Soon after Tommy Tuberville signed on to coach the Texas Tech football team, he was asked a very obvious question: will you continue the pass-happy offense for which Texas Tech has become so famous, or will you switch to the run-oriented attack that has been your bread and butter?
Tuberville responded with what I believe was a truthful and revealing answer. He said—and I paraphrase—"it was made clear to me that if you're going to coach football at Texas Tech, you're going to have to throw the football." He added his intention to beef up the running game a bit while hastening to note that the emphasis would still be overwhelmingly on the pass.
The crux of Tuberville's words were that he would throw the ball because he had to, not because he wanted to. Tuberville would stick with the Mike Leach spread—and he hired Neal Brown to do just that—because it was a job requirement, not because he was a true believer.
Well now Tuberville's job may be on the line for an entirely different reason, and it appears likely that he will return to his roots in a last-ditch effort to save it.
Tuberville's team went 5-7 in 2011, which is bad enough for a program that regards winning seasons as a birthright. But the season was far uglier and more demoralizing than that 5-7 mark would suggest.
The Red Raiders suffered the worst loss in school history when they fell to Oklahoma State 66-6. They gave up 66 points one more time against Baylor, succumbing to the bears for the first time since 1995. And they experienced the school's worst cumulative five-game margin of defeat in losses to Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas, Missouri and Baylor. Additionally, Tech finished the season with the nation's worst run defense.
One could go on indefinitely with this dolorous litany of grisly gridiron gaffes and gore. But the point of the matter is that it was a horrendous season. And even more to the point, Tuberville recognizes just how dreadful it was. His actions in the offseason prove it. And they portend profound changes in how Texas Tech plays football.
Tuberville's most obvious concession to the fallen state of the program can be seen in his early recruiting efforts. In his 2011 recruiting class he signed only three JUCO prospects. In the early signing period of his second haul, Tuberville has inked eight JUCOs, and who's to say he might not add one or two more in February.
Tuberville understands that if his team has another bad year in 2012, he probably won't even get the opportunity to develop high school recruits two, three and four years down the road. He has to have help immediately; hence the largest class of JUCO recruits to sign with the Red Raiders in recent memory.
But bringing in more physically mature recruits via the JUCO route will not be Tuberville's only method for attempting to jumpstart his program. It looks as though we'll see fundamental schematic changes as well. Changes that will bring Red Raider football more in line with Tuberville's core beliefs as a football coach.
The most obvious and well publicized schematic change will be on defense where Tuberville will abandon the 4-2-5 alignment after just one year and implement a more traditional 4-3 base defense instead. New coaches John Lovett and Terry Price have presumably been brought onboard, in part, because of their expertise with the 4-3.
Current defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow's role in this transition remains ambiguous as of this writing. His first season as Tech's defensive coordinator was, to put it charitably, not a success. And it was Glasgow who phased out the 3-4 alignment of James Willis in favor of the 4-2-5.
Does Glasgow know enough about the 4-3 to oversee its implementation in a make-it/break-it year for the coaching staff? Is Glasgow genuinely committed to the 4-3? How well will he work with John Lovett, a former defensive coordinator at Miami, kicking in his two cents?
What is clear is that Tuberville, with or without Glasgow's sanction, has mandated fundamental changes to Glasgow's defense and brought in new coaches to help impose those changes. And Tuberville is banking that the transition to a 4-3 is less perilous than standing pat one more year with the 4-2-5.
It is on offense, however, where the most surprising change may occur. Tuberville has repeatedly stated that the fast-paced spread offense can harm the team's defense. He's bemoaned the quick three-and-outs that force a gassed defense back into the breach before it has had time to recuperate from the previous series. And, of course, Tuberville has not been shy about making his affections for a physical running game known.
The lone coaching change on the offensive side was the dismissal of line coach Matt Moore and replacing him with Jim Turner, whose offensive lines have excelled at run blocking as well as pass protection.
It is also worth noting that running back Ronnie Daniels has quietly reappeared on Tech's official roster. An idealist might chalk up Daniels' return to a troubled youth successfully mending his ways. A cynic would suggest that Tommy Tuberville recognizes a talented power back who's capable of transforming the Red Raider ground attack. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.
What the above likely portends, however, is a redoubled emphasis on the running game. In 2011 the Red Raiders ran the football 39 percent of the time. In 2012 I'd expect that number to jump to 59 percent.
Tommy Tuberville understands that he's in a bit of a bind. And whether he sinks or swims with the Red Raiders in 2012, he's going to do it as the real Tommy Tuberville, not as a half-stepping devotee of spread-and-finesse football.