Tommy Tuberville was the best choice for Texas Tech to fill the vacancy created when Mike Leach was fired.
But I’m still a little surprised Tuberville took the job.
Tuberville’s introductory press conference in Lubbock Sunday found him about 180 degrees opposite from Leach -– both in appearance and in candor. He will be the anti-Leach in a lot of what he will do and represent.
It surprised me, however, when Tuberville expressed his continued commitment to a wide-open passing attack.
When Tuberville has been most successful, his teams had a defense-first, offense-second mentality. It’s not surprising considering his own background as a defensive coach when he was coming up the circuit.
Tech’s current roster is heavily stacked to playing a wide-open passing offense. But it's surprising Tuberville so quickly and easily endorsed it.
Naysayers will remember that Tuberville tried to embrace some of the new offensive philosophies in his final season at Auburn. The results were disastrous, mainly because of philosophical differences among his coaching staff.
That should change after his arrival at Tech as he appears ready to keep many of Leach’s assistants on board. Tuberville hopes, in his own words, to keep Tech’s offense “exciting” and “versatile.”
“We’re going to air out. We’re going to keep the air raid,” Tuberville said. “I think it’s something that Tech has hit upon that gives them that identity to recruit and we all want to have.”
That idea was what Gerald Myers had in mind when he hired Leach after the 1999 season. Leach built his reputation as an offensive coordinator before getting his break at Tech.
Myers and the school’s other power brokers thought they needed a flashy offense when Leach replaced the venerable Spike Dykes after 14 years as coach.
As such, they scoured the nation for the nation’s top offensive minds. The other finalist when they settled on Leach was Rich Rodriguez, then the offensive coordinator at Clemson.
It’s hard to argue with their choice today. Leach has brought the school unexpected national attention -– from stories on "60 Minutes" and a cameo appearance on “Friday Night Lights” to a fawning cover story in the New York Times Sunday Magazine about his quirky personality and offensive wizardry.
And his teams have played a little football too, considering they made bowl trips in each of his 10 seasons coaching the Red Raiders.
Tuberville is more of a traditionalist, although he said he likely will lean heavily on a defense with a three-man front and four linebackers.
“I believe in consistency,” Tuberville said. “If you look at the top teams in the country, they are all based on consistency. Not changing one week or one year. You change subtly.
“We’ll have a base offense. We’ll have a base defense, and we'll build from that each week. When we play on Saturday, we won't be complicated. We'll be simple in the fact in terms of what our players think. It will look a little bit more complicated in the naked eye.”
Tuberville represents the biggest football coaching fish attracted to Tech. He’s only four seasons removed from a 13-0 record and national coach of the year honors at Auburn.
But he’ll be facing challenges in the Big 12 South, which is universally considered one of the toughest divisions in college football. He’ll be tested to keep pace with big dogs Texas and Oklahoma, both at the apex of team strength since Mack Brown and Bob Stoops took over.
Oklahoma State has pumped millions into facilities and appears to be ready to become a serious challenger in the south. Baylor is still looking for its first bowl trip in 15 seasons, but has better facilities and the right coach to lead them into Big 12 South relevancy. Tuberville’s old school, Texas A&M, has the tradition and facilities and appears to need only the right coach to bring them back into contention.
It won’t be easy for Tuberville, but he appears to be uniquely qualified for the challenge of maintaining Tech’s recent success and maybe even building on it.