Texas A&M Aggies: Dana Holgorsen

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- The first time Clarence McKinney met Kevin Sumlin, the two were in quite different places than they are today.

The pair first crossed paths in the late 1990s. McKinney was a young, budding offensive coordinator at Houston's Booker T. Washington High School, while Sumlin was an assistant at Purdue, coaching wide receivers and serving as recruiting coordinator.

[+] EnlargeClarence McKinney
Sam Khan Jr./ESPNExpect Texas A&M to continue its up-tempo approach with new offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney.
Though Sumlin spent plenty of time in Texas and in the Houston-area in particular, he never signed a player from Washington while McKinney was there. But he saw something in McKinney and let him know then what he thought of the Houston born-and-bred product.

"We were hanging out one day, and he told me at that time, that if he ever had an opportunity to hire me, he would," McKinney said.

About 10 years later, when Sumlin was putting together his first staff as a head coach at Houston, he lobbed a call to McKinney, who at the time had worked his way up the ladder in Houston coaching circles and was a successful head coach at his alma mater, Jack Yates High School, which sits literally across the street from the University of Houston campus.

Sumlin was making good on his word and offered McKinney a position as an assistant.

"He made the phone call and without hesitation, I asked him when I needed to show up for work," McKinney said.

The pair have worked together the last five years and had marked success, first, for four years at Houston and now at Texas A&M, where the Aggies put together a memorable 11-2 campaign that included a Heisman Trophy winner. Now, McKinney -- who started his college coaching career as Sumlin's running backs coach at Houston -- is now the man who will call the plays for the Aggies as their offensive coordinator in what is one of the most anticipated seasons in school history.

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This week, GigEmNation looks back at five decisions that helped define Texas A&M's 2012 season. These moments could be on or off the field or could have even come before the season, so long that they had a lasting impact on the Aggies' 2012 campaign. Today, we look at our pick for No. 2, the hiring of Kevin Sumlin.

On Dec. 10, 2011, Texas A&M officially chose Kevin Sumlin as its next head football coach.

This week, GigEmNation looks back at five decisions that helped define Texas A&M's 2012 season. These moments could be on or off the field or could have even come before the season, so long that they had a lasting impact on the Aggies' 2012 campaign. Today, we look at our pick for No. 5, the hiring of offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury.

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- There are plenty of terms that have been used to describe Texas A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury.

He has been called everything from creative and aggressive (referring to his style of coaching) to cool and suave (referring to his appearance).

[+] EnlargeKliff Kingsbury
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesKliff Kingsbury first began calling plays in his third year as coach, in 2010 with Houston.
A term one would probably never associate with the 33-year-old rising star assistant, who is quickly becoming an "It guy" in college football coaching circles, is one that he has used on himself: soccer dad.

"There's no question," Kingsbury said, "[I have] the ultimate soccer dad syndrome going on."

No, Kingsbury doesn't have children, unless you count his quarterbacks, who might as well be. Kingsbury always wanted to be an NFL quarterback. He pursued a professional career for six years after graduating from Texas Tech and before entering coaching in 2008, when he joined his good friend Dana Holgorsen and coach Kevin Sumlin at Houston as a quality control assistant. After spending a year working with the Cougars quarterbacks and helping teach them the intricacies of the Air Raid offense, Kingsbury became comfortable with the idea of coaching.

But deep in his heart, he wishes he was still playing. And he does the next best thing: He lives vicariously through his quarterback, Aggies redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel now, and Houston's Case Keenum before him.

"The biggest stress to me is that I give the quarterback each game the best possible chance to be successful," Kingsbury said. "I never want to watch the film and say, 'I didn't give him a chance to make the plays.' Once the plays are already made, hey, you've got to make them. But as long as I'm giving him a chance to make the plays, then I can sleep at night. If we had a game where I didn't -- which I've had -- then I just feel bad and I want to find a way to make him be successful."

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Meet the staff: Kliff Kingsbury

August, 1, 2012
Kliff KingsburyRay Carlin/Icon SMINew Texas A&M coordinator has learned and developed the offense through Mike Leach, Dana Holgorsen and Kevin Sumlin.

As Texas A&M approaches the 2012 season, GigEmNation will be visiting with the Aggies' assistant coaches to offer a glimpse at who will be leading the team into the SEC. Today, we visit with offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury.

Kingsbury grew up as the son of a Texas high school football coach, former New Braunfels coach Tim Kingsbury, but Kliff didn't consider it a foregone conclusion that he would follow his father's footsteps. Kliff earned his degree business management at Texas Tech and figured his post-playing career would exist outside of football.

