While the one possession losses to Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas, and Oklahoma State were frustrating, most Texas Tech fans were willing to wait at least one more year before seriously considering firing head coach Kliff Kingsbury. But after a 66-10 drubbing to a previously 2-8 Iowa State team ranked ninth in the Big 12 standings, some fans reached a tipping point.
I don’t blame them. The play (or lack thereof) on Saturday was completely unacceptable and was by far the worst performance, especially considering the opponent, we’ve seen during Kingsbury’s four-year tenure.
There is validity to arguments on both sides of whether Kingsbury should stay or go. Let’s examine a few of them.
Even if there were a consensus that Kingsbury is not the right man to steer the ship moving forward, his contract buyout presents a major problem. If he were fired at the end of this season, Texas Tech would owe him over $9 million in addition to hiring an entirely new staff. That’s a pretty penny for an athletics department already swamped with debt and trying to raise money for facilities upgrades.
Then again, it could be just as costly either directly or indirectly to keep Kingsbury. If he is brought back in 2017, his salary will be close to $3 million and the buyout at the end of the year will be about $6 million. In other words, you’re still paying him $9 million whether he coaches one more game, one more year, or if he finishes out the contract.
Of course, it’s not exactly the same price altogether, since the $9 million owed to Kingsbury could be tacked on to the theoretical new coaching staff’s salary, a price Tech doesn’t have to pay if Kingsbury stays. But it’s also important to consider fan apathy. What if season ticket sales plummet? What if advertising and marketability are no longer appealing? What if merchandise sales freeze?
If Texas Tech doesn’t want to pay the buyout, they could end up paying in other ways.
Texas Tech Athletics Director Kirby Hocutt has done a stellar job by most accounts during his tenure. He made great hires in Tubby Smith and Chris Beard for basketball, Tim Tadlock for baseball, and, at the time, a great hire in Kliff Kingsbury (we can debate the decision now, but at the time everyone loved it).
Arguably his biggest mistake as AD was prematurely signing Kingsbury to an expensive extension, which is why there’s a looming buyout debacle as outlined above. If Hocutt decides to fire Kingsbury, he’s essentially admitting he made a mistake both for the football team and for the athletics budget.
Fire Kingsbury and he re-excites the fan base, avoiding the apathy that could have dire consequences with another bad season. It’s a good move in that sense, but a bad move in the sense that he will have to admit he was wrong to give Kingsbury such a lofty extension, costing the athletics department he’s in charge of a ton of money. He’s darned if he does and darned if he doesn’t.
Regardless of your thoughts on Kingsbury, any reasonable fan will recognize attrition has played a major factor in Texas Tech taking a step back on the field. Since the end of last season the Red Raiders lost their entire senior class, starting linebacker Dakota Allen and offensive lineman Robert Castaneda were dismissed, starting cornerbacks Nigel Bethel and Tevin Madison left the program, running back Cory Dauphine and linebacker Mike Mitchell left the program, offensive linemen Conner Dyer, Cody Wheeler, and Justin Murphy retired due to injury, and freshman defensive lineman Ivory Jackson decided to transfer.
That takes a toll on any team, and the lack of depth and experience is noticeable on the field. I think it’s a fair criticism of Kingsbury to wonder why the retention rate isn’t better, though some players (like the ones who were dismissed due to arrest) don’t deserve to be on the team and I commend Kingsbury for running a clean program.
If Kingsbury is fired, one has to imagine a few more players transfer, it influences Patrick Mahomes’ decision to go to the NFL early or not, and players in the current recruiting class will decommit and go somewhere else. Whoever replaces Kingsbury would face attrition levels that would doom any program. That is not going to be a fun rebuilding process.
These are three main reasons why I believe this is a very sticky situation with no clear right or wrong. Whichever direction Texas Tech decides to go, there is some upside and there is some room for criticism. Let’s not pretend this is cut and dry and there’s an easy fix.
Both sides of the argument have validity for different reasons. Both sentiments are reasonable. Give us your thoughts in the comments on why he should stay or go, and please keep it civil like y’all always do. For now, I will support the head coach of my alma mater. If he is replaced, I will wish him well and support whoever the administration decides to replace him with. Guns up.