Red Raiders Enjoy Healthy Helping Of 'Normal'
IRVING, Texas -- Weird is OK in moderation. But weird can get old after a while. That's true in every walk of life, college football included.
Just ask the folks at Texas Tech, who have replaced the excessive eccentricity of Mike Leach with a return to normalcy under Tommy Tuberville.
Leach was successfully unconventional, going 84-43 as coach at Tech.
Tuberville is even more successfully conventional, going 85-40 at Auburn, including an undefeated season in 2004.
Leach had the pirate thing.
Tuberville does not.
Leach will send a concussed player to a shed.
Tuberville will say, "I'm not into harassment. There's a difference between discipline and harassment."
Leach had no interest in drawing up a safety blitz, and sometimes you wondered whether he even knew his safeties' names.
Tuberville has a defense-first pedigree and an interest in developing units on both side of the ball.
"We want our defense to take a step up," he said. "We want to let them know that they're part of the team. For us to win a championship, they have to be accountable. The one thing I noticed about our defense is they didn't have a lot of confidence. You know, wasn't a lot of talk about them. For some reason, everything was focused on offense. I'm a team player. We're going to have a team. We're not going to worry about throwing for 500 yards."
Leach would rather French-kiss Bevo than run the ball. His last seven seasons at Tech, the Red Raiders' running game accounted for anywhere from 11 to 22 percent of their total offense.
On Tuesday, Tuberville announced a desire to run the ball 40 percent of the time, maybe 35. But, he added, "If we get into a game and find a team that can't cover anybody, we're going to throw it 100."
Leach schlepped around Big 12 media days in a rumpled golf shirt, gripping a Starbucks cup.
Tuberville smoothly sauntered around this event in a dark suit and red-and-black tie. (He's certainly the first Texas Tech coach in men's basketball or football in many years who knows how to tie a Windsor knot.) He said he informed the Red Raiders players he was bringing to media days weeks ago that if they didn't have a suit and tie, they needed to get one.
"You're representing Texas Tech," he told them.
Leach never felt the need to apologize for anything.
Tuberville came in and apologized to the Tech players for the fiasco that immersed their Alamo Bowl appearance in turmoil last season -- a fiasco that cost Leach his job. Tuberville had nothing to do with that, but felt the need to apologize anyway.
"This is my profession," he said. "I'm part of it. Somebody needed to tell 'em that."
Nobody needs to tell the current Red Raiders that the Texas Tech football culture has undergone dramatic change. And in many ways, you suspect this return to normalcy will be a change for the better.
QB Decisions Looms Large For Texas Tech
IRVING, Texas -- Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville had a plan for the spring. An injured finger and a broken foot scrapped it. Now, entering fall practice, he's got another plan to decide his starting quarterback, and part of it took place on Tuesday at Big 12 media days. Tuberville brought both seniors, Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield, to face the media as part of the competition that will climax -- he hopes -- by the second scrimmage of the fall.
"I wanted to see how they handled themselves in front of you and the TV cameras," Tuberville told a room of reporters. "Your quarterback is your team leader, not your head coach. Your quarterback has to have the respect of every player on the team."
The two split time a season ago under former coach Mike Leach, but Sheffield rebroke his foot early on in spring practice. Potts followed suit a day later with a broken and lacerated finger on his throwing hand. Tuberville spent most of his time addressing the two's similarities rather than their differences when discussing his evaluation of the pair.
"They've both been starters in the Big 12. They've both been backups in the Big 12. They've both been injured. They've won games," he said. "They've gone through some tough situations, and both can play."
But only one can play when the season opener against SMU kicks off on Sept. 5 in a nationally televised Sunday game. And he's remained consistent on his stance this spring: His starter won't be temporary.
"We look at everything from how they handle the pregame all the way to how they handle the meeting at the end of the scrimmage," he said. "You can look at a guy and you can think that they might be the guy to get the job done and throw them the football -- 40-yard out route or 60-yard deep pass -- but there's a lot more to a quarterback. They've got to make decisions. And decisions of winning games. If I'm at the end of a game and we're trying to drive the ball down, and I can run it, but I can also think I can throw a pass in there 30 yards to get the first down will they make the right decision to do that?"
