The last thing Texas Tech expected to be doing as college football’s coaching carousel began to spin was hopping on board to hire someone itself.
In the end, the Red Raiders wound up with a rather familiar face.
Former Texas Tech quarterback Kliff Kingsbury will take over the program as one of the youngest head coaches in the FBS, but first interim coach Chris Thomsen will try to lead the Red Raiders past Minnesota on Friday night in the Meineke Car Care Bowl at Houston’s Reliant Stadium.
Tommy Tuberville never quite clicked in his three seasons in Lubbock, but it was still a shock when the former Auburn coach suddenly announced Dec. 8 that he was leaving Texas Tech (7-5) to go to Cincinnati.
Athletics director Kirby Hocutt named Thomsen, who had been in charge of the offensive line, as the team’s interim coach two days later, and two days after that he found a new coach. Hocutt announced the decision to bring Kingsbury back to the program he starred for from 1999-2002 with a video message on Twitter.
“It’s just been a whirlwind but I couldn’t be happier, beyond ecstatic to be back. It feels like home,” Kingsbury said. “This is where I wanted to be, it’s where I’ve wanted to be.”
Thomsen will still coach the bowl game, and he’ll have another former Red Raider quarterback - Sonny Cumbie - call plays against the Gophers. But Texas Tech fans should be intrigued with Kingsbury’s arrival for one big reason - he spent 2012 as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Texas A&M, where he tutored Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
Minnesota (6-6) is still hoping Jerry Kill is the best fit for a program that’s looking for its first bowl win since after the 2004 season, and it’s at least taken a step in the right direction by making its first postseason appearance since 2009 after going 3-9 in Kill’s first season.
“We’ve been through some hard times,” senior defensive back Troy Stoudermire said. “Coach Kill did a great job getting us back bowl eligible.”
Still, the Gophers went 2-6 in the Big Ten after opening with four non-conference wins. Only in a 44-28 victory over Purdue on Oct. 27 did Minnesota score more than 17 points in a conference game.
The personnel and coaching staffs of the Red Raiders and Golden Gophers have certainly changed since these teams met in the 2006 Insight Bowl, but their records are the same and the Meineke Car Care Bowl has to be hoping they get a show as good as the one those teams put on in Tempe.
The Golden Gophers held a 38-7 third-quarter lead before allowing the Red Raiders to rally and win 44-41 in overtime, surpassing Marshall’s 30-point comeback in the 2001 GMAC Bowl as the biggest in Division I history.
Texas Tech’s offense, as usual, is among the nation’s best. The Red Raiders are second in the nation in passing yards (361.9 per game), 12th in total yards (501.4) and 16th in points (37.8) led by senior quarterback Seth Doege, who finished second in the FBS with 38 touchdowns.
Perhaps the toughest thing to maintain without Tuberville will be the success of the defense, which made major strides in 2012. Texas Tech was tied for 114th in the nation in total defense (485.6 yards) in 2011 but was 39th (367.3) - and second in the Big 12 - this season.
That improvement didn’t turn out to mean much, though. The Red Raiders only forced 10 turnovers - third-worst in the FBS - and didn’t have one in their final five games.
They also allowed at least 52 points in four of their last six.
“I feel like all the losses we took this year, the tough losses, we never got down,” said receiver Darrin Moore, who finished tied for fourth in the nation with 13 touchdowns. “We came back the next day ready to work. We never held our heads low. We came back and we got right back at it.”
Texas Tech might not have to worry about scoring enough to keep up with the Golden Gophers. Minnesota’s offense is 114th in the nation, averaging 317.5 total yards, and it’ll no longer have its top target in the passing game.
Junior receiver A.J. Barker, who had a team-high 577 yards and seven TDs, abruptly quit the team in November amid allegations of mistreatment by Kill.
Barker isn’t the only one who won’t be back. Sophomore quarterback Max Shortell, who lost his job to freshman Philip Nelson on Oct. 20, will also head elsewhere.
Those are minor issues in the grand scheme of things for Kill, who experienced his third game-day seizure in his first two seasons at Minnesota in a 26-10 loss to Michigan State on Nov. 24.
Kill walked out of the stadium and has recovered after missing the second half of that game, and he intends to be on the sidelines in Houston.
The last four Meineke Car Care Bowls have been decided by an average of 20.3 points.