January 12, 2010
Tommy Tuberville has been around the block in head-coaching stints at Ole Miss and Auburn, so maybe it shouldn't have come as any surprise that his first act as Texas Tech head coach was to guarantee Raider fans -- a group whose team has been overwhelmingly defined for nearly a decade by former coach Mike Leach's innovative, record-smashing passing scheme -- that the offense will continue to air it out:
Even if the former Auburn coach weren't comfortable with the wide-open passing game, he said he’s smart enough to know it resonates with recruits.
"Most of the time, the good players across the country can recognize Texas Tech from one thing, and that is the 'Air Raid' — throwing the football, making big plays and being exciting," he said. "And so we're going to continue that."
So far, so good: Tuberville's second move was to hire spread-bred offensive coordinator Neal Brown, the nation's youngest coordinator (29) on either side of the ball, from Troy, where Brown led a wide-open attack that lit up opposing secondaries for 337 yards on 41 passes per game and scored at least 40 points in seven of its last eight. The Trojans finished third nationally in total offense en route to their first perfect season in Sun Belt play.
Troy, of course, was the breeding ground for Tuberville's last spread-oriented coordinator, Tony Franklin, who arrived with his own patented system in one hand and a blade in the other to help gut Auburn's offense in 2008. The Tigers flopped so badly amid a tangle of competing egos and miscommunication (or, maybe more accurately, non-communication) that Tuberville ditched Franklin at midseason and was kicked to the curb himself after a season-ending, 36-0 humiliation at Alabama. The Tigers barely topped 300 yards and 17 points per game and failed to score more than two offensive touchdowns against a single SEC defense.
That was Tuberville's great spread experiment at Auburn, the worst of a series of nominal shifts with a series of respected coordinators -- before Franklin, there was Bobby Petrino and West Coast guru Al Borges -- whose various philosophies and systems all seemed to wind up looking pretty much the same:
To date, Tuberville's idea of "airing it out" is something like 25 passes per game. Under Leach, Texas Tech put up about twice as many, on 75 to 80 percent of its snaps. Tuberville's teams always specialized in bleeding the clock dry, especially in big games; Leach, always gung ho for the end zone, tried to maximized plays and possessions. Their respective philosophies couldn't be much further apart if Tuberville was looking to install the triple option.
Compared to his previous stints in the SEC, though, the first major difference for Tuberville in Lubbock is that he's building a staff from scratch -- at Auburn, his now-notorious set of good ol' boy position coaches followed Tubs from Ole Miss and remained intact virtually throughout the revolving door of coordinators on both sides of the ball, reportedly either failing to grasp or (worse) even undermining the transition under Franklin that sent the entire ship down in flames. At Tech, Tuberville is starting with a blank slate and has promised to let both of his new coordinators play a lead role in choosing their own staff. And Tuberville does seem to recognize the warp-speed passing game as the meal ticket for a geographically isolated and historically obscure program whose emergence over the last decade depended at least as much on Leach's total disregard for conventional attitudes toward "balance" (or conventional attitudes toward anything else) as it did on the slowly increasing win total.
The "conventional attitude" is where Tuberville represents a sea change that makes sustaining anything like the break-neck passing pace under Leach seem almost delusional -- Tuberville just isn't built that way. He showed up to his introductory press conference in a tailored suit, in the same seat where the always disheveled Leach was rarely photographed wearing a decent jacket; forget the tie (and sometimes the shoes). Like his wardrobe, Tuberville's brand of football has always been entirely within-the-box, a cloud-of-dust affair that believes in establishing the run and leaning on the defense, elements of the game Leach didn't seem to care less about. The last time Tuberville tried to subvert his old-school instincts in favor of 21st Century fireworks, it ended in total catastrophe that threatened to ruin his career. Given a second chance, can he commit to the high-octane philosophy fully enough this time to let Brown push the barrage beyond his boss' comfort zone?