America's Hippest Program?

Kliff-o-mania has swept over the Red Raider archipelago like a tsunami since coach Kingsbury was hired. West Texas got what it asked for. Now it may never be the same.

Nobody ever accused Kliff Kingsbury and Kirby Hocutt of being stupid. The head coach and the athletic director were as aware as anybody of the Kliff-o-mania that swept over the Red Raider archipelago like a tsunami when Kingsbury was hired, and the intrigue the hire engendered across the nation's sports landscape.

Kliff and Kirby were also alive to the possibilities Kliff-o-mania created. They realized there was hay to be made.

There were various factors which converged to generate Kliff-o-mania. Among them was the fact that Kingsbury is a Red Raider, having starred for the scarlet and black a decade earlier. Then there was Kingsbury's association with beloved and defrocked coach Mike Leach. Fans who were still sore over Leach's dismissal believed that The Strange One returneth in the form of Kliff Kingsbury. And, of course, there was Kingsbury's phenomenal success as an offensive coordinator and mentor to quarterbacks Case Keenum and Johnny Manziel.

But those factors, important though they were, did not define Kliff-o-mania and weren't the keys to the possibilities that lay ahead. No, what was truly unique, and thus extremely important, was the Kingsbury image.

Kingsbury was a very young man in a profession dominated by the middle aged and the oldsters. He had the appearance of a Hollywood leading man or a model at least. In a field where Charlie Weises and Mack Browns are the typical type, Kingsbury stood out mightily. Burnishing that image further, Kingsbury took great pains with his personal grooming, the clothes he wore and even his choice of sunglasses.

Kingsbury's youthfulness, physical appearance and air of suavity and debonair were what boosted Kliff-o-mania over the top. Kingsbury and Hocutt, in turn, have parlayed this phenomenon into a project which may make Tech football America's hippest program.

We have already seen evidence of this project in Tech's game-day atmosphere and what may be termed the program's "culture."

In keeping with the image of youthful vitality, Kingsbury hired what may well be the youngest coaching staff in America. Among Kingsbury's hires, only defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt and offensive line coach Lee Hays could remotely be considered long in the tooth.

Every other coach except Mike Jinks is a thirty-something. Such youthfulness is unheard of in a program as prominent as Texas Tech's but it sure doesn't hurt the hipness factor.

Then there is the matter of music. Kingsbury has done nothing to hide his apparent affection for that trendiest, hippest form of sonic expression, rap. Kingsbury has an iPod full of the stuff, and he blasts it ceaselessly during practice.

The pervasiveness of rap has bled over game-day as well. Whereas in the past the signature sound of Jones Stadium was the good ol' Goin' Band from Raiderland, now, as mandated by the King himself, it is the gutturals and the thumps of rap. During games, this is practically all one hears. Other schools, indulge in the rap craze, too, but none quite to the extent of Texas Tech.

If you're going for hip, you go all in.

The Red Raider program has also bought into the Oregon-spawned mania for multiple, radical uniform designs and the partial displacement of school colors. Scarlet and black, although inherently hip it would seem, are not quite hip enough if you want to be the hippest of the hip. No, what you need is a touch of gray. Or even whole hawg gray as the "Red" Raiders were when they took out TCU.

The studiously cultivated image of Kliff Kingsbury as the last word in hip; the young guns of his staff; the rap; the multifarious and gray uniforms—put it all together and you've got the architecture of a project to make Tech football the hippest in the land. But it's not just a case of hipness for hipness' sake. Oh no. There is money to be made and recruits to be dazzled.

This re-branding of Tech football, if successful, will heighten the allure of Red Raider football for television broadcast. To the extent that the Big 12's TV contract grants certain latitude for constituent programs to cut deals with television networks, the hip Raiders will be well positioned to capitalize. And television contracts aside, there is the matter of Tech football merchandise and apparel, franchised by the university, which may prove a colossal fiscal mother lode if the hipness initiative succeeds.

Certainly 17- and 18-year-old high school football players will be paying attention. For boys at that age, hipness—if not cleanliness—is next to Godliness. These players wish to enlist with the hottest commodity, not with yesterday's meatloaf.

Think the Miami Hurricanes of the eighties and early nineties as the archetype. Texas Tech is headed that direction, but with a Kliff Kingsbury rather than a Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson or Dennis Erickson at the controls.

West Texas got what it asked for. Now it may never be the same.

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