Big 12: Texas Tech Red Raiders

LUBBOCK, Texas -- Few assistants in college football have soared up the coaching ladder faster than Texas Tech offensive coordinator Eric Morris.

The 28-year-old Morris, who was a key receiver on Mike Leach’s 11-win team at Texas Tech in 2008, finished his playing career with 184 receptions. After coaching stints at Houston under Kevin Sumlin and Washington State under Leach, Morris returned to his alma mater last year to be Kliff Kingsbury’s inside receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator. This offseason after Sonny Cumbie bolted for a job at TCU, Kingsbury (who is the primary playcaller) promoted Morris to offensive coordinator and coach of the entire receiving corps.

Morris took time to chat with ESPN.com on a range of topics, including the similarities and differences between Kingsbury and Leach, how Kingsbury has grown as a coach over his first year and the benefits and challenges of Texas Tech having such a young staff:

You’ve coached with Kliff, you’ve coached with Leach, how would you compare and contrast the two?

[+] EnlargeEric Morris
Orlando Ramirez/Icon SMIEric Morris sees several advantages in coming back to coach at his alma mater.
Morris: You know, I think coach Leach is, for lack of a better term, really set in his ways, which has really been a positive thing. He really believes in what he does. You’re not adding and trying to game plan every week. You just have this certain amount of set plays and you get really good at them and that’s what you do, and the quarterback has to trust them. Whereas Kliff likes to cater a little bit more to the athletes he has. He likes to sit in there with the whiteboard and think of things, different formations, motions, but he still keeps the quarterbacks’ reads pretty much similar for the most part. Kliff does a great job finding, catering to the athletes on his team, finding a way to get them the ball in space. Those are two things, but they’re really similar as far as running the organization day-to-day. Mike is a really late guy, he’ll stay up all hours of the night. Kliff is a really early guy, he’ll be up here at 4 a.m. pretty much every single morning. That’s a little bit of a difference. Kliff’s dad with his military background and coaching background, what surprised me so far, [is the] discipline and the way he runs a tight ship with the players. And they really respect that. But Coach Leach did the same thing.

Where has Kliff really found his stride as a coach? Where has he improved over the last year?

Morris: He’s always been really good with the players. The players love him, he relates really well to them. Him sitting in a team meeting is like cake to him. The kids really understand where he’s coming from. He uses young terminology, which they appreciate. I would say outside of that, learning how to deal with the media with the instant success with people in and out. With interviews, he’s night and day better from last year speaking in public. He does a great job handling all the girls that want to take photos with him, that want to take selfies with him. He definitely has a lot of patience, he’s not the most patient guy I’ve ever known, but he’s learned how to have patience.

So he’s gotten better dealing with the donors and the dinners and those things?

Morris: Night and day. When we go speak at recruiting dinners or with a lot of our donors, he’s a lot more relaxed, comfortable, himself up there. And just comfortable in his own skin and not trying to impress all these guys. Just being himself, which is good.

This has been written about before, but with five Texas Tech alums on the coaching staff (Kingsbury, Morris, Trey Haverty, Mike Smith and Kevin Curtis), what benefit does that give you guys?

Morris: Yeah, absolutely. It means a little more to us to put on the Double T and represent that. We’ve put in so many hours, blood, sweat, tears in the uniform. So that symbol and putting on that uniform means more to us, because we so much more vested in it. One, I think it helps as far as recruiting, people see that, the energy, the passion we have for this place. And two, I think it helps with our current players. It’s funny we’ll be in an academic meeting, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, I have Dr. Timmons,’ and I’ll go, ‘I had Dr. Timmons six years ago in the same anatomy class.’ We can relate to them. We passed all the classes. We know what to do and what not to do around town, on campus, with our academic staff. We can just relate on a different level.

[+] EnlargeEric Morris
AP Photo/Lubbock Avalanche-Journal/John A. BowersmithEric Morris was a key receiver for Texas Tech in 2008.
Because most of you all on this staff are relatively young, how do you balance connecting to the kids with still being authority figures to them?

Morris: The worst thing ever is if you mistake your kindness for weakness. It’s a definitely a case where we have to pull on the reins a little bit more at times. And Coach does an incredible job of really teaching these guys about how to be respectful to women, to people that are trying to help this program, to donors, to people that serve us food at the training table and things of that nature. And if they don’t, there’s punishment for it. He’s done an awesome job of not letting things go, even though they have excuses. If they mess up, there’s going to be a cost to pay. That’s one thing they know, and you can ask any player right now, if they’re not going to class, if they’re not doing the right things, then there’s going to be a price to pay.

