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Part II: The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again) of the Red Raider Offensive Line


Continued from Part I

Overall

Bedenbaugh’s first recruiting class in 2005 would turn out to be his finest.  That year featured Red Raider’s offensive line super stars: Louis Vasquez, Brandon Carter, Shawn Byrnes, Rylan Reed, Marlon Winn and Stephen Hamby.

Like Anae, following an outstanding initial recruiting class, Bedenbaugh’s subsequent recruiting class would struggle.  Five of the seven recruits in 2006 left the team including Tech’s first and only 5-star offensive line recruit Ofa Mohetau (who recently has become an  MMA fighter).

After just two seasons as offensive line coach, Bedenbaugh suddenly left the Red Raiders at the end of 2006 to join the Arizona Wildcats as offensive line coach. 

Bedenbaugh would join an exodus of former Tech coaches to Arizona to join Mike Stoops.  Tech’s staff departures to Arizona now include Sonny Dykes (receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator 2000-2006), David Nichol (Graduate assistant, offensive line 2003-2005) and most recently Seth Littrell (running backs coach 2005-2008).   

(Author's Note: The story of the relationship between Mike Stoops and Mike Leach seems like one waiting to be told.)

With National Signing day just two months away, Bedenbaugh’s departure came at a sensitive moment.  At the time of Bedebaugh’s leaving, Tech had received just 2 commitments (4-star Lonnie Edwards and 3-star Blake Emert). 

After Bedenbaugh’s departure Tech would round out the 2006 offensive line recruiting class with two 3-star recruits and three 2-star recruits.

It’s hard to determine what, if any, impact Bedenbaugh’s leaving had on the recruiting process at the time.  However, it is probably fair to say that the coaching turnover did not help the situation at the time.

While some may argue that a position coach change is unlikely to interrupt a recruit’s decision making process, I would disagree.

Turnover of the position coach in itself is not such a bad thing, especially if the program is able to maintain continuity with replacement coaches from within the system.  However, if that turnover results in uncertainty as to who the new coach might be and what the new coaching style could be, it naturally disrupts the recruits’ decision making calculus especially if a player fears a potential loss of playing time. 

Bedenbough’s departure surely must have generated significant concerns among Tech’s target recruits, especially at the closing stages in the recruiting process.

Once Bedenbough left, no succession plan seemed to be in place, and for one of the few times Leach was forced to look beyond his traditional coaching family tree to an outsider, former Louisiana Tech Head Coach Jack Bicknell. 

Jack Bicknell (December 2006 – April 2007)

Bicknell’s appointment is interesting for a couple of reasons.  First, Bicknell is one of the few Leach hires which have come from outside of Leach’s coaching network.  Bicknell was coming off a dismal 3-10 season when he was let go by Louisiana Tech where he had coached for 8 years.  Bicknell noted when hired by Tech that, "Mike Leach has been a very good friend of mine for a long time and I'm looking forward to joining his staff. I have always felt that Mike is one of the best coaches in the country." 

For Bicknell, like a morality-challenged sorority girl with a self-esteem problem who knows every ‘Sex in the City’ episode by heart, Tech had ‘rebound candidate’ written all over it. 

Bicknell would go on to assist Leach and his staff with finalizing the recruits for National Signing Day and stayed with the team through Spring Camp.

Then, after four months, in April 2007, Bicknell, unsurprisingly, had a change of heart and opted to accept an offer from Boston College, his alma mater (and apparent true love), to become its offensive line coach and offensive coordinator.   

The BC offer included more pay and an opportunity to become the new head coach down the line.  (He would later be passed over for the BC head coaching job, and is now an assistant to the offensive line coach for the New York Giants.  To paraphrase a certain Earl, "That’s karma for you.")  Still, given Leach’s relationship expertise, he should have seen this one coming from a mile away.

Bicknell’s sudden departure left Tech scrambling.  In May 2007, Leach reached out to another one of his former players, Matt Moore, who at the time was the newly minted offensive line coordinator at Troy University in Alabama, and a virtual unknown on the national scene.

Like Badenbough, Matt Moore was also a former Leach player.  This time the relationship started at Valdosta State while Leach was the school’s offensive coordinator. Prior to joining Tech, Moore had just one season of college football under his belt.  Before joining Troy, Moore had been coaching at the high school level in Georgia and Alabama for almost ten years.  

Imagine its April 2007.  Leach has just (probably unexpectedly) lost one of his most trusted and talented assistants.  He’s scrambled to find a replacement in the form of a relatively high profile coach.  Suddenly, four months later (and after spring practice), the replacement leaves.  Leach has only one returning starter going into fall camp.  Does Leach try to fill the loss with an internal hire?  No.  Does he try to find another high profile coach?  No. Instead, Leach  hires some guy that no one’s ever heard of,  with whom he last had close contact 15 years previously, who had been coaching high school ball for 10 years, and who had just one season of collegiate coaching experience at an unheralded university.  The Coach Moore hire is the ultimate example of thinking outside of the box, and at the time was a complete and utter gamble.  And quintessential Leach.  

Despite missing spring camp, this no-name guy boldly predicted that he could step in and make a contribution.  "It'll be a little different not getting to go through spring with the kids before you start the season,'' Moore said.  "But I'm confident, having played in this system and having run this system for the past eight years (Author’s note:  "In High School!"), that I'll be able to fit right in from a technique standpoint and from a terminology standpoint.''

Matt Moore (2007 – Present)

Matt Moore would immediately step in and earn the respect of a young offensive line while transforming it into one of the best units in the country. 

The bar determining the success that a Tech offensive line could achieve had already been set before Moore’s arrival.  Bedenbaugh’s 2006 squad had allowed, at that point, a Leach era-best performance of 35 passing attempts per sack.  The 2006 unit recorded a 100% performance improvement over the 2005 unit.   Of course the key difference between the class of 2006 and Moore's inaugural 2007 class was that the class of 2006 was comprised of veteran players featuring 3 returning starters and a first year starting senior. 

