After Oregon dazzled its way past Texas in the Alamo Bowl in what was Mack Brown’s last game with the program he built, the most important coaching search since Alabama hired Nick Saban nearly seven years ago officially started in Austin, Texas on Monday night.
And if Texas fans just kept their televisions on ESPN, they may have seen the man who may be the best hire, even though hardly anyone in the college football world, or Las Vegas, is talking about him.
He’s Kliff Kingsbury of Texas Tech, a nearly three-touchdown underdog that beat 14th-ranked Arizona State 37-23 on Monday.
In fact, Kingsbury may be to Texas what Ryan Gosling is to most teenage girls if Texas seriously considers him. The Ryan Gosling doppelgänger, 34, is the youngest coach in a BCS conference. And at first glance, Kingsbury may seem a bit younger than what Texas may want. But he may be the best long-term fit for the Longhorns and what they need.
Texas’s boosters spent years, in a fatal attraction kind of way, lusting after Alabama’s Nick Saban. And Texas’s new athletic director Steve Patterson, who came to the school from Arizona State, may have been watching the Holiday Bowl because he has his heart set on his former employee–Arizona State coach Todd Graham.
But as is the case often in life, the best match is not always what the experts say is the case “on paper.”
Mack Brown was the definition of class. He had that innate ability–like Bill Clinton and Sarah Palin–to make every individual feel like they were the most important person in the room. That is why he recruited so well, and got parents to trust him with their five-star recruits. He was a pretty good coach, too. Only nine coaches in the history of college football have won more games than Brown. He won a BCS title in one of the most memorable BCS games at the Rose Bowl in 2005 in which Texas dethroned USC and its attempt at a three-peat. He had ten straight years of ten or more wins. He had a Heisman Trophy winner in Ricky Williams. And he did it the right way by running a clean–and scandal-free–program without cutting corners. His accomplishments on and off the field are too numerous to list–in addition to the stories of how genuinely classy he was.
Life’s not fair, and college football is a “what have ya done for me lately?” type of business, especially in an era when schools seem like they are one quarterback away (see: Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel, et al.) from glory. And that is why Brown’s inability to score or develop a blockbuster quarterback after Colt McCoy drove the Texas faithful nuts.
But because of who Mack Brown is and what he accomplished, Texas cannot botch this hire. They can’t downgrade, and there are few upgrades available on the market. Texas knows it cannot suffer the same fate the original “UT” (Tennessee) did after Tennessee hired Lane Kiffin after shoving Philip Fulmer out the door in a similar manner in which Brown was booted. Tennessee still is reeling and has not recovered from that debacle.
And so big-time names are being thrown around.
Charlie Strong (His heart may be set on Florida). Jim Harbaugh (He may not be the best with Texas boosters). Jimbo Fisher (Can he handle Texas-sized pressure? UPDATE: Fisher reportedly signed a contract extension with Florida State on Tuesday). Brian Kelly (He got shellacked by Texas’s first choice). Chip Kelly (If he didn’t like the dealing with Oregon’s boosters, why would he come to Texas?). David Shaw (He’s staying at the Farm). Nick Saban (He’s just not that into you. Really.). Gus Malzahn (Just re-upped). James Franklin (Will he get Texas’s culture?) Art Briles (Just re-upped). Jon Gruden (He likes people perpetually talking about whether he will get back into coaching). Kevin Sumlin (Just re-upped).
If Texas wants a Jim Harbaugh, though, Kingsbury could be to Texas what Harbaugh was to Stanford when he went to the Farm from San Diego State.
If Texas wants Gus Malzahn, Kingsbury could bring the same fast-paced, energetic offense like Malzahn has to Auburn and achieve instant success.
If Texas wants someone who can relate to players like Sumlin, they can go with Kingsbury, who worked under Sumlin at Houston and Texas A&M and can relate to kids in rural areas and the inner cities.
Most importantly, though, Kingsbury seems like one of the best candidates who will be strong where Brown was weak while retaining some of the qualities and strengths that Brown had that made Brown so successful and endeared him to so many.
Consider what Kingsbury, himself a quarterback who set all kinds of passing records while at Texas Tech and was considered one of the more cerebral quarterbacks, has done with quarterbacks.
Brown’s biggest problem has been his failure to successfully recruit quarterbacks to sustain the offense after Vince Young and Colt McCoy left. The list of quarterbacks that have gotten away from Brown from the state of Texas can literally make up a quarter of the starting quarterbacks in the NFL.
And quarterbacks have been Kingsbury’s biggest strength.