What’s one thing about Kliff that’s interesting that people don’t know about him?

Morris: Well, he’s a health freak. He eats extremely healthy. I lived with him for a couple years when we were at Houston and usually you’d hear the cereal bowl get filled at 3:45 a.m. He’d eat cereal every morning, then go work out. And then protein and all of his shakes and supplements that he takes. Then snacks nuts and little snacks throughout the day. Then you’d go to lunch and it’s always grilled chicken, some kind of salad, something like that. He works hard at it and he’s pretty disciplined. That’s really impressive to me, how he stays on the straight and narrow with that.

I think his way of relieving stress is working out. But it has been funny. Because Coach Leach used to always call me late to ask questions about the program. And this semester, Kliff has started to do that. You can tell he’s up late at night, thinking about the program. And so I’m getting more phone calls at night again asking hypothetical questions and recruiting questions, ‘What do you think we need to do here? Do you think I was too hard on them? Do you think I should have called that play? It’s definitely on his mind 24/7, he’s definitely infatuated about making this place really good. I think still there’s a doubt in people’s mind and there’s a lot of people we lost to last year that Kliff -- I don’t think he’ll ever stop until he gets to the top of this thing. And so losing always pushes him. He hates to lose, and that drives him every single day, to see these kids be successful and win a lot of football games at Texas Tech.
LUBBOCK, Texas -- The list of two-way players to grace the Big 12 in recent years is a short one.

Oklahoma State cornerback R.W. McQuarters had an interception and a touchdown catch in the 1997 Alamo Bowl.

During Oklahoma’s national championship run in 2000, Andre Woolfolk, as a wide receiver and cornerback, became the first Sooners player in 21 years to go both ways.

Bill Snyder utilized Kansas State cornerbacks Chris Canty and Terence Newman at receiver.

[+] EnlargeKenny Williams
John Weast/Getty ImagesTexas Tech's Kenny Williams played linebacker this spring, and coaches are thinking about deploying him on both offense and defense.
And Charles Gordon and Aqib Talib were superb two-way performers for the Jayhawks as cornerbacks/receivers under coach Mark Mangino.

In 2014, Texas Tech’s Kenny Williams could become the next in a short line of Big 12 two-way players.

Williams has been the Red Raiders’ starting running back the past two seasons, but he spent spring ball exclusively at outside linebacker. Williams didn’t take part in Texas Tech’s spring game Saturday because of a minor injury. But he took snaps with the first-team defense all spring, and turned heads doing it.

“Kenny has done a great job coming over and learning the system,” said defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt. “He’s a football guy, so it doesn’t take him a whole lot of time. He sees everything, understands the concepts.”

The impetus for Williams expanding his football résumé began with a simple request before the spring. The Red Raiders graduated outside linebacker Terrance Bullitt, and Williams was looking to help every way he could. That included asking for an opportunity to boost the other side of the ball.

“I talked to Coach [Kliff] Kingsbury and Coach Wallerstedt, and basically told them, whatever the team needs, I’d be willing to do it,” Williams said. “I’ve always considered myself a defensive-minded person, so switching over to linebacker, I didn’t think it would be very hard for me. It’s kind of been like second nature.”

At first, the position switch seemed merely experimental. That's what spring ball is for. Williams had been a tackling machine on special teams for the Red Raiders, but learning linebacker in one spring appeared to be a monumental task. Yet, as the spring waned on, Williams showed his coaches and teammates he was a natural for the position.

“I think he’s a guy [who] can help us,” Wallerstedt said. “He played on all our special teams last year. He knows the offense cold. Kliff wouldn’t have given him the opportunity if he didn’t feel like he could miss reps at running back, and go back on offense and do what he does. With all these reps he’s been getting at linebacker in the spring, he’s going to be a guy we can count on.”

Though it’s possible -- if not probable -- that Williams ultimately ends up on one side of the ball or the other, Kingsbury and Williams both indicated the plan right now for next fall is to use him on both sides.

The Red Raiders have DeAndre Washington, who rushed for 450 yards backing up Williams in 2013, returning at running back. Sophomore Quinton White is primed for more playing time. Texas Tech will also add four-star signee Justin Stockton in the summer.

