January 09, 2010
Texas Tech had come to a fork in the road in its search to replace controversially fired Mike Leach. Down one path lay continuity in the form of defensive coordinator and interim coach Ruffin McNeill, who (along with first-time play-caller Lincoln Riley) led the Raiders to a typically high-scoring Alamo Bowl win over Michigan State as l'Affaire de Leach continued to rage around the team, and who would almost certainly retain Riley as offensive coordinator of the high-flying, record-breaking offense that kept the Raiders in the headlines throughout Leach's tenure.
McNeil openly lobbied for the job, and went through several rounds of interviews. Today, though, Tech opted for the path marked "Experience" by agreeing to terms with Tommy Tuberville, whose record speaks for itself: Tubs was a workmanlike 110-60 in 14 years at the helm of Ole Miss and Auburn, leading the Tigers to six top-20 finishes, at least a share of four division championships and the school's first undefeated season in nearly 50 years before his sudden ouster at the end of the Tigers' 5-7 collapse last December. He built a reputation on the Plains for holding his own in big games -- Auburn was 9-6 in its last 15 against top-10 opponents under Tuberville's watch, with winning records against Alabama and Florida and .500 marks against Georgia and LSU -- and for navigating pesky boosters, notably coming out ahead in the infamous Jetgate scandal in 2003. Given the Raiders' persistent "little brother" next to powerhouses Oklahoma and Texas in the Big 12 South and the longstanding animosity between Leach and Tech power brokers, both traits should serve him well in Lubbock.
But Tuberville's arrival almost certainly means the end of the wide-open passing philosophy that's defined Texas Tech for the last 10 years. His concession to the "spread" trend at Auburn proved to be the most obvious factor in his undoing: The traditionally power-oriented Tigers never embraced the offense introduced by passing guru Tony Franklin, who was brought in to revitalize a stagnating attack in 2008 but instead found himself out of a job by midseason. The offense continued to founder down the stretch, culminating with a humiliating shutout loss to Alabama to close the season and Tuberville's own head on a platter a few days later. Whatever he decides to implement with the Raiders, maintaining the 50-pass-per-game clip under Leach isn't going to be part of the plan. If his previous teams are any indication, the Tuberville Plan is more likely to include fixing the defense and putting a premium on time of possession, neither of which could have concerned Leach less.
That may not have any affect on the standings, where Tech has been coming in around 9-4 and the fringes of the top 25 at a consistent pace for the last eight years. But is anybody going to pay attention to a team that finished third in its division by winning games 24-17 rather than 45-35? Win or lose, Tech was always interesting under Leach for its consistent outbursts in box scores and annual assaults on the record book; it may have been able to maintain that personality with McNeill and Riley, or with another aficionado of the air like Baylor's Art Briles or Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes, a former Leach disciple. The Raiders consistently won under Dykes' dad, Spike, whose much more conservative approach didn't win many headlines during five straight winning seasons from 1995-99. Assuming Tuberville doesn't somehow begin luring the sort of talent to Lubbock that will allow him to win big, can the Raiders go back to winning boring?