Reactions after Saturday night’s loss to Kansas State varied. “We were 10 point underdogs, what did you expect?” “We should have won.” “This one is on Kingsbury.” All the way to “Fire Kingsbury!”
I agree to some extent with each of the first three reactions. We were underdogs playing on the road with an injured quarterback. It’s not like we just lost to an FCS team. Still, there was definitely a feeling that Texas Tech could have won if a few plays went a different way. Furthermore, there was a reasonable sense that Kingsbury’s play-calling exacerbated the problems.
I do not, however, sympathize with the notion that Kingsbury should be fired, or even that he should be on the hot seat. I don’t think that should even be considered until the end of the 2017 season for the following reasons (in addition to a pricey buyout).
1. Who do you replace him with?
Let’s say you Kingsbury-haters get your wish and we fire him. Who do you hire instead? News flash: no big name coach is coming to Texas Tech when there will certainly or likely be job openings at Notre Dame, Texas, LSU, Auburn, Baylor, Houston, Oregon, USC, Arkansas, etc. And if coaches of current Power 5 programs fill those vacancies, that creates more vacancies. In other words, if Jimbo Fisher leaves Florida State for LSU, a coach who Texas Tech could target is now also being targeted by Florida State.
In a “normal” year, there may not be many high profile jobs for high caliber coaches, allowing Texas Tech to grab someone they normally couldn’t. So you can fire Kingsbury for being mediocre. You will almost certainly replace him with mediocrity unless you happen to win the coaching carousel jackpot. All that does is reset all the positive momentum discussed further below.
2. Offensive mastermind
For as much as we groan about the defense, fans are quick to forget that our offense has consistently been one of the best in the country under Kingsbury, especially after he settled on Mahomes as his quarterback. For his first two seasons at the helm, Kingsbury was forced to play four different true freshmen, two of whom were walk-ons (Mayfield and Testaverde). Once he got a player he recruited and coached from the beginning, we’ve been a top five offense nationally.
For additional perspective, in a game in which the offense was blamed for the loss and had its worst output of the season, it still gained nearly 600 yards of total offense and scored 38 points against a defense that was ranked fourth nationally. Yes, there were the missed fourth downs. Yes, there were missed opportunities. And yes, there was a pick six that changed the game.
Consider all of that and consider you were playing on the road against a defense that effectively shut down Christian McCaffrey, and we’re mad that we didn’t score at least 45 points. That speaks to how effective Kingsbury’s offense can be. That is nearly impossible to replace. I’ll rephrase: no matter who you hire after Kingsbury, we will take a considerable step back on the offensive side of the ball. Who wants that?
Recruiting in the state of Texas is hard. It’s even harder when the University of Texas has infinite dollars to allocate to its athletic department. It’s even harder when Texas A&M has the appeal of the SEC. It’s even harder when Baylor and TCU have won conference championships and contended for playoff spots within the last couple of years. And it’s even harder with Tom Herman at Houston and Chad Morris at SMU.
Still, Kingsbury has been able to land some pretty solid recruiting classes. In 2015, coming off a 4-8 season in which the highest rated recruit decommitted late, Texas Tech had the 3rd best recruiting class in the Big 12 according to 247sports. Let that sink in: after your worst season in decades, you only lost to Texas and OU in recruiting, and beat out Baylor and TCU, who just split the conference title and nearly made the College Football Playoff. The 2017 class is currently 4th in the Big 12. And while it’s still very early, he currently has the best 2018 class in the Big 12, ranking seventh nationally. Name a realistic head coaching candidate who could come anywhere close to that. I’ll wait. That leads me to my next point.
4. He wants to be here
As painful as the rebuilding process has been, why would any fan want to do it all over again? Tuberville recruited a lot of JUCO players during his three years at Texas Tech. That left Kingsbury with little to no incoming young talent at a lot of positions. We saw that in 2014. After Will Smith, Terrance Bullitt, Kerry Hyder, Dartwan Bush, etc. all graduated after 2013, Texas Tech fielded tons of inexperienced players in 2014. It showed when we went 4-8. It shows to this day when we have converted wide receivers starting at cornerback and defensive end, and are required to plug holes in the depth chart with transfers who have only been in the system for one year (Stice, Hill, Pipkins).
As much as fans don’t want to hear it, it is a long process to recovery that requires patience. No coach can recruit a brand new defensive line, plug them in as true freshmen, and see improvement overnight. Kingsbury’s first year as head coach was hardly his own recruiting class, as most players committed when Tuberville was still the coach. That means the 2014, 2015, and current true freshmen class of 2016 are the only players Kingsbury and his staff recruited.
Patience is difficult. I don’t like going 4-8 or 7-5 either. But I am intrigued with Kingsbury’s ability to recruit and am willing to give him another year or two to show he can improve the product on the field by recruiting the right talent. Fire him now or at the end of the season, and whoever replaces him will have the same problem: “These aren’t players I recruited.” And we’ll be running the next guy out of town after two mediocre seasons because his true freshmen and redshirt freshmen who he recruited haven’t gotten us back to a 9-win season.
Very few coaches want to coach here. An alumnus and former player is probably the most dedicated coach we’ll ever have here. Guys like Tuberville will always bolt after two or three seasons for greener pastures. Unless our fan base wants to rebuild every few seasons, I suggest we embrace continuity, even if it requires patience.
5. The jury is still out on the defense
Make no mistake, the defense was atrocious against Arizona State. But one could make the argument it has seen some improvement the last couple weeks. No, we didn’t face high octane offenses. But in case you hadn’t noticed, we normally don’t stop bad offenses either. 14 of Kansas State’s points were due to the offense or special teams, not the defense. How many times have we heard “If we could just have an average defense, we would win a lot of games”? Well, the defense surrendered 31 points Saturday and gave you a chance to win a road conference game against a decent Power 5 team. They’ll need to do that more consistently for it to mean anything, but who among us wouldn’t welcome back David Gibbs if we continue to improve throughout the season? Infuse his defense with more of the aforementioned talent that we’re relatively successful at recruiting, and we could be onto something here in Lubbock.
I know we’re all tired of hearing “next year” and “the defense needs to improve”. But throwing away any sign of progress is counterproductive. Frustration does not justify irrational decision-making, especially mid-season. Let’s see where the defense is at the end of the year, after giving them a chance to show improvement.
I can only think of one name that would fit the criteria needed to even consider firing Kingsbury. Someone with similar connections to Texas Tech, to the Texas recruiting landscape, and to the Big 12. Someone who could very feasibly be hired by Texas Tech rather than a major program. Still, I don’t think it’s even worth considering until the end of the 2017 season, barring of course a meltdown of epic proportions.
And hell no, it’s not Art Briles.