That depth gave the Red Raiders confidence they could try Williams on the defensive side. But Williams has also proven to be a key and reliable offensive weapon, rushing for 1,321 yards and 13 touchdowns the past two seasons. Williams has also been Texas Tech’s best pass protector among the running backs, and it’s no secret Red Raiders can ill-afford for Davis Webb to get injured as the only experienced quarterback on the roster.

“I’m willing to go from starting offense over to defense, or starting defense over to offense,” Williams said. “Wherever I can get in and help.”

There’s precedent for a player taking on both running back and linebacker in the modern game. UCLA’s Myles Jack was named the Pac-12 offensive and defensive freshman of the year last season while manning both linebacker and later running back for the Bruins.

The next few months will dictate if Williams can become Texas Tech’s version of Jack. But coming out of the spring, one valuable Red Raider has the chance to become even more valuable next season.

“We have a lot of time to really push the envelope with this,” Wallerstedt said. “We’ll have to see how we end up defensively. … we’ll know more in August camp.

“But saying we could only have him 25 snaps, would we take him? Certainly. He’s the type of kid who’s going to do whatever it takes to help his football team, whether that’s offense, defense or the kicking game.”
Even though almost 10 months remain until the next national singing day, teams across the Big 12 have jumped off to fast starts in putting together their 2015 classes.

To catch you up on all the recruiting storylines that have developed so far, we checked in with ESPN.com senior national recruiting writer Jeremy Crabtree and Big 12 recruiting reporter Damon Sayles for their takes:

Which team has impressed you the most with its 2015 recruiting?

Crabtree: With all of the questions West Virginia faced in the offseason and the product the Mountaineers put on the field in 2013, you would think they would be struggling out of the gate with the 2015 class. But it has been the exact opposite. WVU has 10 commitments, including from one of the best receivers in the country, Jovon Durante. West Virginia is selling kids on an opportunity to play early and make a big difference in getting the program back on track. Plus, it has gone back to its roots and mined the very familiar recruiting territory of Florida for some of its best pledges.

Sayles: As much as I like what Texas Tech and TCU have done so far, I have to tip my hat to what West Virginia has accomplished. The Mountaineers have a pair of ESPN Junior 300 players in safety Kendrell McFadden and Durante. The Mountaineers are recruiting the state of Florida well; five of the 10 pledges are from the Sunshine State. West Virginia is off to a fast start, and with the program fresh off a successful spring game, more big-time commits could be coming soon.

Who has disappointed?


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Texas Tech spring game review

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
3:00
PM ET
LUBBOCK, Texas -- With a school-record crowd of 19,500 in attendance, Texas Tech finished its spring schedule with a two-hour spring game at Jones AT&T Stadium. Here’s what we learned from the game:

Best offensive performance: A bulked-up Davis Webb put on a show, completing 25 of 37 passes for 354 yards and four touchdowns. Most of his reps came in the first half, and he showed off some impressive touch on his TD throws -- his 23-yard score to Bradley Marquez under pressure was a gem. The sophomore QB even added a long touchdown run that was called back. And for what it’s worth, Webb was even better in Tech’s previous open scrimmages this spring. He’s just no fun to defend, and his coaches will vouch for that. “He’s driving me to drink Pepto-Bismol,” defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt joked after the game.

[+] EnlargeKliff Kingsbury
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsKliff Kingsbury said his team will start the season with a lot more confidence than last year.
Best defensive performance: Got to give credit to Josh Keys for being opportunistic. The junior college transfer safety scooped up a fumble that rolled right to him at the end of the first quarter and scored from 22 yards out. That takeaway, a strip after a screen pass, had to be encouraging for a defense that ranked third-worst in FBS with a turnover margin of minus-14 last season. Redshirt freshman linebacker Collin Bowen also snagged an interception.

Best debut: This wasn’t a true debut, since he did play some special teams last season, but receiver Brent Mitcham made a nice impression. The senior spent three years on the scout team and had a minimal role in 2013 but stepped up on Saturday with a game-high six receptions for 80 yards. The best of the bunch was a catch over the middle that Mitcham turned and took down the sideline for a 41-yard gain.

Notable play: On a play-action pass in the first quarter, Webb rolled right, planted and fired a pass toward the opposite hash to a wide-open Jakeem Grant. The speedster made a defender miss along the sideline and cut across the field for a 75-yard touchdown. Grant finished with 105 yards on five receptions.

