In early 2006 Mike Leach took his Red Raiders to El Paso to square off against Mike Price and the UTEP Miners. Texas Tech was led by a sometimes controversial, brash young sophomore quarterback. The receiving corps was green and the defense was struggling to find its way. Sound familiar?
In the days leading up to the game Coach Leach was asked about his team's focus and priorities for the weekend. From Don Williams at the LAJ in September of 2006:
With his team traveling to El Paso on Friday for a game the next day against Texas-El Paso, Texas Tech coach Mike Leach said the Red Raiders won't be making any forays across the border into Ciudad Juarez, the popular tourist destination.
"None of that spring break movie stuff, you know?'' Leach said. "No bullfights. No gambling. No donkeys. No vanilla extracts. No pinatas. None of that stuff. Straight football. No switchblades."
The quip is not his most famous (see: Aggies pretending they are soldiers) or infamous (see: fat little girlfriends), but it has always been my favorite. Coach Leach's first quarterback at Texas Tech, Kliff Kingsbury, would be well served to pay particular heed to the wisdom in the quote now that he's the man charged with leading the Red Raiders back to El Paso this Saturday after a less than inspiring week one performance.
Swagger vs. Substance
The Ice Bucket Challenge was exciting and inspirational, and the team-huddle-dance-off that went viral last spring was a lot of fun, but at some point (and that point is sooner rather than later), the swagger has to jibe with substance.
Now I'm not one to begrudge anyone for a little well-deserved fun, and the Ice Bucket Challenge was for a worthy cause that drew much needed attention to the effort to enlighten the public about the tragedy of those facing ALS. But, however minor, scenes like that can't be followed up with an embarrassing performance against an over-matched opponent. The swagger must be backed up with a lethal barrage of substance or it loses credibility. Quickly.
Do you know why the best salesman in the office can come and go as he pleases? Because he's the best salesman in the office.
To his credit, Kingsbury seems willing to face the challenge head on. "I think holdings, pass interference, those are plays guys are trying to make. But when you're getting un-sportsmanlike conducts and substitution penalties which is on our coaching staff, false starts, offsides, things like that are just unacceptable," Kingsbury said in his Monday press-conference. It's also worth noting that this seeming lack of discipline didn't arrive with Kingsbury. Coach Leach's teams were among the most penalized in the country and although he promised to change the culture, Coach Tuberville's squads didn't fare any better.
Kingsbury is correct to a degree in his analysis above. Sometimes a player is just trying to make a play and instead makes a mistake. But it's the boneheaded, WTF moments and unnecessary turnovers that must be corrected or the Red Raiders will never be positioned to take that next step towards elite.
And as fans we need to re-evaluate what's most important to us. We clamor for new and exciting uniforms and video boards and making sure our jam is played at just the right volume so we can dance in our seats. But at this moment I'd trade all of that just to root for a team that shows discipline, poise and maturity while dismantling their opponent consistently. I among others have written glowingly about the swagger with the assumption that the substance would soon follow. But perhaps that logic is backwards. Perhaps we should bear down and focus solely on results with the goal of becoming the best salesman on the floor. Once there, no one will care when we saunter into the office at 9:30am with a big cup of coffee and lipstick on our collar.
So as the Red Raiders prepare for a late-night match-up in the desert here's to hoping all unnecessary baggage is shed. Here's to hoping substance overshadows swagger and straight football is all that's left.
No turnovers. No smack-talk. No penalties. None of that stuff. Straight football.
And as always, no switchblades. Absolutely no switchblades.
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