After a six-year professional playing career that included stops in the NFL, NFL Europe and the Canadian Football League, Kingsbury got a call from an old coach and friend of his, Dana Holgorsen. At the time, Holgorsen was preparing for his first season at Houston as its offensive coordinator under then first-year head coach Kevin Sumlin.

At Texas Tech, Holgorsen was an inside receivers coach under Mike Leach during Kingsbury's time as the Red Raiders' quarterback. Since Holgorsen was installing the Air Raid offense he worked in for eight years at Texas Tech, he offered Kingsbury, a quarterback who played and succeeded in it, a chance to help Houston's quarterbacks, including then redshirt-sophomore Case Keenum.

Holgorsen was at Houston for two seasons before departing to become Oklahoma State's offensive coordinator. It was then that Sumlin promoted Kingsbury to co-offensive coordinator along with Jason Phillips. His first season wasn't easy since the Cougars lost their starter (Keenum) and backup (Cotton Turner) to season-ending injuries in the third game of the season and had to finish the last nine games of the year with true freshmen. But the next year, with both quarterbacks healthy, Houston went 13-1 and returned to its spot as the nation's no. 1 offense.

GigEmNation talked with Kingsbury, who will install an up-tempo offensive attack rooted in the Air Raid principles for the Aggies this fall.

Sam Khan Jr.: You mentioned that you didn't picture yourself as a football coach when growing up. Why not?

Kliff Kingsbury:
"I just had never thought along those lines. I got my degree in business. I was thinking real estate or something else. But after being around the kids, you feel like you're playing again, you feel like you're part of it. So I guess I just kind of got lassoed into it."

SK: Once you started working with Dana Holgorsen and the Houston quarterbacks in 2008, what was the experience like?

"It was good. Having played in that system, they were all ears. We had some success at Tech, so the tips, pointers, things of that nature, the credibility was there, based on (me having played in) the same offense. So that made it easy for me. They were listening, I shared what I knew and it kind of snowballed from there."

SK: People often ask the question 'Will this offense work in the SEC?' How do you respond to that?

"I just say, watch and see. Until you do it -- I'm not a big talker, saying we're going to do this or we're going to do that -- we're going to work our butts off every day and put the best product out there that we can. I'm excited about the talent we have here. We have a great group offensively, we've got a lot of weapons. The o-line has lots of experience, so we're excited about our chances."

SK: How did the Aggies' players respond to the up-tempo pace during spring practice?

"It was a learning process. I think they thought they had done some tempo-type stuff, but I think ours is more of a steady flow of it, I guess. We're pushing all the time and that's a big emphasis. Practices are a lot faster than the games are. We want it to be that way, so that when we get in the games, it slows down for them."

SK: Were the players open-minded to what you as a coaching staff were trying to accomplish?

"They were. They got to witness it out there, how it can affect a defense, right out here the year before. Oklahoma State in the second half said 'We're going to turn it up' and started going up and down the field with that kind of tempo. So I think they know it can be a real weapon if they buy into it and they work at it and get themselves in shape to play at that pace, it can be a real weapon for you.”

SK: How valuable will having an experienced offensive line and quality running backs like Christine Michael and Ben Malena, be this season?

Troy Taormina/US Presswire
The Aggies will lean on their running game this season as they settle on a new quarterback.

"It's going to be huge, especially with a young quarterback. We're going to lean on the offensive line and the running backs when we have to. There's going to be a learning curve for the quarterback and you don't want to put it all on him ... the first year in the system we're going to need everybody and it's not just going to be an all-out, throw-it-every-play type of situation."

SK: At Houston in the TicketCity Bowl, your offense had a lot of success against a defensive line that was big and strong. Does that serve as an example of what this offense can do against those types of fronts, which you'll see in the SEC?

"It's just different styles of football. That defense was set up bigger, stronger guys to stop the run, the Big Ten-type football. With our little quick guys, it was just a different type of football than they'd seen. I think in the athletes in [the SEC] -- big, small, skinny, fat -- they can all run. And whatever you try to throw at them, they have athletes that can keep up with you. So you have to be creative and find ways to get your playmakers the ball."

SK: Is speed the biggest thing you notice when you watch video of SEC teams?
"That and I would say the violence of the d-line. The way they get up the field, the way they attack every play. And they rotate them in four at a time and they keep coming at you."

SK: How can the uptempo pace help you against quality defensive lines like those you'll see in the SEC?

"You know by the end of the game it'll start taking its toll. So that tempo stuff, you can sustain some drives and get it going, but you have to stay on the field."

SK: What's your experience been like so far at Texas A&M?

"It's been fast and furious but everybody's been great to me. The kids have really bought in and worked really hard. Coach (Larry) Jackson, this summer, has been really pleased with their effort and that's all you can ask. They didn't sign on to play for us, most of them, so for them to believe in us and buy into us, that means a lot."


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