Developing storyline: Help is still on the way for this Texas Tech defense. Much will be expected of ESPN 300 cornerback signee Nigel Bethel II and junior college transfers Rika Levi, Brandon Thorpe and Marcus Smith when they arrive this summer. You should see a few more freshmen (maybe safety Payton Hendrix and linebacker Dakota Allen) fight their way into the two-deep. “As all of our guys get here in June and we have a monster summer, this thing will look a little different than even what it looked like today,” Wallerstedt said.

Biggest question answered: Can Texas Tech’s receivers make up for the loss of Eric Ward and Jace Amaro? From a statistical standpoint, they will go down as two of the all-time greats among Red Raider pass-catchers, but Webb is confident this group can be even better. In addition to Grant and Marquez, he singled out Reginald Davis, D.J. Polite-Bray, Devin Lauderdale and Derreck Edwards as playmakers he’s excited to utilize this fall. “This is the fastest receiving group I’ve known since I’ve ever watched Texas Tech football,” Webb said.

Quotable: "We have a lot more confidence than last year. Last year, we just tried to install and the guys are trying to figure us out and figure out our expectations. They know what they can be after that bowl game and carry that confidence over to being a top-15 team. They know what they can be if they put it all together, so that's exciting." -- Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury

Big 12 lunchtime links

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
12:00
PM ET
It's not like bringing a cat to the spring game but Kliff Kingsbury is still winning ...

Video: Webb, Knight in spring games

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
10:30
AM ET
video
Brandon Chatmon discusses the performances of Texas Tech's Davis Webb and Oklahoma's Trevor Knight, two returning bowl MVP quarterbacks, in their spring games. Webb starred while Knight struggled, but the Red Raiders still need help on defense.
Saturday, Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and West Virginia all held their spring games. Below is a sample of the sights from each stadium:

IOWA STATE

KANSAS

OKLAHOMA

TEXAS TECH

WEST VIRGINIA

Big 12 lunchtime links

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
12:00
PM ET
Happy Friday, everybody. Here are the links...
We've been doing something different with Friday's Big 12 mailbag. From now on, we'll be including Twitter questions with the regular mailbag submissions. To submit a mailbag entry via Twitter, simply include the hashtag #big12mailbag. You also still can send in questions the traditional way here, too.

To the 'bag...
Trotter: So far, Oklahoma State running back/receiver Tyreek Hill, TCU safety Kenny Iloka and Kansas receiver Nick Harwell. With his speed, Hill could lead the league in all-purpose yards. Iloka is going to be a key piece in the best secondary in the Big 12. And Harwell should finally give the Jayhawks that go-to receiver they haven’t had since Dezmon Briscoe.

Trotter: The Cyclones get K-State in Ames the second week of the season, which could be a dangerous game for the Wildcats, who might get caught looking ahead to that Thursday night clash with Auburn. Another team that must pay heed is Oklahoma. The Sooners go to Iowa State the week before hosting Baylor in a game that could determine the Big 12 crown. OU can't afford to be looking ahead, either.

Trotter: I'm going to set it at 1 1/2, and I think I would actually bet the over. The Jayhawks are going to be better this season, and quite possibly good enough to steal two conference wins.

Trotter: Right now, the Red Raiders have one on campus, and that's well below the national average. I don't see an issue. The way Davis Webb has improved in the last five months, he's going to be the guy the next three seasons barring something unforeseen. That would still give Jarrett Stidham three seasons of eligibility to be the starter, if he redshirted next year. Patrick Mahomes will get this chances, too. Seems like what TTU is going to do is be really good at quarterback the next six years.

Trotter: I have no inside info here, but if the game is at 11 a.m. again, hit me up in the fall and I'll share with you my shortcut to the Texas State Fair.

Trotter: It was a move that had to be made. Sams is too talented to be standing on the sidelines. He's not going to instantly become an All-Big 12 receiver. But if they can devise ways to get Sams the ball in space, the move could work out well. I see Sams getting a lot of his touches through flares, screens, reverses and maybe a handoff or Wildcat formation here or there. If they can get Sams the ball 10 times a game, that will only help the K-State offense. Think Trevone Boykin in TCU's offense late last year. That's how I see Sams best fitting in.

