Riverboat Gambler Part 2

Joe Yeager writes about how the hiring of Kingsbury is a gamble, but one that could pay off.

With the hiring of Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt has well and truly rolled the dice. Kingsbury, all of 33 years of age, is the second youngest FBS head coach behind Toledo's Todd Campbell, who checks in at 32. Kingsbury is now the youngest head coach within the constellation of BCS conferences.

 

Additionally, Hocutt has triggered the quantum Kingsbury leap from coordinator status to head coach of a BCS program. Such a vault is not unprecedented, but it is certainly unorthodox and rare. Purdue, Tennessee, Arkansas, California and Colorado all hired new head coaches. All the hires were current head coaches. Only Kentucky, which hired Florida defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, joins Tech in bucking the trend, and even Stoops has head coaching experience in the Ohio high school ranks.

 

So Hocutt has wagered on both youth and inexperience, and he's done it in a huge way. Kliff Kingsbury, for all intents and purposes, is an unknown. He could be the next Knute Rockne or the next Mike Locksley. Nobody, even Hocutt, can say for certain how Kingsbury will pan out.

 

But ironically enough, hiring anybody but Kingsbury would also have been a colossal gamble. Just look at the response to Kingsbury's return. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Red Raider oecumene has embraced "The King" as a messiah.

 

A spontaneous pep rally erupts and victory bells peal from the Administration Building. Traffic through Tech sports websites triples instantaneously. Tech football ticket purchases shoot through the roof and donations to the Red Raider Club spike. "King Kliff" tee shirts are supposedly selling like bottled water prior to Y2K. Heck, I wouldn't be surprised to see a spate of west Texas babies—including girls!—named Kliff.

 

Given this collective mania, one can only imagine the photonegative response had Hocutt hired anybody but Kingsbury. Instead of the euphoria Hocutt is currently enjoying, he would have been on the receiving end of intense disappointment and resentment. Hocutt would have been seen as a bit of a villain. And at the first sign of trouble with the new coach, the calls for the coach's and Hocutt's head would have been loud.

 

Hence, Hocutt faced a two-way gamble. Hire a raw, untested coach and he runs the risk of watching the football program shoot into a bar-ditch; hire anybody else and he may get tarred, cottoned, and sent out of town in a TNM&O boxcar.

 

But to a certain extent, Hocutt took the lesser of two gambles. Kliff Kingsbury is widely regarded as a coaching prodigy. Assuming this assessment is correct, he is the sort of coach who comes along very rarely. Had Hocutt passed on Kingsbury and Kliff begun winning championships at another program, the goat horns would have defined Hocutt for the rest of his career. It would have been like the Portland Trail Blazers selecting Sam Bowie instead of Michael Jordan in the NBA draft. This was a risk Hocutt didn't want to take.

 

Heightening Kingsbury's allure is the fact that he's a Red Raider. Rarely does an AD get the chance to hire a prodigy. Even rarer is that prodigy a product of the program for which the hire is being conducted. If Kingsbury turns out to be as great as people think he can be, Tech not only has a great head football coach, it may have a great head football coach for generations to come. And if that is the case, Hocutt's hire will be seen as the greatest in the history of Texas Tech athletics.

 

Oh yeah—about that age thing. A certain Pete Cawthon, whom many regard as Tech's greatest football coach ever, was 32 years old when he assumed Tech's head coaching duties in 1930. Two years later his team led the nation in scoring.  


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