legend and Texas Tech has such a strong brand. The double-t is recognizable, it is visible across the country, and there are lot of reasons for that. There have been a lot of successes within intercollegiate athletics and the university that have built that brand and success. If you were to ask any of our head coaches or any of our administrators, what is Texas Tech athletics game plan to communicate and to grow and to expand it's brand, you might get fifteen to twenty different answers, because I think that branding and communications is not any different than preparing how we are going to beat West Virginia in basketball, you have to have a game plan on how you are going to attack that particular opponent. You've got to have a strategy. You've got to have a branding and a communication strategy. You've got a solid foundation to build on with the double-t, but we have not had an organized efficient communication and branding initiative or program. We have reached out and engaged Weber Shandwick, which is a worldwide marketing and branding firm, and we're about three months engaged in that process to develop a comprehensive communications, marketing and branding campaign for Texas Tech Athletics. It all has to be tied together, from billboards, to the print pieces, to having a consistent message in the media amongst all of our head coaches, to our uniforms that we wear. Everything has to be tied together. The double-t, to Texas pride, to fearless champions, to ride together, there are a lot of moving pieces, there has to be a singular voice from this athletics program and our student athletes. And I think we have the foundational pieces in place. Janine Beckie, a freshman soccer player [Fantastic and unbelievable.] an All-American as a freshman. If you go back and look at her quotes from when she found out that she was an All-American, she talked about being a fearless champion, and I read that quote, one, I was so proud of her and her achievements, but two, that here is a freshman student athlete, she understands what being a fearless champion is and our mission, again is to educate, serve and grow fearless champions and that's something special to being a Texas Tech Red Raider. All of that, just as an example, we are in the process of developing a communications and marketing game plan as to how we are going to grow and expand our brand and our presence throughout the state of Texas and throughout this entire region. What a perfect time to do that with the hiring of Kliff Kingsbury, with the excitement, the energy and the enthusiasm of our fanbase and everybody coming back together as one family, what a perfect timing and opportunity for us go into next fall with a communications and branding strategy.
Seth: I think that's really smart, I think I wrote this, I can't even remember the name of the author, I had read a book, I can't even remember his name, I think of it later, and it was basically the idea of these markets that we have to sell to, I probably wrote this four or five years ago, about selling the university, that was the one thing that I really appreciated after Tuberville from your press conference, was how proud you were. I felt like there was a time where maybe people weren't as proud. And running a blog where you've got 5,000 different voices, sometimes it's like herding cats, as you can probably imagine, but there were people that always expressed that it's not the love of Texas Tech, but I don't know if I feel that proud and passion feeling and I can tell you that you made a lot of friends after that press conference because I felt it, and like I told you before I'm not an emotional person, but I was like, son of a gun, I'm excited, so it was very much appreciated. How much thought did you put into that speech after you left?
[The marketing firm is Weber Shandwick and the book I was talking about, but never remembered through the interview because I'm a dummy is Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point and I wrote at least four posts about that book -- Tipping A Program: Introduction, Tipping A Program: The Law of Few, Tipping A Program: Stickiness Factor, Tipping A Program: Law of Context.]
Hocutt: Well (laughs) I forget what time that press conference was, but it all happened so quickly, from probably 11:30 (am) knowing that Tommy was leaving that it was done to whatever time that press conference was, and in the meantime, trying to inform the president, the chancellor as to what was going on, meeting with all of Tommy's assistant coaches, who were caught completely off-guard by what was transpiring, to meeting with the team. There were select individuals on the team that wanted to talk to me individually, I had time to think, but not a lot of time to prepare.
Seth: That makes it even better.
Hocutt: (Laughs) It's an easy sell, right?
Seth: Of course.
Hocutt: I was just talking to Kliff about this, Lubbock sells itself, Texas Tech sells itself, when you get young people here. It is a great place to live, it is a great place to go to school. I have yet to meet one person that had a less than positive experience as a student at Texas Tech University. For me to serve as the athletics director, we've got an opportunity to be the premier program in this country. We've been there in women's basketball, we've been ranked #2 in November in the BCS in football. Basketball has had success. Baseball has had success. Track and field has had incredible success. Tennis has had success. We've proven we can succeed at the top level. To do that in a community like Lubbock, you couldn't ask for a better situation. A place to live. Some of the greatest people in the country. West Texas hospitality is different. We take a lot of pride in it. A place to raise a family.