Kingsbury set passing records at Texas Tech while being coached by Mike Leach. In the NFL, he was on teams coached by Bill Belichick and Mike McCarthy. As Sports Illustrated noted, all he has done as an offensive coordinator in college is help Houston quarterback Case Keenum have one of the better college football seasons en route to a 13-1 season in 2011. In 2012, Kingsbury helped Johnny Manziel beat Alabama and win the Heisman Trophy as a freshman. In 2013 at Texas Tech, Kingsbury took Baker Mayfield, a walk-on, Davis Webb, a true freshman who did not even enroll in the spring, and Michael Brewer and made them all successful.
Those three Texas Tech quarterbacks arguably had less “potential” on paper than some of Texas’s quarterbacks under Brown in recent years like David Ash, Garrett Gilbert, Case McCoy. It is not a stretch to think that Kingsbury could have put those Texas quarterbacks in better positions to succeed had he had the reins at Texas.
As unfair as it is, Mack Brown was getting stale in the eyes of the Texas boosters, as even Brown himself seemed to imply.
Brown–and his system–looked like yesterday against Oregon (the Alamo Bowl was played in Kingsbury’s home town of San Antonio). Kingsbury–and his play-calling–looked like the future against Arizona State.
And Texas’s boosters want tomorrow today.
Kingsbury would provide the “freshness” that Brown lacked, especially on offense. But most importantly–and perhaps unlike others who would swagger into Austin with their brand of “cool” and “cutting edge”–Kingsbury would also get and immerse himself in Texas’s culture and tradition, which is something that is often difficult for outsiders to fully grasp, especially upon hitting the ground. He may even be GQ (or “weird”) enough for Austin.
Mack Brown is a legendary recruiter, but a Sports Illustrated story described how and why Kingsbury could be a great one as well at a school like Texas. Kingsbury relates to players in the rural areas and the inner cities and is a people person like Brown. And that is why players want to play for him. He understands Texas’ high schools like Brown as well.
Texas Football Culture
Kingsbury is a son of Texas and will know how to recruit the state. Perhaps most importantly, he will understand the booster culture at Texas and in the state of Texas, which is something a coach like Jim Harbaugh may not be the best at dealing with and is crucial to succeeding in Austin. He’s groomed two quarterbacks in the state of Texas in Case Keenum and Johnny Manziel. And he has maximized the potential of three quarterbacks at Texas Tech this year under his tutelage.
Would Kinsgbury Leave Texas Tech After One Year?
Kingsbury’s Red Raiders started off 7-0 this year and then got crushed when they got into the meat of their schedule, losing their last five regular season games to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Baylor and, yes, Texas, a team that gave the Red Raiders a 41-16 whoopin’ in a late-season clash.
Imagine what Kingsbury could do with the type of recruits he could get at Texas in what is considered one of the five best jobs in college football and the most prestigious in the state?
Texas must conduct this coaching search like they are looking for a Supreme Court Justice. Find someone young and hope they build the the program like Brown did when he came over from North Carolina. And that’s why Kingsbury may be more appealing if he receives strong consideration.
“We went through the banquet and got up the next day and all of us met again and mutually decided that it was best for us to move on,” Brown said when he announced his resignation earlier this month. “There was still a divided fan base and that is not fair for Texas, that is not fair for our players, that is not fair for our coaches because they continue to be under undue pressure. So it was time for me to move on and let someone else come in and restart the program.”
Kingsbury, a man who starred in high school and college in Texas and has also spent his career coaching–and recruiting–in the lone star state, may be the man to restart that program and remain a fixture at the school like Brown and Darrell Royal.
As they say (at least on a fictional television show), Kingsbury could be “Texas Forever.”
Here are the four top quarterbacks (this list does not include others like Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder, Nick Foles, and James Franklin) that Brown missed out on, which ended up costing his program dearly after Colt McCoy graduated. Had Brown landed any one of these quarterbacks, he may still be Texas’s coach.
1. Andrew Luck, Stanford: Brown let Luck, who is considered arguably the best young NFL quarterback along with Seattle’s Russell Wilson, go to Stanford when he did not recruit him strongly while Luck went to high school in Houston.
2. Robert Griffin III, Baylor: Brown wanted Griffin as a defensive back. Griffin went to Baylor and won the Heisman Trophy at quarterback.
3. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: Brown also wanted Manziel as a defensive back. Manziel promptly went to Texas A&M and won the Heisman Trophy as a quarterback, becoming the first freshman to do so. Manziel is one of the most exciting players in college football and brings the type of imagination that Texas has lacked on offense since 2009.
4. Jameis Winston, Florida State: Winston reportedly wanted to go to Texas and would have signed with the school had he gotten an offer, but Brown would not call him back, according to Winston’s high school coach. Winston won the Heisman Trophy this year with Florida State.