Moore was dealt a decidedly different hand.  His 2007 squad featured 4 new starters anchored by the lone returner Louis Vasquez.

One of the newcomers was Rylan Reed. Starting in his first football game at the age of 25, Reed was a former star minor league pitcher with a 95 mile an hour fast ball whose promising career (he was the White Sox organizational pitcher of the year) was cut short when he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.   Reed would go onto overcome his cancer only to lose his father to a road accident just weeks later.  When he came to Texas Tech, he was brought in as a tight end.  By the time Moore got a hold of him, he had only played sparingly as a backup lineman and special teams player.  By the end of 2007, he was an established starter, allowed one sack the entire season and held All-American Chris Long to just 3 tackles in the Red Raider’s Gator Bowl victory over Virginia.  By the end of 2008, he was an All-American himself and genuine college All Star. 

Moore would also break in 3-star recruit Brandon Carter, who at the time had limited college playing experience.  By the end of Carter’s first year as a starter, he would receive All Big 12 conference honors.  By the end of 2008, Carter was an All American.  Carter certainly deserves all credit for his hard work and talent, but his success was not predicted. After all, his recruiting year featured seven 4-star recruits adopted by other Big 12 teams (four by Oklahoma and two by Texas). Not one of those seven four-star recruits have come close to Carter's achievements.

To top it all off, Moore also had to manage a season-ending injury to senior Jake Johnson early in the year and to prematurely promote then-freshman Marlon Winn to a regular starting role.

All in his first season.  At the highest levels in football.

The results speak for themselves.  The chart below shows how dominant the Moore-led squads have been over the past two years.  The performance of 2007 is particularly remarkable as it was accomplished by 4 rookie starters.  The performance of 2008 was just plain domination, pure and simple.

Big 12 Passing Attempts per Sack (2007-08)

2007

2008

TTU

42

TTU

51

OSU

35

OU

40

OU

29

NU

21

NU

27

OSU

21

TAMU

24

UT

17

UT

17

TAMU

11

From coaching a bunch of high school kids to transforming an inexperienced offensive line into one of the best college units in the country in just two years is truly incredible.

Moore Report Card

 

Highlights

Low Lights

Recruiting

 

2008-10 Eight 3-star recruits, One 4-star recruit

 

 

Performance

 

2007:  Unit gives up 18 sacks – one sack for every 42 passes

2008:  Unit gives up just 13 sacks, one for every 51 passes

Three All Americans

Two All Big 12 Perfomers

2007:  Unit generates just 3.1 yards per carry

 

It is too early to tell what impact Matt Moore has had on recruiting. However, the talent level certainly seems to be improving.  Since Moore joined the staff, Tech has signed eight 3-star recruits, one 4-star recruit and just one 2-star recruit for the offensive line. 

His sales pitch is undoubtedly helped by the success of the class of 2005, and the incredible performances of 2006-2008 offensive units

Final Thoughts

In April 2007, few if any one could have predicted the success of Tech’s offensive line.  Three of the previous four recruiting classes had been busts, the team had endured a soap opera of three coaching changes in six months, Leach was breaking in an unknown offensive line coach, the 2007 unit featured just one returning starter.  Yet somehow, two seasons later, Tech’s offensive line would come to be acknowledged as one of the leading units in the country.  Talk about your thin line between success and failure.

Few, if any, Offensive Lines have recruiting classes which oscillate between the busts of 2003,2004 and 2006 and the inspiring classes of 2000 and 2005 while at the same time producing 6 Passing titles,  4 NFL players, 3 All Americans , 10 All-Big 12 performances and 8 All Big 12 Academic recognition.

Few, if any, Offensive Lines have generated such high standards of performance despite consistently utilizing unheralded recruits.  To understand the magnitude of the recruiting disparity on the offensive line, one only has to look at these figures:

4-Star  and 5-Star Offensive Line Recruits (2002-2010)

 

Texas Tech

Texas

Oklahoma

Texas A&M

Nebraska

4* Recruits

2

16

21

6

8

5* Recruits

1

2

1

1

1

Total

3

18

22

7

9

 

The Red Raider offensive line made Big 12 history when it had three of its offensive linemen recognized as All Americans in 2008.  Carter and Vasquez were 3-star recruits, and Rylan Reed effectively walked onto to the team.  The offensive line’s performance is a credit to the individuals and a real credit to Coach Moore.

The glue which seems to have held the offensive line together over the years, in spite of the coaching turnover and uneven recruiting results, has been the Texas Tech program (Leach and his talented group of assistants).  We already know that Leach gets the most out of its underappreciated talent, but it is when we look at magnitude of the recruiting disparity that we are truly able to recognize the quality of the coaching job Leach and his staff have put together over the years. 

Looking ahead, Matt Moore has his work cut out for him.  While he has been successful recruiting what appear to be a number of talented 3-star linemen in 2009 and 2010, the rest of the Big 12’s offensive lines seems to be getting even stronger. 

For the first time since 2005, Texas A&M has signed not just one, but four 4-star recruits.

Texas has also signed four 4-star recruits and one 5-star recruit.

OU has signed four 4-star recruits. 

The road never gets any easier. 

At the same time, Moore has elevated the offensive line to new heights. Anchored by returning All-American Brandon Carter, third year starter Marlon Winn and one year starter Shawn Byrnes, there is no reason to believe that this season’s Tech Offensive Line can’t sustain its high level of success of the previous seasons.  

Hats off to Coach Moore, Coach Leach and the boys.  Here’s to a great season.

Go Red Raiders!

(And then of course there's this.)