1. Thanks for joining DTN and I really appreciate your time. Up first, tell us a little bit about how you got to ESPN, your background, and what we might be able to expect this year from you at ESPN.
I worked for ESPN.com for the last three years as its Big 12 reporter. At the same time I was working for the San Antonio Express-News. I worked there for 24 years before the WWL decided to "expand its horizons" and select a reporter to cover each of the six BCS conferences and another to cover everybody else including Notre Dame. I couldn’t have been more honored when they offered me the opportunity to cover the Big 12.
Our plans are to cover the conference like no other media source. If some of your readers are familiar with what I used to do at the Express-News, I would liken it to a Big 12 Insider done 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I’m excited about the challenge of feeding that beast. I expect we’ll be updating our Big 12 blog six to eight times a day, so continual news and opinion about Big 12 football should be present all day, all the time.
2. Perhaps it's only me, and I for one really appreciate it, but it seems that you write quite a bit about Texas Tech. Why are you drawn to the Red Raiders, or is this just me looking at your work through red and black glasses?
Obviously, we are driven teams we believe to be the most compelling. Tech has provided those kind of stories in recent years. The high-powered offense of Coach Mike Leach and all of the skill-position standouts have provided a basis that have really built Tech’s national awareness. And it’s growing with more interest coming into the season more than any I can remember covering the Big 12/Souhwest Conference. Maybe it’s you looking through red and black glasses, but I think the Red Raiders’ national awareness is deserved. It will be interesting to see if they are as good as expectations, won’t it?
3. There's quite a bit of expectation for Texas Tech this year, do you think the preseason hype is warranted or do feel that Texas Tech needs to prove it?
Like you said, expectations are probably as high for Tech as any time since the mid-1970s. I do think it’s warranted, considering the way the Red Raiders played in the last two games last season against Oklahoma and Virginia and all of the players that are coming back as well as those new to the program. The good thing about the Big 12 is that Tech will be able to prove its mettle – particularly late in the season when the South Division will be decided.
4. Most Texas Tech fans have this perception that defense is beginning to matter in Lubbock. Have you noticed any discernible change in attitude with Ruffin McNeill in charge?
I noticed something down the stretch from Tech. The defense will playing with a different attitude has never been displayed with a Leach-coached team. Maybe it was true that Ruffin McNeill simplified the schemes and trusted some of the playmakers he was familiar with from his work with the special teams. But the emergence of guys like Jamar Wall, Brian Duncan and Colby Whitlock was really noticeable late in the season. And I expect them to keep improving this season. I think the big thing that Ruffin brings is a certain comfort factor. He was actively involved in recruiting most of his players – something that some of the defensive coordinators have done around Lubbock in recent years. And the comfort level between him and his players is definitely noticeable. I think that’s an underrated reason why they played so well last season, because they were playing for him and his chances to snag the d coordinator’s job on a full-time basis. It will be interesting to see if that changes with him finally being hired.
5. Offensively, Texas Tech looks to be set with Michael Crabtree and Graham Harrell on Offense, what do you see as the biggest weakness for Texas Tech on the offense this upcoming season?
To be honest, I don’t see many weaknesses. Tech needs to find a complimentary receiver to take over for Danny Amendola so Michael Crabtree doesn’t get triple-teamed in every game. I expect Detron Lewis and Edward Britton to really step up. I might be concerned if Rylan Reed doesn’t recover as quickly as expected. And Graham Harrell has to play with more consistency – he can’t have turnover-prone games like against Missouri and Colorado last season.
6. Right now, and there's a lot that can happen between now and the start of the season, but how do you see the Big 12 South shaking out this season?
There is a lot that can happen as the season takes place. But my prediction will be for OU to repeat in the South, followed by Tech, UT, Okie State, A&M and Baylor. I expect every team to have at least one loss and maybe even two – that’s how balanced I see things. And I think whoever wins the South will be really tested to beat Missouri at Arrowhead Stadium in K.C. at the Big 12’s championship game.
7. You've covered the Big 12 for a number of years and probably your fair share of Texas Tech press conferences, what is your favorite Mike Leach anecdote?
I have known Mike for a long team, dating back to his days as an assistant on Bob Stoops’ first staff at Oklahoma. I can remember talking to him about Xs and Os before the Texas game when he was up there. He was feeding me some interesting stuff about his philosophy. I asked him what statistic he thought was the best measure of an offense’s relative success, expecting him to say yards per pass attempt or third-down conversion or red zone percentage. He just looked at me and said simply “points scored”.
But that being said, I’ve really watched him mature as a coach in his dealings with the media. I also remember a time when he sat down with me and Brian Davis, a former Tech beat writer at the Dallas Morning News, about being mistaken for Vince Gill when he was at Valdosta State. I loved his bit on the weather that played on the Lubbock TV station.
I still think his most memorable rant was time he blistered his team after the OSU loss last season in Stillwater. But I also think an underrated one came after Phil Bennett almost charged him when he was throwing passes late in a blowout, lopsided victory against SMU a few years ago. Leach calmly explained that he owed it to all his players to play with all of his weapons late in a game, no matter what the score. His line of thinking sounded a lot more plausible to me than it probably did to Bennett.
8. This is a little off of football, but on the topic of sports and blogs. As a more traditional media member, it seems that you've embraced blogs as a place to read about a team, how do you think blogs and the media will interact moving forward?
Heck, I might be the wrong person to ask about blogs, because it’s where most of my livelihood will be coming with ESPN, but I think they are a great informational source. As I’m becoming more familiar with the blogosphere, I think there’s a lot of good bloggers out there – especially guys like you and Peter at Burnt Orange Nation. You guys do a great job of providing an informational source about your favorite teams and the conference.
And I think that will become only more widespread in the future. As more fans become more new media-savvy and as hand-held devices become more prevalent, I can only see it become more and more widespread. Which I think will only build interest in a sport like college football.
Again, a huge thank you to Tim for joining DTN. Go check out Tim's new Big 12 blog.