By Travis Stewart/TexasFootball.com -- Tech's first season under new leadership is almost here.
The question I've gotten the most of since the end of last season that didn't involve a kid named Garrett Gilbert was, "What's Texas Tech going to be like without Mike Leach?"
Pretty understandable inquiry. After all, Leach's reign in Lubbock was marked by curiosity after curiosity, a continuing string of you've-got-to-be-kidding-me events that usually had the coach in the center of the story instead of the player. By nature or design, Leach's personality hung over the entire program like a tent. He encapsulated everything. When people talked about Tech, they talked about him. Every time. I've said before that I'll miss him, and I'll say it again: I'll miss him.
But now he's gone. And things are going to change.
So before we even get to the Xs and Os of it all, it's worth noting that Leach's absence is just as much about persona as it is performance. It's trendy for writers to say that a new coach is a "turning of a new leaf". But in this case, we're installing an entirely different ecosystem. Leach was all about inconsistency — yes, he had certain stable elements, like his fancy for the passing game, powerful defense of his quarterbacks' pro potential and low-tolerance policy for kids that were out of line. But, more or less, every day was an adventure — he always disciplined kids, but usually took a creative (if not NCAA-sanctioned) approach to it. And his grimy, crumpled little slip of paper that he masterminded his offense with from the sideline is a far cry from the massive play books some college coaches lean on. He was just ... wild. He's the kind of guy that would make you say ... "He's just ... man, he's unbelievable sometimes."
Tuberville is the exact opposite. He's incredibly composed. I've heard him called a "politician," which I really can't confirm or deny. Mack Brown would be a phenomenal political, and in some ways, Tuberville is like that. He can talk to anybody. When he enters a room, he's going to smile and shake 1,000 hands. When it comes to coaching, he's not only a professional Xs and Os man ... he's a professional face of the program. Leach, in his own way, was too. But he'd land himself in the fire just as often as he'd safely maintain it. Tuberville, aside from his understandable gaffe a few weeks back on the radio (he has been allowed to do the whole media thing for a year, now) will never have that problem.
This entire program is going to look more professional. More polished. More seasoned. Suits and ties, not polos and shorts. I can't say if it will be more effective, but it's certainly going to look more stable. And in a way, despite their grief over Leach's departure, it may be healthy for Tech fans for a while. To feel a little more controlled. Roller coasters are fun, but I wouldn't want to ride one to work every day.
The on-the-field stuff is far more concrete. Though Leach didn't hate the run game quite as much as he was made out to, he still utilized it about one-tenth of the time he turned to the passing game. Despite all that, he signed one of the best backfields in the Big 12, with Baron Batch, Eric Stephens and Harrison Jeffers all being very capable runners. Well, now Tuberville gets to reap those benefits. Tubs will still use the passing game slightly more than the run — I'd say 60-40 would be a good guess for a split — and simply lining up and hitting an opponent (something we haven't seen with any regularity in close to ten years) will be worked into the offense a bit more. He trimmed down some of the linemen, too. He wants them a little more mobile, a little healthier. Nothing wrong with that.
Last season, Leach continually flip-flopped between original starting QB Taylor Potts and backup-turned-star Steven Sheffield, in search of the guy who could give him the kind of consistency he'd enjoyed for most of the previous nine years. For better or worse, Tubs says he's going to solidify that for good. Whoever opens the season as the starter will stick, says he. Now, if that guy just starts tanking, I'm sure he'll have no choice but to pull him. But it sounds like Potts' or Sheffield's leash will be a long one. Again, stability. Making things consistent.
Everyone assumes that Leach didn't give a whit about defense, which both is and isn't true. Yes, it's true that was never his main focus. But how many coaches really do maintain an even focus on both sides of the ball? If anything, that unit's grand failures are more a symptom of the staff (and coordinator) as a whole then just Leach's. After all, once Ruffin McNeill took over, the improvement was immediate. So the idea that the defense will promptly take a huge step forward just because Leach is gone isn't necessarily accurate. It should get better, as Tuberville has great experience with stout defenses. But it could also struggle, since the spread attacks that the Raiders will see week in and week out are not what Tubs saw in the SEC.
Moving to the 3-4 is no easy, task, either. Fans usually assume a scheme change is a good thing, but there's usually an adjustment period. Sometimes, it doesn't work at all — UTEP's for example, flopped mightily, and now the Miners are back to a more traditional scheme. I doubt the Raiders will suffer the same fate. But fielding less defensive linemen — which has arguably been the unit's best position for two years running — is a risk. It'll make the defense faster, which is good. It will probably pressure the passer more, which is even better. But everything comes at a price. Oklahoma's big, strong offensive line may find it easier to run the ball. We'll just have to see.
But overall, there will be a number of noticeable differences. Look for more program stability, especially in the public eye, and a greater dedication to professionalism. On offense, look for stability under center, a smaller, sleeker offensive line and a greater emphasis on the traditional run game. And on defense, look for more speed out of a 3-4 scheme and some adjustment time as the staff settles into the spread look. There's no way to know if all of these things will make the team better. But we do know it'll make it calmer.
And out on the wild plains of West Texas, I guess you need that sometimes.