Tuberville Makes Tech Debut



by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

Imagine a pirate ship that's been very successful in the oceans as far as pirate ships go. They loot and pillage on the high seas to their heart's content. Nobody thinks of them as the best ship in the sea overall...but...they'd rank #1 in the pirate rankings to be sure.

Then, shockingly, the head pirate has a meltdown that means he has to walk the plank. He went too far. Mutiny was afoot. It was time for a change. And, the person representing that change...the new head man on the basically a no-nonsense John Wayne type dressed as a navy admiral. HOW IS THAT GOING TO WORK?

That's the question facing Texas Tech this year, as pirate-loving Mike Leach was let go in controversial fashion several months ago. Leach was one of the most flamboyant coaches in the game in terms offensive style and interesting interviews. He's been replaced by Mr. Conservative Tommy Tuberville. After a decade at Auburn, Tuberville was out of football last year recharging his batteries.

As you handicap today's Texas Tech game with SMU, to be televised nationally on ESPN, it's important you have a full grasp of the context in Lubbock. Let's start with a quick review of the Tuberville era at Auburn:

*After a 5-6 season in his debut (common for a transition period), Tuberville ran off 8 straight winning seasons for the Tigers. And, this happened in the SEC, which was cleary the power conference of the last decade.

*That included a perfect 13-0 season in 2004, where some pundits consider Auburn the true National Champion. We showed you at the time they really WEREN' they were third best of the three regular season undefeateds in terms of a comprehensive analysis of stats and strength of schedule...then they didn't impress much at all in a 16-13 naibliter win over Virginia Tech. Still, 13-0 is a big time season, and Tuberville deserves all the credit in the world for pulling it off.

*Auburn would reach double digit victories again with 11 in 2006. That included a Cotton Bowl victory over Nebraska. Yes, it was a boring 17-14 affair you'd expect from a Tuberville-led squad. Even when he won, he didn't win pretty enough for many.

*Tuberville's 10-year record at Auburn finished at 85-40 overall, 52-30 in conference play. Talk about getting the job done!

*There was sentiment at the end of his tenure that the game had passed him by. Tuberville is a very conservative coach...and spread offenses were taking the sport by storm. It's tough to sell tickets to boring football when exciting football is being played everywhere else. It's tough to convince you're alumni you're building a champion when the actual champions are doing more offensively than you are. Tuberville tried to liven things up with an experiment with the spread offense. That lead to 5-7 losing season in 2008, with a woeful 2-6 record in the SEC. That proved to be a bookend season...with a bad first year, and a bad last year over the 10-season journey.

*It has to also be mentioned that the hiring of Nick Saban at Alabama in 2007 loomed over the Tuberville situation too. Saban is considered a great recruiter, and there was a sense the balance of power was about to turn solid red in the storied Auburn-Alabama rivalry. That sense proved extremely Alabama has already surged to a National Championship.

Why would Texas Tech hire a coach who watched the game pass him by...and a coach who wasn't even seen as best in his prior state?

Well, it's tricky.

*First of all, Mike Leach's swashbuckling got way out of hand, and Tech wanted somebody who ran a tight ship. Tuberville is clearly an antidote in that regard.

*Secondly, the game is trending back toward defenses now. That plays into Tuberville's strengths. Tech wants a more balanced approach, and a chance to be competitive with the big boys in cities besides Lubbock. Even the Texas Longhorns are emphasizing defense and rushing this year because of the game-wide trend. Maybe the game didn't pass Tuberville by. It just temporarily surged past him before running off the road. He's a safe driver who you can trust with your program.

*Thirdly, let's be was a factor here. Leach was about to get a huge payday. Tech was able to dodge that and turn to a more affordable coach who's hoping to rebuild his reputation. The money they saved there can be re-invested in the program in a way that helps push things forward in the long run.

That leaves us with extreme possibilities.

If the game really has passed Tuberville by, then Tech may be looking at a disaster. They 'fixed' what wasn't really 'broke.' The fans and players will turn on Tuberville and the administration very quickly. Leach was popular. Leach was winning. And, that James kid was an arrogant jerk anyway who probably deserved what was coming to him. That will be the mentality...and things could get very ugly.

If the game has trended back toward Tuberville, then this was one of the most brilliant decisions in recent college history. Notre Dame didn't see the Charlie Weis implosion coming. Tennessee didn't realize Lane Kiffin would just be making a cameo. So, the Irish suffered through the Weis demise, and Tennessee is now dealing with a tremendous challenge of their own. Texas Tech may have dodged several bullets in a tumultuous era in the sport by making this move when they did. They hired a man of character right when his strengths were becoming important again.

Did THAT give you something to think about?!

We'll learn more about the Texas Tech outlook this afternoon when they play SMU. The Mustangs are undersized, but they'll make the most out of what they've got. Tech can't take them lightly, that's for sure. Some other interesting challenges await the Red Raiders in the first half of the season.

Today: vs. SMU
September 11th: at New Mexico
September 18th: vs. Texas Tech on prime time TV
October 2nd at Iowa State (road game in a hangover spot)
October 9th: vs. Baylor (dangerous when healthy)
October 16th: vs. Oklahoma State (a mystery team right now)

That's the first six games. Tech will likely be favored to go 5-1 straight up depending on how the season develops for both they and Oklahoma State. An upset of Texas would be HUGE...and could launch a 6-0 start. Struggles today, at Iowa State, or vs. improving Baylor...and Tuberville had better be looking for a life raft.

Here at JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK, we've looked very closely at this game, plus the Tulsa/East Carolina matchup set for an early afternoon telecast on ESPN2. You'll get the best plays on the board based on analysis from our SCOUTS, our SOURCES, our STATHEADS, our COMPUTER PROGRAMMERS, and our WISE GUY CONNECTIONS. The same will be true Labor Day with Maryland/Navy and Boise State/Virginia Tech in a big ESPN doubleheader.

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