Texas Tech football coach Kliff Kingsbury filled the ballroom at a Dallas hotel, once again, with Red Raiders fans waiting to hear about his latest recruiting class.
But he conceded that the vibe of Wednesday’s crowd, like others in previous venues on this tour across Texas, included more skepticism and less unbridled passion than a year ago. For that, Kingsbury blames the man in the mirror and plans to take steps to fix the situation when spring drills begin Feb. 28.
“I think it’s what you’d expect from any college football fans when you go 4-8,” Kingsbury said. “That’s the nature of the business ... win now. We’ve just got to get better. That’s never going to be acceptable at Texas Tech, finishing 4-8. We’ve just got to improve on that.”
As part of his multi-pronged plan for improvement, Kingsbury hopes to identify a starting quarterback as quickly as possible.
The candidates are Davis Webb, a junior coming off shoulder surgery, and Patrick Mahomes, a sophomore who threw for 439.6 yards per game in his final three starts of the 2014 season. Mahomes, son of former major league pitcher Pat Mahomes, capped his freshman season by throwing for a school-record 598 yards and six touchdowns in a 48-46 loss to Baylor.
“We need to get a guy who is the leader of our team established and we’ll go from there,” Kingsbury said. “If there’s a guy that emerges early in spring to be the starter, we’ll name a starter. If not, we’ll take it through fall camp.”
It is significant that Tech’s spring practice schedule will be built around the availability of Mahomes, who also plays on the baseball team. It’s also telling that Kingsbury gushed Wednesday about Mahomes, who finished his freshman season with 16 touchdown passes and four interceptions after Webb was sidelined with a season-ending injury.
Kingsbury made it clear the quarterback job remains open. But it is no accident that practice times and dates will be tweaked to make sure Mahomes (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) can attend every session.
“We wanted to make sure Pat was at every practice, as much as we could, because I really liked his progress at the end of last year and hopefully it continues,” said Kingsbury, who expects Tech to earn a bowl berth next fall. “We’ll just have to see where each guy is at. I know Davis is rehabbing. I’ve seen him throw a couple of times, and it looks like he’s coming around. From what I’ve heard, he’ll be able to do most every drill.”
Webb, who began last year as Tech’s returning starter, threw 13 interceptions in eight games before his 2014 season ended prematurely because of injuries to his ankle and his left (non-throwing) shoulder.
For those with short memories, Webb won the last open quarterback competition overseen by Kingsbury: a three-man race during bowl practices before the 2013 Holiday Bowl. The losers of that competition, Baker Mayfield and Michael Brewer, transferred to other schools soon after Webb earned bowl MVP honors by passing for 403 yards and four touchdowns in a 37-23 victory over Arizona State.
Their mutual departures caused Kingsbury to re-evaluate what, if anything, he will do differently in this battle of young signal-callers.
“That’s a good question,” said Kingsbury, who offered an even better answer.
“No,” he said. “I don’t think so. It’s a different situation, really. The last time was really a bowl-game competition. This is a full spring and a full summer that they can work. So it’s a different scenario, a different quality of players. It’s a different level of competition.”
Because Tech’s signing class has no quarterbacks, due to the late switch to Baylor by Stephenville standout Jarrett Stidham, Tech probably will play next season with its two combatants from the spring as the top two quarterbacks on the 2015 depth chart. And Kingsbury is convinced both will be there, regardless of who wins the spring QB derby.
“I have a great relationship with those quarterbacks,” Kingsbury said. “I think both guys want to be at Texas Tech. They believe in what we’re about. So I don’t expect to see any transfers or anything like that.”
Instead, he’s looking for a starter to serve as the centerpiece of rebuilding efforts to make sure 4-8 never happens again during his coaching tenure at Tech.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760