Seth: I keep pushing my wife to move out here, but our parents live in Dallas and they're good babysitters.
Hocutt: I understand that too.
Seth: I've always felt that way. I've always said on the blog that Texas Tech saved me. When I came to Texas Tech, it was the best thing, there were three things that happened in my life that I love, that changed my life for the better: meeting my wife, adopting a child and coming to Texas Tech. I can say that with absolute conviction. And I know my brother-in-law just started last year and he loves it and he's a guy that doesn't love anything. I say he doesn't love anything, he is very slow to show his emotion and he's said that he has a fantastic time. And I'm biased and trying to sell someone who hasn't been out here or lived here it's not easy, but once you step foot here it's a great place to raise a family and go to school. You don't have to sell me for sure. Most people who listen to this or read this, you won't have to sell them either. I am glad that you are so passionate about it because I can feel it and I don't know if I have ever felt that before with dealings, not necessarily dealings, but reading the tea leaves I suppose. I actually have prepared questions too, some of this I may go off cuff and I'll jump around on different topics too. So there was a video, I think it was Chris Walker's first game and it was after the game and it was in the locker room and it was on the YouTube channel and you were standing there with one of your sons and you were smiling from ear to ear. Chris was very happy, Coach Walker, since I don't know him personally. Do you remember that moment, and I don't really care what happened with everything else, can you take me to that moment, I could see you thinking, you did good Chris, real good.
Hocutt: I don't remember that moment, but I would say that yes, I am proud of Chris, but I am proud of those kids on that team. A group of young men, who over the course of their career at Texas Tech, have experienced a lot of things. And for them to stay together in the face of adversity and for them to continue to work and to compete at the level that they have, I'm so proud of that group of young men. They have been, I don't want to look back, I want to look forward, but they have been exposed to things within their inter-collegiate athletic career that you hope young people don't face. But for whatever reason, they have, and as I have had the chance to tell them, the lessons that they are learning now are going to benefit them in life. Benefit them as leaders as they grow in whatever their chosen field is later in life. They'll look back at and the lessons they are learning now, although they might not fully recognize them, they'll be able to draw upon their experiences here. I think knowing the adversity and the challenge that that team has faced, yet knowing how they have stayed together and their attitude. They talk a lot about attitude and that's a tribute to Chris Walker, but that team staying together. I am proud of those guys. I'm proud of Chris Walker, the positive influence that he has been with those young men has been tremendous. Chris is a talented communicator and is a talented teacher and educator. He is using basketball to teach these young men life lessons and I had the chance to listen to those after every game and before every game and I'm proud and we are fortunate that Chris has served as our head basketball coach this year and been that positive influence.
Seth: I'll never forget, this will stick with me for a long time, but when he said, I think it was at the Big 12 Media Day, when he said that it's not that he's got six months to live, but that he's got six months to give. I found that to be incredibly selfless, and even to this day he still keeps talking about this opportunity. Things will sort out the way that things will sort out and Chris will land on his feet, there's no doubt about that. He has been a great motivator and I've been frustrated with the team because you always want your team to win more considering everything that's happened with this team over the course of three years or whatever, it is hard to wrap your mind around far it has come.
Hocutt: It has and Texas Tech basketball is very, very important and it is a program that we have got to continue to invest in and to grow and to achieve and there are a lot of components to that. It's not going to happen overnight, but it has to be a process that we're committed to getting that program to where that belongs. Because it has been a long time, too long.
Seth: It was back when I was in school.
Hocutt: When you look at our starting lineup this year, two true freshmen, a sophomore, and two transfers.
Seth: And one of those starters is no longer here and was starting three weeks ago, so yes.
Hocutt: I'm proud of this team. And we have more than halfway of our conference season still to go. I know that these kids are giving everything they have and will continue to represent us in a positive manner.