Trotter: Playing? Yes. Starting? No. I think Williams ultimately favors one side of the ball. The most likely scenario is he still keeps a major role at running back, then gives coordinator Matt Wallerstedt 15-20 plays at outside linebacker, which is more than I would have predicted at the beginning of the spring. Williams can really help the defense, but not at the expense of playing 130 snaps.

Trotter: Bob Stoops, Art Briles, Mike Gundy, Bill Snyder and Gary Patterson have ironclad job security. Paul Rhoads and Kliff Kingsbury have nothing to worry about, either, and Charlie Strong is too new to have to worry (though in Austin, that could change fast). That leaves Charlie Weis and Dana Holgorsen, whose seats are warmest among Big 12 coaches. I think Weis just has to show improvement this season. He can't go 0-12. Holgorsen is the most interesting to watch. Considering the brutal schedule, it's very possible West Virginia is better than last year and still goes 5-7, which might not be enough for Holgorsen to keep his job. But if the Mountaineers go, say, 7-5 against that slate, then I would think Holgorsen would be deserving of another year. West Virginia has been recruiting at an impressive clip, and the schedule will line up more favorably in 2015.


jrodxc07 in Dallas writes: Jake, love the blog, nice work sir. I think you could make a case for incoming Baylor receiver K.D. Cannon as Offensive Newcomer of the Year. Can you explain why you left him off your list?

Trotter: Appreciate it, sir. Cannon was actually on the poll for Offensive Freshman of the Year two weeks ago. The newcomer poll was for transfers, which is why you didn't see him there.


I only care about the Big 12 writes: Please go ahead and give us your way-too early power rankings? That is, if you haven't already...

Trotter: I actually released a power poll in January that went this way: OU, Baylor, K-State, Texas, Oklahoma State, Tech, TCU, Iowa State, West Virginia, Kansas. I'll be updating it, though, after spring ball concludes.

Athlon ranks the Big 12 coaches

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
4:00
PM ET
Athlon Sports has always been big on lists. And this week, Athlon’s Steven Lassan ranked all 128 FBS coaches. He also pulled out the top 10 Big 12 coaches.

As a disclaimer, this is NOT our list. This is Athlon’s. So forward all hate tweets and emails to them. Not me. I already get enough.

[+] Enlarge Art Briles
Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT/Getty ImagesArt Briles' status has grown in the eyes of Athlon.
Without further ado:

1. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

2. Art Briles, Baylor

3. Bill Snyder, Kansas State

4. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

5. Gary Patterson, TCU

6. Charlie Strong, Texas

7. Paul Rhoads, Iowa State

8. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech

9. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia

10. Charlie Weis, Kansas

Some observations:

  • Athlon prefers coaches who win conference championships. Briles, Snyder, Gundy and Stoops, the top four on this list, have won the past four Big 12 titles.
  • I went back and checked and noticed some interesting changes. Snyder was No. 1 in 2013, but dropped two spots this year (why, I’m not sure; K-State did win six of seven to close out the season). Mack Brown was No. 6 -- the same slot that Strong opened up here. Kingsbury moved up only one spot after going 8-5 in his first season.
  • In the eyes of Athlon, Patterson’s stock is falling. He was the No. 2 coach going into his first year in the Big 12 and was ranked third going into last season. On the flip side, Briles has made the biggest rise in the last two years, going from sixth to second after winning the Big 12 last season.
  • Athlon actually had Snyder fifth in 2012, which is hard to believe. We’re talking about one of the best coaches of all-time, right?
  • As you can see, I have a bigger beef with the 2012 and 2013 rankings than the 2014 one.
  • Kingsbury has the potential to ascend the most of anyone on this list. I don’t know that the No. 8 spot is completely unfair, considering he’s only been a head coach one season. But if he can turn Texas Tech into a Big 12 contender on a quasi-regular basis, he could jump several spots.
  • This is obviously not an easy list to compile. How do you weigh what Briles has done the last five years against what Snyder has the last 25? It’s all a matter of subjectivity.

