He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one, before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel, which lost their folds as they fell and covered the table in many-colored disarray. While we admired he brought more and the soft rich heap mounted higher - shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange, and monograms of Indian blue. Suddenly, with a strained sound, Daisy bent her head into the shirts and began to cry stormily.
"They're such beautiful shirts," she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. "It makes me sad because I've never seen such - such beautiful shirts before."
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
In the book, Daisy's tears are at first confusing but make perfect sense upon reflection. The beauty and the glamour in Gatsby's sheer linens and thick silks personify his ethereal, lighter-than-air existence. The bold colors conceal his overall lack of substance and she sees the superficiality embodied in a large pile of tailored shirts strewn about a table at his mansion on the lake.
But in the end Gatsby is just a dude determined to impress the chick that he could never get over. And then she runs over another chick in an old yellow car and he gets shot in the pool. Plus there's a weird billboard.
Do you see it? Do you see the contrast between Fitzgerald's words and mine?
The contrasting paragraphs illuminate what it's like to live life as a Red Raider and fan of Texas Tech football in its current state. And the scene described above portrays the deep fear that many have about Kingsbury himself. Is there more to the program than meets the eye?
There is so much promise, so many expectations wafting delicately through the air that it stings terribly when it appears that this team might not yet be ready for the big stage. The elegance of Fitzgerald's words come to a screeching halt when met with a poorly written summary of his masterpiece. And we as fans are faced with reality's cold indifference telling us that this team's real potential might just be a picture of perfection that we painted inside our own heads without agency or permission to even use the paint brushes and canvas yet.
Perhaps no coach in America is in such a position. He shot like a burning comet through the coaching ranks and is undefeated at 2-0 in his second season as head coach at his alma mater. But the emptiness inside those two wins is cascading over Lubbock like all those colorful shirts floating gently down from Gatsby's closet.
Make no mistake: this isn't an attempt to discount the deficiencies in the program or with its young head coach. In fact Kingsbury's most admirable trait is his willingness to accept responsibility and attack challenges head-on. As such I've made a concerted effort since his hire to report on his progress (or lack thereof) similarly. But with that in mind, here is a snap shot of the current situation:
8 Seniors: Not eight senior starters, but eight seniors on the two-deep roster. Let that sink in for a minute. Out of the top 44 players on the team, only eight are seniors. That number should make you swell with pride but could also explain some of the heartburn and puzzling mistakes we've witnessed so far.
19 Underclassmen: 19 freshman and sophomores getting significant playing time (and more if play beyond the published two-deep roster is taken into consideration). Heartburn, revisited.
8 Career Starts: Sophomore quarterback Davis Webb now has eight career starts at Texas Tech. Against UTEP it was obvious the game plan was to play to his strength and stretch the field. He didn't complete all of them and never will, but that doesn't temper our expectations. To make matters worse Michael Brewer put on an impressive, workmanlike performance in leading his new Tech to a victory over Ohio State a few hours prior to his old Tech taking the field and struggling. And again the contrast was on display for all to see. But Davis Webb has too accepted responsibility and knows he must improve. Someone asked me over the weekend if I'm a fan of his. My response? Yes. Because it's better than the alternative. And perhaps I'm too pollyannaish but I still see potential in the kid.
15: The total number of games that Kliff Kingsbury has under his belt as a head coach at any level. Much is made of Gus Malzahn's rise over the last decade but eight years ago Kingsbury wasn't even in the coaching profession. He has a lot to learn but also has an astronomical upside.
And sure there are the maddening number of penalties (25 to be exact) and the inexplicable air of entitlement not yet earned on display by some (Webb in particular) but those are things that can, and should, be corrected. The youth on the team doesn't excuse the deficiencies, but it can explain them.
And of course there is the possibility that the frustration that has recently engulfed the fan base is a byproduct of Kingsbury himself. We get caught up in the dazzling array of colors and fabric floating from the sky and forget about the warts and deficiencies of this young squad. We convey onto him an idealistic, yet unrealistic, expectation of perfection that he will have to shoulder for his entire time at Texas Tech. The funny thing is I don't think he minds. It seems as if he was born to be in this position, right here, right now. There is no one more suited to be the football coach at Texas Tech but I fear the blinding nature of great expectations will cause some now--and many more later--to lose sight of that.
As I type this my phone will occasionally vibrate. It's my inbox notifying me that we've gotten comments on the VTM Facebook page. They serve again as a wakeup call to the contrasting emotions we are faced with after narrowly winning the first two games of the season.
"They are going to get raped."
"I wish they would focus on their defense more and their uniforms less."
"Putting even a hint of blame on the refs...you lose all credibility as a writer."
"Pathetic team this year."
"What happens later in the season when we play actual football teams?"
Now I don't begrudge anyone's opinion. People have a right to feel however they want about this team and its future, but I hope we don't get to the point of sobbing uncontrollably over the superficial beauty of Gatsby's shirts. Because unlike Fitzgerald's tragic, career-defining character from the Roaring 20's in his classic book, Kingsbury still carries the promise of delivering on great expectations. He is much more than just a face and a symbol; there is substance behind the grandeur.
But the question is this: do we have the patience to allow that to surface?
"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."