Seth: So I'm really interested in, and if this is a proprietary secret, you can say Seth, no comment, but I am really interested in how you go about or what happens when a coach comes to you when you interview a coach. Do they present a plan to you? In other words, how do you go about picking the right coach, whoever it is? I've always tried to imagine what it would be like if it were me and I were trying to sell a product, I'd have a powerpoint and I've be organized and do all of this other stuff. But is it a feel thing for you when you sit down and talk to a coach and they present a plan and this is what I'm going to do?
Hocutt: I'm not sure that the times that I've had to make a decision on hiring a new coach. There's never been two identical approaches from any of the candidates. I think everybody is unique. At the end of the day you want to find a winner, a leader. You want to find somebody who believes in higher education because winning is important, always has been and always will be, but what we always have to keep perspective in is that we are using athletics, which is very powerful, to complement the education that these young people learn in during two, four or five years and complementing those classroom lessons and developing these young people to be able to draw life lessons from their participation as a student athlete. So you want to find someone who embraces operating under the higher education umbrella and you want to find somebody who is a fit. I think that is so critically important, somebody is a fit.
Seth: And it is particular to every school? Every school is different?
Hocutt: It is particular to every school, is a fit to your program and to your community. With that, you want to find somebody who has had a pedigree of success, either who they have aligned themselves with in their coaching career or who they learn and study under as a student athlete and the programs they have been associated with. You want to find somebody who has had those ingredients that we believe are important and critical and important to having a successful program. I think that when you are looking for a leader, an educator, a role model, a certain pedigree in their background and that right fit and you can find all of those characteristics in one individual, then you know pretty quick in your gut is that a possible candidate or not.
Seth: So is it sort of a process where you just sit down and talk some things out and as you are just making mental notes, it's pedigree, it is fit, experience, that's how you go through your process?
Hocutt: Yes, and tell me about yourself. Tell me about your story. What is Kliff Kingsbury's story? When you sit down and you hear Kliff's story. When you hear who he has been around and who has been influential in his career as a college football player, as a eight year professional football player, in his coaching career and what is important to him as a person. I think you take that building of that relationship of somebody that you buy into, is that somebody for me that I'd let my two boys play for? Is that somebody that I could play for? Commit to following? Sometimes coaches will have a powerpoint or a you know their philosophy bound and packaged, and others don't. All of those that go to have those opportunities have a plan, but how that plan is organized and how they communicate it and how they plan to execute it is a little different.
Seth: The whole process is interesting to me, I'd love to be a fly on the wall just one time. Talk a bit more about Kingsbury. You having played for coach Snyder, I think I that's Coach Snyder and his 16 goals?
Hocutt: That's Vince Lombardi, and what it takes to be a winner.
Seth: But you played for coach Snyder, the one thing that I've really wanted to get across, but I don't know if I've done a good job of writing, is that I really want people to be patient with Kliff. It's not that my expectations, but if you give him time, my thought is that if you give him time, he's going to grow into long-term, long long-term, not this year, but 15 years from now. So how do you communicate to a fanbase be patient, but our expectations are high but be patient. How do you communicate that to a fanbase?
Hocutt: I think that as time goes along, we'll know. Kliff's a winner. And he exudes confidence and he's got a vision of what he is going to achieve here and I think it is higher than this program has ever witnessed before. We want success overnight, but I think progression and seeing continuous improvement is important and any time that you go through a coaching change, 99% of the time it is not a good situation. This last time for us was a little unique in the way it all transpired and happened and what we had the opportunity to go and do, but I think fans appreciate when they know and you sense, people know when somebody is committed to a project, when somebody is committed to a task and there will be nobody that can ever question is if Kliff Kingsbury committed to building the Texas Tech football program to a level that it has never been before. Just the fact that he's spent a good piece of his life and his own sweat and blood and competing for Texas Tech and to have a chance to bring him back to lead us as our head football coach, I think our fans are going to recognize and appreciate what he is going to set out to accomplish here. I think as the years go forward, they will see success that we're going to experience. How quick that will come, nobody knows, but do we have the right man to lead us on that journey? Absolutely.
