Friendly reminder: Leach didn’t invent Tech football
The Tommy Tuberville era began Sunday at Texas Tech, and when people ask me what I think, I’ve got a stock answer. Tech football just went from scary to solid. You can decide if that’s a good or bad thing.
Just don’t tell me how Mike Leach built Tech football into something great. Leach did an excellent job as the Tech coach. But he didn’t invent the sport in Lubbock. And he didn’t take Tech to new heights. Anything Leach did in Lubbock has been done before, other than that wild offense and pirate talk and somehow alienating his bosses to the point where they risked revolution by firing him.
Best season in Tech history? Not 2008. Yes, the Red Raiders rose all the way to No. 2 in November ’08, but Tech in 2008 finished 11-2 with a 62-28 loss to Oklahoma and a 47-34 Cotton Bowl loss to Ole Miss. Tech in 1973 finished 11-1, losing only to Texas (28-12) and beating Tennessee in the Gator Bowl. And Tech in 1976 went 10-2, losing only to Houston (27-19) in what served as the Southwest Conference championship game. The Red Raiders were 10-1 in the regular season, then lost 27-24 to Nebraska in the Bluebonnet Bowl.
And yes, the Big 12 South of the 2000s is better than the SWC of the 1970s, but don’t mistake the Southwest Conference of the ’70s for the weak SWC of the ’80s and ’90s. Texas, Arkansas, A&M, Houston after it joined in ’76. Baylor with Grant Teaff. Southwest Conference football in the ’70s was the real deal.
And Tech didn’t always soften its non-conference schedule, like it did under Leach. The ’76 Red Raiders beat Colorado, which that year went to the Orange Bowl as the Big Eight tri-champion.
Again, this is not to denigrate Leach. It’s to point out that Texas Tech knew how to play football long before Long John Silver pulled into port. Leach’s 10-year winning percentage in Lubbock was .661; he went 84-43. Steve Sloan, who coached Tech from 1975-77, had a winning percentage of .657. Jim Carlen, who coached the Red Raiders from 1970-74, had a winning percentage of .644. David McWilliams coached Tech for one year, went 7-4 and was hired away by Texas.
Heck,comparing Leach to Spike Dykes is interesting. Dykes coached Tech for 13 years, 1987-99, and while his winning percentage was just .550, Dykes also went 6-7 against Texas and 6-7 against Texas A&M. Leach went 7-3 vs. A&M and 2-8 vs. Texas, and yes, while Leach caught the Longhorns at their most glorious, he also caught the Aggies in a huge slump. Dykes played much-tougher A&M teams and much-weaker Texas teams. And while Leach had to deal with the Sooner monster, too, Dykes had to contend with brutal non-conference schedules: Dykes played Florida State, Ohio State, Miami, Oklahoma twice, Oregon twice, Nebraska, Georgia twice, Penn State, Tennessee and Arizona State.
So the idea that Texas Tech needs Leach more than Leach needs Tech, well, that’s just silly. The Red Raiders haven’t always been good or even competitive. Jerry Moore, who has built Appalachian State into a I-AA power and produced the big upset at Michigan in 2007, coached Tech from 1981-85 and was a disaster. The Raiders went 16-37-2 and did not make a bowl game.
But for the most part, Tech has been solid for 40 years. And Tuberville is nothing if not solid. Solid at Ole Miss. Solid at Auburn. Tuberville is 110-60 in four years at Ole Miss (1995-98) and 10 years at Auburn (1999-08). That’s 14 years coaching the SEC. Tuberville’s 14-year conference record was 63-49, and that’s coaching at two solid programs but neither one of the SEC bluebloods. Leach’s 10-year Big 12 record was 47-33 (also 14 games above .500), coaching at a solid program but not a blueblood. And while Leach had the huge 2008 season, that hardly trumps Tuberville’s 2004 season, when Auburn went 13-0 and never stumbled in its national championship quest.
Tuberville’s biggest problem is identity. Tech football has become so ingrained with Leach’s spread passing attack, it will be hard to replicate it but even harder to move away from it. No way is Tech prepared to move to the smash-mouth style that Auburn a winner under Tuberville. Tuberville says he’s prepared to keep the offense, just tinker with it a little, but I don’t know if that’s possible.
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