Spring game preview: Texas Tech

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
1:30
PM ET
On Saturday, Texas Tech will hold its annual spring game, which will be open to the public. Here’s a closer look:

When: 11 a.m. Saturday

Where: Jones AT&T Stadium

What to watch for:
  • QB Davis Webb: Building off his MVP performance in the National University Holiday Bowl, Webb has been fabulous in Texas Tech’s last two open scrimmages. In Midland, Texas, he threw four touchdowns to four different receivers. In the Red Raiders’ “Friday Night Lights” scrimmage last week, he completed his first 13 passes and threw for five more scores. The rising sophomore has rapidly developed since becoming the clear-cut starter last December and is playing with a lot of confidence. He could gain even more with another strong showing in the spring game.
  • New receivers: Even with All-American tight end Jace Amaro and second-leading receiver Eric Ward gone, Webb should have plenty of attractive targets. Jakeem Grant caught two touchdowns from Webb in the bowl game and has only begun to scratch the surface of his potential. Reginald Davis has been battling a groin injury this spring, but he has the overwhelming speed to give Webb the deep threat on the outside that the Red Raiders lacked last season. Bradley Marquez is as reliable as it gets at the receiver position in the Big 12. That trio has a chance to be as prolific as any in the league. If D.J. Polite-Bray and Devin Lauderdale continue to come on the other outside spot opposite Davis, look out.
  • Kenny Williams: Going into the spring, Williams asked the Texas Tech coaches if he could swing from running back to outside linebacker, where the Red Raiders needed help after Terrance Bullitt graduated. So far, the experiment has gone swimmingly, as Williams has proved he could impact Texas Tech on both sides of the ball next season. Texas Tech feels secure about its running backs with DeAndre Washington, Quinton White and, eventually, incoming freshman Justin Stockton. Williams could still help out there. But he could also boost a defense that was short on depth in 2013.
  • Juco impact: Sensing a need for an instant impact at several positions, Kliff Kingsbury signed nine junior college players in his recruiting class, including three – Lauderdale, safety Josh Keys and defensive tackle Keland McElrath – who have been around for the spring. All three players could play key roles for the Red Raiders next season and will be on full display in the spring game.
  • FS Keenon Ward: Defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt singled out Ward for standing out as much as any player on his side of the ball this spring. Ward has been bringing some thunder to the Texas Tech secondary, laying big hits, most notably on slot receiver Zach Austin in the Midland scrimmage. The Red Raiders are looking for a replacement for departed 35-game starter Tre Porter at safety. Ward is looking primed to fill that role, and is the best bet to provide the hit of the spring game.

McShay's NFL Mock Draft 4.0

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
12:30
PM ET
video
Thursday, ESPN Insider Todd McShay released his 2014 NFL Mock Draft 4.0, which includes the first two rounds of the draft.

McShay has three former Big 12 players going in the top two rounds: Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, TCU cornerback Jason Verrett and Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro.

To see when and where McShay has the Big 12 trio going, click here Insider.
video
LUBBOCK, Texas -- From the outside, it seemed as if the House That Leach Built was crumbling all around Kliff Kingsbury.

There was a five-game losing streak that included getting whipped at Texas on Thanksgiving night. His starting QB left for another Big 12 program. His right-hand assistant bolted days later for a different Big 12 foe.

Yet through such trying weeks, the 34-year-old first-year head coach never changed his demeanor. Not publicly. Not even privately with his team. He still arrived at Texas Tech’s football training facility during the 4 o’clock hour each morning. He still worked out twice a day, once around sunrise, and again after lunch.

[+] EnlargeKliff Kingsbury
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsKliff Kingsbury stayed cool when there was chaos all around. The Red Raiders followed his lead and it's been paying off ever since.
Kingsbury refused to dwell on the past. Instead, he focused his players on the opportunities ahead.

“Really, a team gets its personality from its head coach,” said senior running back/outside linebacker Kenny Williams. “Coach Kingsbury is a very strong person. I think the way he conducted himself during that time made us a stronger team.”

Because their coach never wavered in the weeks leading up the National University Holiday Bowl, the team didn’t, either. And like a captain guiding his crew through choppy waters, Kingsbury righted the (pirate) ship at Texas Tech.

The two-touchdown-underdog Red Raiders completely dismantled No. 14 Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl -- and they’ve been riding a wave of momentum no one outside the program saw coming ever since.

“For what they did and the way they performed in the bowl game, I couldn’t have been more proud of those guys,” Kingsbury said. “I think the biggest part was the resiliency this team showed. That’s how you build for the future. Because it’s not always going to be going well. It’s not always going to fall in your favor. But you gotta keep fighting.”