No Doubting Kansas State's Thomas
IRVING, Texas -- There probably are more unlikely stars in college football than Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas, but he's definitely on the short list.
Thomas hails from Hilliard, Fla. With a population of about 3,000, it does the impossible: It makes Manhattan, Kan., look big. Thomas said the biggest building in town is a Winn-Dixie, and the only restaurant of note is owned by his aunt.
Like many K-State players over the years, Thomas is a junior college product. But not a Kansas juco, a Mississippi juco. Not exactly in the Wildcats' recruiting wheelhouse.
Thomas was a quarterback in high school. He figured he'd transition to safety in junior college, but stayed at quarterback. Then he got to K-State and became a running back for the first time in his life.
The result was instant success. Thomas finished the regular season as the Big 12's leader in rushing yards, attempts and yards per game. At 6-foot-2 and 228 pounds, he has NFL size -- and NFL moves.
K-State safety Tysyn Hartman said Thomas' speed and power are not as impressive as his elusiveness.
"His change of direction is the most impressive thing," Hartman said. "Most people see a bigger guy coming at them and want to hunker down to tackle him. If you hunker down, he's going to go around you."
Given the unsettled nature of the rest of the Kansas State offense -- three players vying to start at quarterback, nearly complete turnover at wide receiver -- Thomas will be the centerpiece of every opposing game plan. But even that might not be enough to slow him down, his teammates say.
"He's crazy to watch," lineman Zach Kendall said. "Not just on Saturdays; he does it every day in practice. I'm blessed to block for him."
Cowboys Iron Out Wrinkles In New Scheme
IRVING, Texas -- Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy was prepared to hand over play-calling duties to Dana Holgorsen, his new offensive coordinator. He was prepared to hand over his offense's identity, too, in favor of the Air Raid system Texas Tech ran while Holgorsen served as offensive coordinator, the same system that produced the nation's best offense at Houston in 2009. But he was also prepared for the transition to take time, and for it to be "a little chaotic."
By the third or fourth practice of the spring, by Gundy's estimation, the offense's organization was intact. Now it's nearly fall and he's looking for more progression.
"It's gone much smoother than what I would have thought it would have gone," Gundy said. "Obviously, they prepared well throughout the summer, from what I've been told. So, I'm looking forward to starting practice and seeing how it goes in the first week."
Tasked with running the offense on the field is 26-year-old junior Brandon Weeden, who'll have a healthy running back in Kendall Hunter alongside him, in front of four new starters on the offensive line. Despite the new terminology and schemes in the offense, none of them had the most difficult time making the transition.
"Part of the reason that we changed systems at this time was because we lost a number of offensive linemen, and we're changing the quarterback," Gundy said. "I would say the returning receivers, Justin Blackmon, Hubert Anyiam, those guys went through an adjustment. But for your quarterback and your offensive linemen, they didn't play last year, so they didn't have to make as much of an adjustment. They just had to learn the scheme."
Tigers Believe In Gift Of Gabbert
IRVING, Texas -- Missouri further solidified its programa non grata status in the Big 12 by arriving 20 minutes late for its stint at Big 12 media days.
But don't hold that against quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who didn't pilot the plane. If Gabbert takes a step forward from last year, he'll challenge Texas A&M's Jerrod Johnson for first-team all-conference honors.
Gabbert said he's in better shape for his junior season than he was as a first-year starter last year, when he threw for 3,593 yards, 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He still weighs 240 pounds but has dropped his body fat from about 16 percent to 12 with an improved diet.
More importantly, his bazooka of a right arm is as strong as ever. Which means he's ready to take on an even bigger role in the Mizzou offense.
"I'm not here to hand the ball off 40 times and play not to lose," he said. "I'm here to throw it around and try to win games."
He's also here to provide greater direction in the locker room. After two years of watching guys such as Chase Daniel, Sean Weatherspoon and William Moore provide leadership, Gabbert wants a shot at that role.
"It's our turn to lead," he said.
