Kingsbury's First Taste of Adversity

If ever there was a college football coach who merited the appellation "golden boy," Kliff Kingsbury is it. There have been others, of course. But perhaps none of them rose so meteorically as Kingsbury. Two weeks ago, Kingsbury had never known a loss. Now he has not only a loss on his record, but his very first losing streak.

If ever there was a college football coach who merited the appellation "golden boy," Kliff Kingsbury is it. There have been others, of course. Lane Kiffin, Rick Neuheisel, Will Muschamp, and Rich Rodriguez, are all coaches of recent vintage who matriculated quickly up the coaching hierarchy and assumed prominent head coaching positions while still very young. But perhaps none of them rose so meteorically as Kingsbury.

In order to so quickly reach a summit in a profession as fiercely competitive as college football coaching, things have to go very doggoned right. There can be no major mistakes or reverses. The coach in question must have a spotless record and resounding recommendations from all who have dealt with him.

Such a coach was Kingsbury. His tenure as offensive guru at the University of Houston was comparable with some of the best teams in that school's history, and was hallmarked by Kingsbury's tutelage of perhaps—and with all due respect to Andre Ward and David Klingler—the greatest Cougar quarterback of them all, Case Keenum.

Things went from mighty peachy to fan-dang-tastic for Kingsbury when he followed Kevin Sumlin from Houston to Texas A&M. The story is, of course, well known. In short order Sumlin and Kingsbury turned the Aggies from underachieving mediocrity into regional superpower precisely as Texas A&M was making a jump to the SEC that many people considered suicidal.

In Kingsbury's short time in College Station, the Aggies upset the seemingly invincible Alabama Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa behind the inspired play of quarterback Johnny Manziel. The Aggie signal caller would go on to become the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.

Needless to say, this string of glowing successes and stunning accomplishments redounded to Kingsbury's benefit. In terms of promise, he shot straight to the top of all college football assistant coaches. And when the coaching position at his alma mater Texas Tech conveniently opened up, it was a foregone conclusion that Tech AD Kirby Hocutt would offer him the post, and a mere formality that Kingsbury would accept.

Kingsbury's ascent was paved not with gold but platinum bricks, and never once did his cart veer off the gilded path and get stuck in a bar-ditch.

The earliest days of Kingsbury's head coaching career followed the same smooth script. The people of west Texas immediately hailed him as a hero, a prodigy and a savior. The fervor with which they adopted him was almost frightening to behold.

And Kingsbury initially justified their adulation. Shrugging off the naysayers like a marble statue of Hercules repelling pebbles hurled by Lilliputians, Kingbury and his Red Raiders burst from the gates to a stunning 7-0 start and a top 10 national ranking. Could the golden boy rocket all the way to the top of his field in his very first season? Some people were beginning to think so.

Then, for the first time in Kingsbury's coaching career, he suffered a setback. His team fell to the Oklahoma Sooners in Norman. But such was Kingsbury's seemingly incorruptible fortune that even in a loss he emerged enwreathed in the fragrance of roses. All who saw the Red Raiders that day praised the team for its spirit and fortitude and lauded Kingsbury's courage and boldness. If anything, Kingsbury was admired even more after the loss than he was when the Red Raiders were undefeated.

But on the week following the loss to Oklahoma, Kingsbury experienced his first true turbulence as a coach. His Red Raiders, tabbed as near even money against Oklahoma State, played a poor game before a record crowd and fell to the Cowboys by 18 big points. Two weeks before, Kingsbury had never known a loss. Now he had not only a loss on his record, but his very first losing streak.

Trolling the Internet, which is as good a place as any to gauge the pulse of a fanbase, it was apparent some fans had already lost confidence in Kingsbury, and were questioning the wisdom of the hire! In their eyes, Kingsbury's golden mantle was already seriously tarnished.

Now the rationality of such an expeditious volte face is dubious to say the least. But reason and wisdom are not always the coin of the college football realm. Combine unrealistic expectations with a crazed zealotry for wins—not to mention the ghastly sums of money that are associated with big-time college football—and the unreasonable can become the reality that coaches must deal with.

As foolish is this all may be, Kliff Kingsbury, for the first time in his career, is dealing with genuine adversity and is sweating the pressures that come with a losing streak. Red Raider maniacs who very recently were dreaming of a Big 12 title—at minimum!—are now contemplating a the possibility of a 7-5 record and closing the season on a five-game losing skid.

Is Kingsbury feeling the pressure? If he is, it's unlikely he would admit it publically. But the pressure is real, and it will be interesting to see how he responds, both as a coach and as an interlocutor with the media and the fans. Kansas State provides the next crucial test. And the performance of Kingsbury and his team could tell us quite a bit about how the coach will deal with the setbacks that are inevitable in the lives of even the most dazzling of golden boys.

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