IRVING, Texas — Tommy Tuberville showed up to Big 12 media day wearing a suit with a red and black striped tie and a Texas Tech lapel pin. His players were equally well groomed.
That alone shows how much things have changed at Texas Tech.
Mike Leach is gone and so are his casual, wacky ways — on and off the field.
Leach ran the Red Raiders for 10 seasons marked by record passing totals but no championships. His disdain for defense and special teams, and his fascination with pirates, brought him a lot of attention because of how unique those things are for a college football coach. But when an accusation of player harassment was piled atop other difficulties with his bosses, it cost him his job and prompted a messy fight that’s still not resolved.
Tuberville, a former coach at Ole Miss, was hired to clean things up and to finally win a title. He’s spent the last six months getting players and boosters to buy into his new way of doing things.
His teams will pass less and run more, perhaps down to a 60-40 split. (Yes, passing will still be the bigger number.)
Quarterbacks occasionally will take snaps directly from the center instead of lining up in a shotgun formation.
They’ll punt on most fourth downs.
Defense will be emphasized.
Players are being encouraged to discuss things like winning championships and making it to the NFL.
Seriously, those are all things that weren’t happening under Leach.
So it could’ve been jarring when Tuberville came in demanding things like being on time and not wearing earrings to practices or games. Instead, he’s “made it as tough as possible, physically and mentally,” and found players ready to be challenged.
“I’ve had not one complaint nor one player quit the team,” said Tuberville, who also walked into turmoil at his two previous head coaching jobs, Mississippi and Auburn. “(Tech) is the only team out of the three that nobody quit.”
At his first meeting with the team, Tuberville apologized — on behalf of his profession — for what the players endured during their bowl week. That was when Leach went from being suspended to being fired just before a hearing to see whether he could get an injunction forcing the school to let him coach in the Alamo Bowl.
“I think he wanted to reassure us that it wasn’t going to end up like that for him,” quarterback Taylor Potts said. “He wanted us to realize he’s not in it for selfish reasons at all. He’s here to win ballgames, and he wants us to win. … He respected all of us. It was nice to hear him care about us.”
Tuberville also met one-on-one with players.
“I don’t know if you want to say star-struck, but it was kind of like, ‘This guy was an established coach; he went undefeated (at Auburn in 2004),’” said Steven Sheffield, who is battling Potts for the starting job. “The way he conducted himself, everything was just totally different: ‘I’ve been there, done this before and we want to do it again.’”
Leach raised the school’s profile along with his own, always doing things his way.
He was often an hour late for media day. Tuberville made sure they arrived an hour early.
Leach also usually wore the same navy sports coat that school officials bought for him the day he was hired, over a T-shirt and khaki pants.
Such an ensemble fits just fine in rooms full of sports writers, but Tuberville sees it differently. As he told the players he brought along: “You’re representing not just you, but all your teammates and all the people that love Texas Tech that have either given money or spent a lot of time. We’re not trying to impress anybody. It’s just, hey, this is what’s expected of us. The more that you expect, the more you usually get out of it.”
Even the fact Tuberville brought both Potts and Sheffield is noteworthy. Leach often restricted access to his headliners, instead pushing a lesser player he claimed deserved more attention.
Tuberville wanted to see how they’ll handle the spotlight.
“Your quarterback is your team leader, not your head coach,” Tuberville said. “Your quarterback has to have the respect of every player on the team from the kickers (to the) defensive linemen. Everybody has to have confidence that the quarterbacks are going to get the job done. So this is just part of their growing process, coming here today.”
Tuberville seemingly stole a page from Leach’s playbook by questioning the viability of the conference and the way dollars are divvied up. It was a bold move considering the league nearly went out of business early last month, with Nebraska going to the Big Ten and the Pac-10 taking Colorado and trying to poach five other schools.
Commissioner Dan Beebe slapped Tuberville back into line with a public reprimand. They greeted each other cordially Tuesday, and Tuberville later joked that his statement was a remnant from spending the last few years as a TV analyst.
“In television, they taught us to speak our mind,” he said in his opening statement. “I forgot to get that out of my mind a few weeks ago, so I got to get back on the coaching side.”
Jaime Aron/The Associated Press