After they rallied past West Virginia to move to 7-0 and into the top 10 of the polls, nothing seemed to fall in the Red Raiders’ favor. Texas Tech played Oklahoma tough in a tight loss on the road, but then lost to Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Baylor and Texas by an average margin of almost 24 points.

“I don’t think anyone on the team felt sorry for themselves or felt like, ‘Hey, this wasn’t a good team,’” Kingsbury said. “We just weren’t playing as good as we needed to be to beat good teams.”

But just like the five straight losses themselves, the losses of quarterback Baker Mayfield and assistant Sonny Cumbie stung, too.

Mayfield became a national story after winning the starting job during the preseason as a walk-on true freshman. He was named the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year the same day he informed Kingsbury he was leaving to enroll at Oklahoma.

Cumbie’s departure was almost as shocking. He played quarterback at Texas Tech under Mike Leach, had been teammates and longtime friends with Kingsbury and was the only assistant retained by both former Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville and Kingsbury. Cumbie had recruited several of the players on Texas Tech’s current roster, including quarterback Davis Webb. And he had been instrumental in helping Kingsbury acclimate during his first few days as head coach, even bringing recruiting tape for Kingsbury to review in his empty office.

“It was really rough having coach Cumbie leave, because that was the guy that had been recruiting me since my sophomore year,” Webb said. “He’s a guy I got really close to. He knows my parents really well. He came to my house multiple times. That was really rough on me I guess because I look up to him a lot. Baker leaving threw everyone off guard, too. Coach Cumbie leaving to TCU was very surprising. So there was a lot of shock. But we never became distraught.”

Instead, Kingsbury kept his players on campus throughout December to prepare them for the bowl game. And by the time the Holiday Bowl rolled around, the Red Raiders had the look of a team that had successfully weathered a storm.

“Everything just boiled up in a pot,” Webb said. “And we just exploded.”

Really, a team gets its personality from its head coach. Coach Kingsbury is a very strong person. I think the way he conducted himself during that time made us a stronger team.

-- Texas Tech senior RB/OLB Kenny Williams
Taking over for Mayfield, Webb came out on fire. Also a true freshman last year, Webb threw touchdown passes on Texas Tech’s first four possessions and finished with 403 passing yards on his way to earning Holiday Bowl offensive MVP honors. The defense, finally at full strength again after several injuries, held up too.

“More than anything, that showed our players that you gotta handle adversity, you gotta be mentally tough,” Kingsbury said. “And if you do, that good things can happen.”

Good things have been happening for Texas Tech ever since.

Last month, Kingsbury scored a commitment from Jarrett Stidham, the nation’s No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the Class of 2015. Stidham had offers from Alabama, Oregon, Texas and Baylor, which was thought to be the favorite because of Art Briles’ connection to Stidham’s Stephenville High School (Briles won four state titles there).

“Coach Kingsbury done everything to make sure that program is going in the right direction,” said Stidham, who revealed he’s been in touch with several other high-profile recruits about joining him at Texas Tech. “I believe what he’s doing is going to pay off.”

The momentum from the bowl game has carried over into the spring.

More than 10,000 fans attended an open scrimmage in Midland, Texas, and another big turnout is expected Saturday for the spring game in Lubbock. Plus, Texas Tech broke a record with more than 34,000 season tickets sold, and is sure to sell more with five months to go before the Aug. 30 opener against Central Arkansas.

On the field, Webb has used the bowl performance as a springboard and has been even sharper this spring. During the Midland scrimmage, he tossed four touchdowns to four different receivers without an interception. Even with All-American Jace Amaro and Eric Ward moving on, the Red Raiders appear to be loaded at receiver again as well, with Jakeem Grant, Reginald Davis and Bradley Marquez, all of whom had touchdowns in the bowl game.

The defense should be improved, with the players having a year of experience now in coordinator Matt Wallerstedt’s 3-4 scheme.

And the schedule lines up nicely, with Oklahoma and Texas both coming to Lubbock, and defending Big 12 champ Baylor still on a neutral field in Arlington, Texas.

“We’re really ready to build off the Holiday Bowl,” Webb said. “We don’t want that to be the highlight, though.

“We want that to be the jump-start.”

Big 12 lunchtime links

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
12:00
PM ET
You missed a crazy night in Ames, including riots and car flipping.

Big 12's lunch links

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
12:00
PM ET
This is pretty great. Bravo, Charlie Weis.

SPONSORED HEADLINES