When Tommy Tuberville took the head coaching job at Texas Tech, he knew this was not a construction project. Texas Tech found success under former coach Mike Leach and was beginning to make a legitimate name for itself.
Red Raiders fans were satisfied with where they were at and enjoyed watching "Air Leach" under their unconventional, somewhat controversial and soon-to-be former head coach, who was one game away from playing for a Big 12 title and a possible shot at the National Championship game in 2008.
After Leach was terminated from Texas Tech, the university moved swiftly in its coaching search, finally finding a proven winner in Tommy Tuberville. During his time at Auburn, Tuberville proved he was more than capable of winning, compiling an 85-40 record and eight straight bowl appearances until a 5-7 season led to him "stepping down" in 2008.
This decision gave him a year of unemployment and time to reflect on what positive changes he could make with his coaching style landed him in Lubbock, Texas. During Tuberville’s year long sabbatical, many fans had begun to question whether or not he had lost his edge.
The numbers weren’t pretty in his last few years at Auburn in terms of retaining players he recruited, nor was his track record on the offensive side of the ball. From 2006 to 2008, only forty-two of the eighty-eight players Tuberville received letters of intent from on signing day were still on Auburn’s roster in 2009.
Speculation pointed to many things— misevaluating talent, bringing in players that didn’t fit in with the team's schemes, or signing players who couldn’t qualify academically. All of these criticisms seemed somewhat legit and in 2008, they finally started to come to fruition. However, this shouldn’t be held entirely against Tuberville—he did give Auburn their best season in school history.
Tuberville was hired by Texas Tech in 2010 and even though he failed with an experiment with former Troy offensive coordinator Tony Franklin in 2008 at Auburn, he went out and hired another Troy coordinator in Levi Brown for Texas Tech.
While the offensive scheme failed at Auburn under Franklin, this time should be different at Tech, as long as Tuberville does one thing: leave the offense alone.
If there’s one glaring signature footprint that Texas Tech is known for, it’s putting points on the board through the air. The current roster reflects that philosophy. So naturally, the fan base expects offensive fireworks and Levi Brown should deliver.
In 2009, Brown’s Troy unit was third in the nation in total offense. If Brown was able to produce nearly 4500 yards through the air at Troy, it should be fun to watch what he can do with a team known for letting it rain footballs in the Big 12.
On defense, Tuberville went out and brought in a familiar face in James Willis— his former linebackers coach at Auburn— who spent the 2009 season winning a national championship at Alabama in the same role.
Willis has a great defensive mind, but has no experience as a defensive coordinator. This side of the ball won’t come as easy for him at Tech—Willis inherits a unit that barely finished in the NCAA's top fifty in total defense and only returns six starters on defense.
Obviously, Tech fans should expect and demand a few changes on defense. Tuberville has a great defensive mind, but Willis— who worked with Nick Saban—learned from one of the best.
The good news is three of Tech’s top recruits for 2010 were defensive players and very good ones at that. Top rated JUCO defensive end, Scott Smith, should be ready to provide a threat off the outside for the Red Raiders immediately, along with incoming freshman defensive end, Jackson Richards, out of Southlake Carroll High in Texas.
Tuberville had little time to build his first recruiting class, but did a commendable job, finishing with the forty-first best class per Rivals.com. Fourteen of his twenty-five signees were defensive players, including a plethora of defensive backs.
One thing should be clear—though it may not be in 2010, down the road, Texas Tech’s defense will drastically improve. Tuberville's expertise in this area should crossover to the Red Raiders' defense and with immediate impact.
As far as Tuberville's assistant coaches’ search, it appears he has assembled a great staff. After he completed the coordinator hires, Tuberville reflected over his priorities on the other coaches' hiring’s by saying, “I looked at recruiting first.''
"We're going to have recruiters here", Tuberville told LubbockOnline.com. "Guys that enjoy recruiting, that No. 1 can evaluate and that No. 2, can do a great job of representing Texas Tech and selling what we have here. There's not one guy that I can say, 'He's a little bit weak in recruiting.' That's not going to happen with us. You have to have nine very good ones.''
Tuberville, it appears, has addressed the questions many had regarding his last few classes at Auburn.
To compete in the Big 12, which is similar to the SEC in terms of top-to-bottom talent, he’ll need all the help he can get. In a state driven by college football, Texas Tech will look to compete with the in-state Texas Longhorns in recruiting and with Tuberville and his fresh staff, they may employ new methods to get to that level.
If he can keep his staff intact and develop his defensive recruits quickly, Texas Tech football could find a way to take the next step into the upper echelon of the Big 12.
However, it won’t be easy and it probably won’t be in 2010, but with an improved defense coupled with Tech's prolific offense, Tech's balance will definitely put more pressure on the Big 12 South.
With the controversial cloud of Mike Leach's termination still looming over the school's administration, expectations are sky-high and with Tuberville in Lubbock, finishing second or third will no longer be satisfactory.