Seth: And you've always talked about that progress. I can't remember when it was, but I think it was very early on, but you have always said and been consistent about the fact that as long as the program is showing progress, but you have to be showing progress. I'm right there with you, I think it was even when Dan Spencer was let go. I'm no good at baseball, I'm awful writing about, but I like watching it, but I saw that program spinning its wheels a bit. I don't think there was anyone that said, well, the change was understandable, maybe that's the best way to put it. No one ever said that, I don't think that I ever had any pushback that he should have had more time, I think that everyone understood that you have to have that continual push. You've got to get into the post-season at some point, perhaps a higher bowl game if it is football.
Hocutt: There are a lot of pieces to, you know, obviously, progress in the win-loss column and on the scoreboard is important. That's the easy thing for people to judge.
Seth:Seth: You take the volleyball program as an example, that was at the bottom level and Flora had an incredible job so if you judge him by wins and losses.
Hocutt: Absolutely, and at the same time, again, our coaches are role models and educators and there are a lot of components around that program that have to be evaluated on an annual basis that's not on the win or loss column. Those are just as important as the progress on the field, you've got to be the right role models and representatives in these other areas.
Seth: Have you ever thought about doing a state of the union address for Texas Tech athletics. I don't know if it would be better to be done in the fall or spring. but just something to say, hey, this is where we are at, in terms of communicating with the fans. I even think that it was Ryan Hyatt that suggested it, so I'm totally ripping him off. I'd love to hear our message and here is where we're at. We have all these different programs, even as someone that writes, I have a hard time of keeping track of everything that's going on.
Hocutt: It's a idea and probably two ways to look at it. And it gets back to what we talked about earlier to a degree. Communication. And is it a annual report or is it an annual state of the union where you're looking forward. So, it's a good idea, it's one that deserves more consideration and thought and how we can use TexasTech.TV and our digital platform to deliver that. And you can never communicate enough.
Seth: Credit Ryan Hyatt. Don't credit me at all. I was also curious and this goes back to the hiring process. How much input do you have on hiring assistant coaches?
Hocutt: I entrust that to our head coaches. Just as I will be held accountable for the head coaches that we hire. I believe that the head coach has to be held responsible for the assistant coaches that they hire. Knowing that we're only going to be as successful as those around us and the team that we put together. That's the hiring of the assistants is the head coach's responsibility. That being said, all of our coaches have done a terrific job of keeping me informed and talking about what their needs are with their assistant coaching staff and what ideas I may have and talking about various prospects and candidates.
Seth: So they kinda bounce things off of you?
Hocutt: They do, but at the end of the day it's their decision and I will support that decision.
Seth: Sure. Some of this I actually kinda talked to you about while we were just chatting. At least I think that we were. I tend forget when I started recording or not. You galvanized a fanbase by hiring Kingsbury, so did you really kinda realize the division that was there, because when I talked about herding cats before . . . there was a real split, there was even times where I said, hey look, if you want to go talk about another coach, then you have to go to another website, I can't keep doing this, because at some point, it becomes unproductive. Especially, like . . . my focus has always been that I love Texas Tech. Me, as a fan. That's what I do. I wouldn't get up at 4:00 in the morning if I didn't really do this, I have a passion for it. And so, I want to focus on that thing. But when you stepped as to the role as athletic director, did you appreciate the divide or is that something that it was like, oh, okay there's something here. How did that process happen for you?
Hocutt: That's a good question. I guess what I would say is that I wasn't aware of any divide when I came. I came back to the state of Texas. I came back to a flagship university in the state of Texas to lead it's athletics program and one that has a very proud tradition. When I accepted this opportunity, I wasn't aware of any divide. But you couldn't ignore the more people I talked to, that there was some, there was some discontentment over.
Seth: Yeah, yeah.
Hocutt: The separation. How deep that was? I don't know, but what we've experienced since we've hired Kliff Kingsbury has been incredible.
Seth: I can tell you that from a blog management standpoint, it's been off the charts. And I can only imagine that my little piece of the internet and what you deal with on a daily basis it's probably one hundred fold of what I experience on a minor level. Yes, there was much rejoicing. I think that was one of the things that was probably really frustrating for a lot of people, and this is the only question. Maybe it is more of a comment. Is that they just wanted someone to listen to them. And I can tell you that I think you have done a really good job of listening. It didn't happen immediately, I think you had to get a lay of the land and figure some things out, but at some point, I've got to listen to my constituents, if you will, I don't know if that is a fair statement. Let them vent just a little bit, just say, yeah, I'm here for you. You've done a really good job of doing that. Especially recently.
