Tuberville's Tech hiring provides splash

Tommy Tuberville will be the most highly regarded football coach ever hired by Texas Tech.

It won't make his job any easier. Tuberville still will have to follow the most legendary figure in the history of the school's football program.

But Texas Tech athletic director Gerald Myers and the others who arranged for Tuberville to return with the Red Raiders have made a significant splash as they try to replace Mike Leach.

There is a need to change the culture of the Tech program after Leach's dismissal last week. Tuberville may be the person to do it.

With Tuberville, who cut his teeth as a defensive coordinator, look for the Red Raiders to put more emphasis on the running game and on defense. His hiring will represent a 180-degree shift from the offense-first strategy favored by Leach, who came to the school after serving as an offensive coordinator at Kentucky and Oklahoma.

Tuberville's last stint as a defensive coordinator came at nearby Texas A&M, where he helped call the defenses on an Aggie team that went 10-0-1 in 1994. That gives him at least a cursory knowledge of Tech's recruiting area, along with potentially opening the Red Raiders into the Southeastern Conference area as well.

He's a proven commodity after earning national Coach of the Year honors after leading Auburn to a 13-0 record in 2004. And his media-friendly ways will be a big advantage as he replaces Leach.

James Willis, the associate head coach and outside linebackers coach at Alabama, has been mentioned to be his choice for defensive coordinator.

If Willis is brought on, his first immediate challenge will be to earn the trust of Tech players who were united under defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill, the other finalist for the job. McNeill was the best recruiter on the staff and involved in getting together Tech's current recruiting class that is the best in the school's Big 12 history. It appears that McNeill won't be retained if Willis is coming. That will be a ticklish problem for Tuberville to circumvent with his new team.

But the biggest question with Tuberville will be how he can narrow the traditional gap that has existed between the Red Raiders and the dominant programs in the Big 12 South Division at Texas and Oklahoma.

Leach made the biggest inroads as the Red Raiders have split with the two programs in the last two seasons. Tech employed the victory over the Longhorns in 2008 to earn a three-way tie for the South Division title -- a first in Tech's Big 12 history.

But he never took the Red Raiders any higher than the Cotton Bowl in the Big 12's bowl arrangement. A trip to the Bowl Championship Series clearly is the next step and will be Tuberville's goal.

Tuberville, 55, might be the ideal person to challenge the Longhorns and Sooners, considering his track record at Auburn. While there, he beat Alabama seven of 10 times, including a streak of six straight seasons and has consistent success against the Southeastern Conference's top schools. He claimed nine of 15 games at Auburn against top 10 teams from 2004. He'll consistently face the same challenges against the Big 12's elite schools.

He's been successful before.

But Tech will provide some unique challenges that will make this the toughest job that Tuberville has ever faced.