Texas Tech football coach Kliff Kingsbury has the ideal résumé to energize the Red Raiders’ fan base.
A former Tech quarterback, his first career start resulted in the school’s final victory under Spike Dykes, who retired after the 1999 season as the winningest coach in Tech history. Kingsbury, still the No. 2 passer on Tech’s career yardage list (12,429), developed into the first standout signal-caller in the Air Raid attack of former coach Mike Leach, who broke Dykes’ mark for career victories in Lubbock.
Perhaps best of all: Kingsbury has no connection to departed coach Tommy Tuberville, who led the school to its only losing record in the Big 12 era during the 2011 season (5-7) before bolting for the Cincinnati job in December.
Now, the countdown begins for Kingsbury, 33, to eclipse Dykes (82-67) and Leach (84-43) as the most successful coach in Red Raiders history.
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Kingsbury readily embraces that goal, he said during Monday’s opening session of Big 12 media days, and understands no one is going to grant him any slack because he is the nation’s youngest head football coach in a BCS conference.
“I think my expectations for the program are probably higher than anybody’s in the country,” said Kingsbury, who anticipates winning conference and national titles at his alma mater. “It’s not like we’re coming to a program that’s broken. If we’re not getting done what I think we should get done, that is what it is and that’s pretty black and white. I don’t put any extra pressure on myself. I just try and get better each and every day with our program.”
Toward that end, there is a unique battle raging within Kingsbury that few, other than Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, can understand.
Kingsbury is in that awkward transition stage with Tech fans, who remember him as a gifted player and are hopeful, yet uncertain, about his coaching credentials. Even after watching Kingsbury as Texas A&M’s offensive coordinator play a major role in helping freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel win the 2012 Heisman Trophy.
Kingsbury, at some point, hopes to close the book on QB Kliff and become Coach Kingsbury to his fan base.
“I think everybody still sees me as the player around Lubbock and Texas Tech. Which I’m fine with, at this point,” Kingsbury said. “But, yeah, I can see how eventually you want to be known as ‘Coach.’ I think that comes with success.”
And that transition will take more than one year, said Gundy, who estimated it took until his fourth season at OSU before Cowboys fans began to accept him as “Coach Gundy” rather than “Mike.”
“That was the one area I felt like it took years to overcome because I was in school there,” said Gundy, a four-year starter at OSU. “They knew me as a student. They knew me as a knucklehead. And then you come back and you’re sitting in a room, trying to make business decisions. And they don’t ever really see you as a coach and a guy in charge. It takes a number of years. That would be the biggest adjustment, in my opinion.”
What does it take to make the transition?
“Just winning,” said Gundy, who led OSU to its first conference title of the Big 12 era in 2011 and has a team picked as the preseason favorite this season. “Once you get established like that, people believe in you. Until then, it’s tough.”
Kingsbury said there are “a lot of parallels” between his situation and the one Gundy inherited at OSU. But he embraces the challenge and is willing to put in the time necessary to make the transformation from quarterback to coach in the minds of Tech fans.
At times, he acknowledged it still seems surreal to look around the head coach’s office and believe he’s really in charge.
“You have those moments. But you try not to let it overwhelm you,” Kingsbury said. “It’s been amazing. It’s easy to sell a program when you’ve lived it and loved it.”
Kingsbury said he continues to keep in touch with Manziel and former A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, both of whom predicted during last week’s SEC media days that Kingsbury will have long-term success in Lubbock. The proof, as well as the transformation, begins Aug. 30 when Kingsbury puts his 0-0 career mark as a college coach on the line in the season opener at SMU (7 p.m., ESPN).
“I think Kliff is going to do an outstanding job,” Sumlin said. “He understands the culture in Lubbock. He’s excited to be there. He’s a guy that understands the politics of the position. He’s going to learn and grow, just like every young coach.”
Kingsbury said Monday he will mirror Sumlin in attempting to be a hands-off guy when it comes to directing assistants. In reflecting on his former boss, Kingsbury said: “He never tried to make me do this or that. He said, ‘Coach the way you coach and act the way you act.’ I’ve always appreciated that and I’ve tried to do that with my own staff.”
By the end of August, Tech fans will get their first feedback on how well that approach works with their former quarterback.
Ideally, the former quarterback hopes it works well enough that he’ll be viewed as Coach Kingsbury sooner, rather than later, during his tenure in Lubbock.