Hocutt: People want to be supportive and they want to be involved because they love the Red Raiders.
Seth: People wouldn't have been so upset if they weren't 100% passionate about it. Because these people were passionate fans. If they didn't care, then that's apathy and that's even worse than being angry.
Hocutt: That's exactly right. Kliff had tremendous success playing under Mike Leach. Kliff had terrific experience and was recruited by Spike Dykes. And I think the first phone call that I made after we hired Kliff. We were driving back to the airport. Chancellor Hance and I were driving together and his car or rental car.
Seth: And this was in Austin?
Hocutt: In Austin. Spike called and I had a chance to share with him that Kliff was going to be our next football coach. Spike was so excited and said Kirby, you won't believe the positive reaction that this will bring to the University. He said, you couldn't have made a better decision, I am so happy for Kliff and I'm so happy for Texas Tech. And thinking back now, I think that was a glimpse of what we were about to experience because when we got back to Lubbock that night and learned that there were over 3,000 students at Memorial Circle celebrating and partying with the excitement that it generated, it's been a really cool experience and one that is going to be a lot of fun in years ahead.
Seth: You're right, it is going to be a lot of fun. That's the thing, you've got some people that are genuinely excited about what's to come, in fact, I keep needing to remember my sister's husband is a professor at SMU and I need to bug her about getting tickets because I don't want to miss the football game. Unfortunately it is at Ford Stadium but hopefully I can get tickets. I can promise you that people are genuinely are excited about what's to come. There is definitely a feeling of apathy, I know that I felt apathetic, it was really creeping in and I never really feel apathetic about Texas Tech and it was starting to creep in with me to be 100% honest. When you talked about the idea of communicating, having this one big brand and I know that we're running up against an hour, so if you need to let me go, just let me know.
Hocutt: What time is it.
Seth: It's 2:56. Is the whole communication process with the fans, is that what you're working towards. Revamp, re-branding and marketing and things of that nature. I can promise the videos have been really, really good. The fact that they are so well produced, with what the reporters are doing. I don't get to link to it as much as I could because of time constraints, but I do sit down and watch them and I think it is really fantastic. Is that the next really big step?
Hocutt: Just continuing to build to build that pride. It is time for us to stand up and stick our chests out and for a lot of West Texas and those that have attended Texas Tech, that's hard to do. We're a proud group, but not a boastful group. We take a lot of pride in what we do and go about our business, but it is time for Texas Tech athletics and put out our chests and to bang our chests a little bit in that we are a flagship university. We are a prominent college athletics program in the state and we're just as talented and just as powerful as any other brand in this state. We can go toe-to-toe and compete with anybody. If you look at the facility enhancements that have been invested into Texas Tech athletics over the past 10 years . . . incredible. When you look at our relationships with some of the strongest brands in the country, Under Armour, we have a great partner there. When you look at the success that we've had going to post-season football bowl games, we're talking about we've just got Gabe Rivera was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. When you talk about what we can be what we have been and more importantly where we're going, it's time to brag. It's time to make sure that all Red Raiders across the state and across the region fly that double-t flag with pride and that we take the opportunity every chance that we get to talk about it and build our brand and with that comes knowing that we've got to put a quality product out and anything short of that is not acceptable.
Seth: I think that will make people very happy to hear you say that. That's what they want. It's been good, real good, to have that proudness with Kingsbury being hired, being proud of Walker, and the Lady Raider basketball team is doing well, and as you mentioned before, the track team, Kennedy, son of a gun, I was thinking who is more decorated or will be decorated by the time they finish, will it be Sally or Kennedy and I'm excited to see what happens there. The soccer team is doing great, what Coach Stone has built, has built a monster in a good way, and the tennis teams speak for themselves because of their post-season success last year. It's a shame that Coach Siegel is retiring because I think he's put in the hours and now he's on the cusp of pushing the program over the edge, when it's time it's time, I'm not bemoaning that at all, I hope he's recognized for what he's doing. I will not take up any more of our time. I'll stop it.
Thank you to Austin,Tx for emailing Mr. Hocutt to initially request this interview.