Missouri: Blaine Gabbert
One Good Thing
Kansas State: North Carolina, Florida and Alabama are only a few of the schools who have recently come under investigation for illegal contact with agents. Nearly every coach in attendance has been asked about his approach to dealing with pushy pushers, but Wildcats coach Bill Snyder had the simplest, most direct and likely most effective approach.
"What we ask of our players and families is that when contacted by outside sources that they share with them that at the end of the season, they would certainly be willing to visit with them," he said. "If they persist in the calls that they make that they would exclude them from the possibility of serving in a representative fashion that individual."
Missouri: The Tigers ranked 11th in the Big 12 in pass defense in 2009, and was one of just four schools in the conference to give up at least 20 passing touchdowns. But the unit brings back all four starters, including cornerback Kevin Rutland, who made big strides during the spring and was one of three players who accompanied Tigers coach Gary Pinkel to media days on Tuesday.
"We obviously have to play a little better than we did a year ago, but I think we have a lot of good athletes and we have more experience than we've had," Pinkel said. "I think a combination of both of those things will give us a chance to play well."
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lost their second-leading tackler, linebacker Orie Lemon, to a knee injury just before the 2009 season began. He's back on the field and should provide a solid center of a defense that returns just four starters from last season.
"They were supposed to limit him somewhat [this spring] but he kept putting himself out there, so he had a good spring," Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said. "It was kind of a blessing in disguise, that we have him coming back. It gives us a little maturity on that side of the ball, and toughness."
Lemon made 90 stops as a junior in 2008, and will be hunting for more through fall preseason camp and the season.
"As difficult as it was to take last summer when we lost him right before the first game, I'm glad we have him back," he said.
Texas Tech: Red Raiders coach Tommy Tuberville has consistently said that the team's talent at running back would add to his desire to run the ball more, but he detailed his vision for the offense further on Tuesday.
"I'd probably say 60/40 [percent] pass to runs, maybe 65/35, depending on how defenses play," he said.
But that doesn't mean Tuberville won't be flexible, and that ratio could change.
"If we get into a game and find a team that can't cover anybody, we're going to throw it 100 [times]. We're going to throw it as many [times] as we can."
Missouri: Derrick Washington
Best Of Day 2
Best tie: Tie, Bill Snyder, Kansas State and Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State Snyder wins in school spirit with a gray tie that featured a tiled watermark of the K-State Wildcat logo, but Gundy's bright orange was complemented by an orange handkerchief with white polka dots. Hard not to notice both.
Best proponent of democracy: Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech, regarding his quarterback situation. "At the end of the day we'll have a vote," Tuberville said to the media days attendants on Tuesday morning. "and we'll let you pick out the starter. That will make it a little easier on me."
Best thinly veiled Big 12 criticism: Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech "Great to be back at a media day, out for a year working on you guys' side of the ball a little bit," he said, beginning to crack a smile. "In television, they taught us to speak our mind. I forgot to get that out of my mind a few weeks ago, so got to get back on the coaching side."
Best target for easy jokes: Missouri, who had air travel troubles and arrived for their turn at the podium 20 minutes late on Tuesday morning. ESPN's Pat Forde investigated the situation and debunked the rumor that the team had originally landed in Chicago for Big Ten media days: 100 percent false.
Most convincing player/conference shill: Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe, on the future of his conference "I can say this over and over again, and I still see many of you writing statements about not believing that this isn't really going to hold together. Other than just sitting here telling you that and you observing others in our league saying that, you're going to have to see it happen over time. I don't think, in the course of human affairs, that you go through this type of very careful exploration of your future and perhaps consider going to other places and then conclude you're going to be together and turn around and do it again in 24 months. There's just so much time, energy, effort and even some difficulty, that that doesn't lend itself to just quickly doing it again. Those decisions were made for the long term."
Least likely suggestion to occur: "I'm not sure what else we need to do. I guess we could get all the athletic directors and board members up here and sing Kumbaya, and maybe that would help some of you." -- Dan Beebe, Big 12 commissioner
Texas Tech: Steven Sheffield
Tracking Big 12 Media Days