clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Return to Leach-era success could be wrapped in realignment

The most-asked question among Texas Tech fans may find its answer in a controversial movement.

Texas Tech v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Over the last decade, Texas Tech football fans have asked a lot of questions.

  • Does Tommy Tuberville want to be here?
  • Davis Webb or Baker Mayfield?
  • How many more seasons should we give Kliff Kingsbury?
  • Why can’t we win with Patrick Mahomes?
  • Who the hell is Matt Wells?
  • Can we please protect Alan Bowman?
  • Colombi, Smith or Shough?

And many, many others. But the biggest and most common question over the last 10 years, and perhaps what all of the aforementioned questions lead to, has been this:

  • Is it in the realm of possibility (and if so, what’s it going to take) to get this program back to the success of the Mike Leach era?

This question has been asked repeatedly and cyclically throughout each of the last 13 campaigns. And there’s more than one definition of “Leach-era success.” For some, it means averaging roughly nine wins per season. For others, it means showing the capability of winning 10 or 11 games and competing for a Big 12 Championship. I’ve always likened it to reaching a top-2 ranking in the AP poll and hanging in the national championship (or, nowadays, playoff) conversation.

However you define the term, it’s a level of success not replicated since the messy departure of Lubbock’s most beloved coach. But conference realignment may aid the Red Raiders in returning to national prominence.

It’s easy (and lazy) to say, “The Texas and Oklahoma exodus helps Tech become competitive in the Big 12 because the top-2 teams in the conference are gone.” Sure, those two programs have always out-recruited Tech, but since 2010, Cincinnati has won 101 games while Texas has won 55, and Oklahoma just lost its coveted head coach (and quarterback) before getting thrown into the furnace that is the SEC, and no one really knows if the Sooners can remain a recruiting powerhouse in their new home. UCF and Houston are successful programs in major recruiting hotbeds that become instantly more attractive with their new Big 12 memberships.

NCAA Football: Kansas at Texas
Texas has been a middling team in the Big 12 Conference for years, and we’re supposed to expect the level of league competition to decrease after the Longhorns leave?
Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

So assuming the competition in the Big 12 is going to get weaker after the Texas-OU move is naïve, and you can argue in just a few years’ time, it’s going to get exponentially more difficult - especially if the conference absorbs Oregon, Utah and the other redeemable PAC-12 schools.

But Texas Tech remains uniquely positioned to return to the Leach era success amidst the incoming and potential changes to the conference landscape.

With the two financial titans gone, the Big 12 is wide open. The playing field is level, regardless of which school shows up on the Big 12’s doorstep. No existing or future Big 12 program has a distinct financial advantage of the rest of the league. And, subsequently, each team is the artisan of its own fortune.

And the wonderful souls inside and around the Tech athletic department recognized that, and acted on it with the recent announcement of a $200m investment into the football program.

Soapbox: this is why I love being a Red Raider. Because when the surrounding circumstances provide every reason for the football program to turn into Kansas, we rise up and overcome the challenge set before us.

Think about last year. Tech was coming off back-to-back four-win seasons and the accompanying dismal recruiting classes that formed most of its roster. The Red Raiders were forced to use three different quarterbacks of highly varying experience levels. They endured one of the most painfully close, heartbreaking missed field goals in recent memory that stripped the team of a top-10 win, followed by a change in head coach and a surplus serving of pessimism about the program’s future and who will lead the team forward. Yet, Tech still managed to reach a bowl game, where it kicked the ever-loving $%&@ out of a certain SEC team helmed by none other than Mike Leach himself.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl - Mississippi State v Texas Tech
The Liberty Bowl victory was more than just a bowl win, it was a conquering of the ghost that’s haunted Lubbock over the last 10 years.
Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

Tech had every excuse to be a 3-win team last year, and, frankly, most years since Leach left. But the program has consistently overcome everything from a revolving door of defensive coordinators, head coaches that didn’t want to recruit, injuries to prominent players and so much more misfortune. There’s just no quit in Lubbock. End soapbox.

And now, armed with a brand new $200m investment, unabated support from fans, alumni, and donors, and a blank canvas to work with in the remodeled Big 12 Conference, Tech can lean on the tenacity that separates it from every other school in the league and around the country to set a new standard of winning.

New head coach Joey McGuire, who’s image appears when Googling the word “tenacity,” seems to be the right guy at the right time to take charge of Tech football in this new era. His presence and sheer desire to be in Lubbock has reinvigorated the Red Raider fan base, and his hustle on the recruiting trail already has paid dividends.

We don’t know how he’ll hold up on the sidelines of Power-5 college football just yet, but we do know the energy around this program is categorically different than it was before he arrived. And he’s done a hell of a job filling out his staff, highlighted by the addition of one of the brightest offensive minds in college football. Boca Raton Bowl - Western Kentucky v Appalachian State
The Western Kentucky offense was flat-out electric under Zach Kittley. Expect the young OC to open up the Red Raider attack in 2022.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

No one is expecting McGuire to win 10 games in his inaugural campaign or the next one, or the one after that. When Matt Wells was hired, it was obvious he wasn’t going to get the benefit of a long leash - he just didn’t have the support of the fan base and in the community.

But there’s a feeling around Lubbock that McGuire is going to get plenty of time to rebuild this program into something that’s hopefully unrecognizable in how consistently competitive it is, and there’s no fear that he’ll leave the program for another opportunity if and when he does elevate Tech football to scenic heights.

It’s OK to get excited. Start your trash talk on social media. Restock your closet with Tech merchandise and your pantry with tortillas. The fleeting dream of the Leach era is over.

The genesis of the McGuire era, set to the backdrop of conference realignment, is here.

And it’s gonna be a lot better.