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Texas Tech isn’t an easy place to win, but starting fresh might be smart

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Kliff Kingsbury’s time fell short of realistic expectations, but probably not by a whole lot.

Baylor v Texas Tech Photo by John Weast/Getty Images

Refreshing the cycle is easier than admitting your limitations.

Texas Tech fired Kliff Kingsbury, a move that was surprising to me, given that he is a native son, very popular, and lost QB Alan Bowman down the stretch, during which Tech suffered multiple losses.

Kingsbury went 35-40 at Texas Tech. That’s not great. It is underachieving expectations, though not wildly so. Texas Tech should not expect to contend for Big 12 titles. It should not expect to have a winning Big 12 record more often than not.

It’s just not what that program is. Texas Tech has three 10-win seasons out of the last 65. It has won nine-plus games several times, though a few of those great Mike Leach seasons coincided with some truly awful runs for programs like Iowa State, Nebraska, Colorado, Baylor, and Kansas State.

Since TCU and West Virginia joined the league in 2012, TTU’s best finish is a tie for fifth. There is a chicken-or-egg element, of course, as the timing coincides almost perfectly with Kingsbury’s tenure.

But adding two programs who’ve been better than Texas Tech over the last few decades has limited the Red Raiders’ place in the pecking order, even though they no longer have Nebraska, Texas A&M, and Missouri to contend with.

Since the Big 12 went to a nine-game schedule, removing the ability for Tech to schedule an easier win in non-conference, Tech has not had a winning conference record. Replacing the ability to schedule an automatic win in the non-conference, and replacing it with a conference game, should bring down Tech’s expected win total by at least half a game, on average.

There’s probably a reason for that beyond just Kingsbury. There are four clearly easier places to win: Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and TCU. Texas Tech also has to contend against programs of arguably equal footing in West Virginia, Kansas State, and Baylor. The only two Big 12 schools at which it’s unquestionably harder to win are Iowa State and Kansas.

Lubbock is in the middle of nowhere, and Tech always struggles, regardless of coach, to get elite recruits.

It can overcome this somewhat on offense, since scheme can sometimes overcome recruited talent. But defensively, a team’s performance largely tracks how well it does on the recruiting trail.

And Tech does not get good recruits on defense. It signed one four- or five-star defender in the last five cycles. Tech’s defensive ratings per S&P+ in the last five seasons? 91st, 88th, 125th, 124th, 114th.

I don’t see how Tech can massively upgrade its annually putrid defense via bringing in a defensive coach without also taking a step back on offense.

Tech can definitely be better, but probably not a lot better.

But all of what I just wrote is something an athletic director cannot say to his booster base.

Because keeping donors relies on the sale of hope. And Kingsbury was no longer inspiring to anyone who believes TTU should always be better than TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, etc.

And boosters don’t like supporting things that don’t appear to be on the upswing. Boosters are often successful business people. They want the flashy thing with the chance to hit it big. Very few want to face the reality that a school like Texas Tech should consider making a decent bowl a fair accomplishment, something Kingsbury probably would’ve done for the fourth time in seven years, perhaps even with an upset of Oklahoma, if not for Bowman’s injury.

And so athletic directors put out statements like this. They have to keep hope churning to keep donations flowing.

But there’s also not much downside to making the move, other than money.

Texas Tech can probably find a coach who can go 24-30 instead of 19-35 in the league. So why not try it?

Re-starting the clock can help a coach, too.

It’s not just booster funds and athletic directors who can benefit from a coaching change.

Dana Holgorsen has gone 18-6 in the Big 12 over his last three seasons at West Virginia.

And yet, I can argue that now would be a great time for him to get out of Morgantown. Holgorsen lucked into Will Grier after the QB left Florida over a drug suspension. Now that Grier can become a first-round pick, what will West Virginia be?

Will it be closer to the 18-6 it went from 2016-18, or the 15-21 it went in league play from 2012-15? I know what I’d bank on.

Like Lubbock, Morgantown is a remote place. It’s tough to get talent there. It’s not as if Holgorsen has been building something that will play on this level for the long haul. And that’s not his fault, really. It’s just the reality of WVU in the Big 12. West Virginia’s recruiting finishes in the last two classes within the Big 12 have been sixth and eighth.

2018 was West Virginia’s best chance to win a Big 12 title under Holgorsen. Texas and Oklahoma have ramped up their recruiting. TCU probably won’t be wrecked by injury again. This was the year to do it, and WVU almost made the title game.

It is easy to see Holgorsen being on the proverbial hot seat in two years if his program reverts back to a .500 or worse record in conference play post-Grier. Oh, and West Virginia loses top receivers David Sills, Gary Jennings Jr., and three starting offensive linemen to graduation.

Holgorsen’s stock is unlikely to ever be higher at WVU. Already, Texas Tech sources are saying he would be a top target. Another report:

While Texas Tech isn’t necessarily an easier place to win, Holgorsen would have a new contract there and be closer to his geographic roots. The clock on his coaching tenure would be reset. It’s not crazy.

Or perhaps Holgorsen can leverage this into a big extension to keep him in Morgantown for the next decade.

The same could be said for Mike Leach at Washington State, whether he’s actually interested in TTU specifically or not.

Oregon is recruiting better than it ever has. Washington continues to sign more elite talent. WSU will be losing transfer Gardner Minshew to graduation. Minshew was a savior this year, but it’s tough to think Leach can replicate this season again in Pullman. We already saw him try to take the Tennessee job a year ago.

Also: Barry Odom at Missouri. Already, his name is being floated for the Louisville job. Odom had a good season thanks in large part to a QB in Drew Lock who is likely be a first rounder shortly. Odom went 8-8 in the SEC in his last two years. Does anyone expect Missouri to have a better record than that in SEC play in the coming two seasons? It’s possible, but not probable. A clock restart elsewhere or a big contract extension at Missouri would be great for Odom.

This isn’t limited to this 2018.

Coaches consider leaving better jobs for lesser ones to restart the clock all the time.

People within the industry believed Gus Malzahn could leave Auburn and return to Arkansas after the 2017 season, thus buying himself several years of goodwill. But Malzahn beat Georgia and Alabama in consecutive conference games, and the Tigers felt compelled to reward him with a huge contract extension.