Kirk Herbstreit is absolutely the best in the game. His analysis is spot-on, he has a terrific sense of humor and does his best to protect Lee Corso on the set of College GameDay every Saturday morning. While the producers try valiantly to keep the content fresh and engaging, it's Herbstreit and Chris Fowler that bring the most substance to the set.
Last year the show was extended to three hours, proving unequivocally that more is not always better. The exciting first five minutes of the show, the grating but absolutely necessary Big and Rich introduction and the God Bless Saturday! fade-to-commercial songs are the only worthy complements to Herbstreit and Fowler's game predictions and breakdowns, Scott Van Pelt notwithstanding.
Yet even for its faults (cough**Desmond Howard**cough) the show has become theme music and background noise for me on Saturday mornings as I fix bowl after bowl of cereal for hungry kids and fight for those precious few minutes in the day devoid of Peppa Pig. Last Saturday was no different as I worked on my social-media brand*(*screwed around on Twitter) and listened while Herbstreit and Mack Brown discussed the current state of affairs in Austin. What Herbstreit said caught my attention and made me think about our own situation in Lubbock. He talked about the Longhorn's 2005 National Championship team, and how proud they were; how motivated they were.
"Where the hell has that been the last five years?" Herbstreit said. "Quit blaming all these different coaches and can somebody step up and be Vince Young? Can somebody be Michael Huff? Can somebody in that locker room step up and show some leadership?"
Later, while Arkansas ran up and down the field against yet another hapless Red Raider defense, I thought about Herbstreit's impassioned words. The only difference is that sadly, it's been a lot longer than just five years of slinging blame and leadership voids for Texas Tech. On a day when perhaps their greatest defensive player was honored, fans once again were treated to what is now an all too familiar off-Broadway play in four acts titled Warm Knife Through Butter. It has been a long running show.
Eleven years ago Tech allowed 469 yards rushing in a game against Missouri, including 291 from QB Brad Smith en route to a 62-31 loss. After the game, a furious Mike Leach held a 40 second press-conference. "We lost this game because I'm not a good enough coach to get our defensive players to believe in themselves," Leach said. "We lost this game because I'm not a good enough coach to get our offensive players to play in control when the other team scores a couple of points."
And though he was angry on that chilly day in Columbia, things never really changed. A few years later, on the same day that Mike Gundy formally declared his manhood and age, Leach fired his longtime friend and mentor Lyle Setencich after another embarrassing defensive debacle in Stillwater.
In the years that followed Ruffin McNeil's defenses showed improvement but they were never world-beaters. In 2010 Tommy Tuberville came to town with his awkwardly forced southern charm and promised to change the culture. He didn't. In fact, his defenses were worse than anything Leach ever fielded while he ran through a new DC in each of his three years on the South Plains.
So now we are in the second year with Kliff Kingsbury at the helm and the hand-picked Matt Wallerstedt leading the defense, and nothing appears to be trending in the right direction. But, to return to Herbstreit's argument, at some point it has to be on the young men inside that locker room to initiate the change we are all so desperate to see. At some point someone is going to have to step up and say "follow me, because this isn't how we're doing this anymore."
There are only so many schemes taught and fundamentals coached before realizing the exasperating truth: the flailing ineptitude and aversion to things like "tackling" and "shedding blocks" on display Saturday is indeed part of our culture now. And that's not going to change until someone, anyone, gets pissed-off enough to take a stand and forcefully begin to bend the arc.
It will take leadership at all levels to row against the tide and remove what unfortunately has become ingrained. It won't be easy because it's become one of the three foregone conclusions in Lubbock, cast in rock-hard caliche: the wind will blow, tortillas will fly, and the Red Raider defense will be putrid.
The aforementioned Mike Gundy heard the whispers in Stillwater. So did Art Briles in Waco. Both made moves to correct the culture and both have won Big XII championships as a result. At some point Kingsbury will have to make the same move or he and his program will fade into obscurity and away from the promise that so many continue to believe in. I still believe in that promise and in the continued maturation of this young team.
But in order to keep those like me from wavering, somebody inside that locker room needs to step up and ask where the hell the pride has been, and then take the necessary steps to field a defense servicable for now and dominant in the future. That begins with the simple philosophy that my wife passes along to our kids when explaining the game to them:
"Do you see that guy running with the football? Go tackle him."