Texas Tech ushers in a new era with coach Tommy Tuberville

Publish date:

The walls of Tommy Tuberville's new office in the Texas Tech football complex have only a few links to the coach's past. There are pictures of former players: Ray Lewis, from Tuberville's days as Miami's defensive coordinator, and ex-Auburn players Ronnie Brown, Jason Campbell and Carnell "Cadillac" Williams; the two coach of the year awards he won after the Tigers' undefeated season in 2004; and the faux Golf Digest cover he received after lobbying for someone to crown his 13-0 team national champions.

Those scant photos and awards are the only reminders of what happened before Tuberville arrived in Lubbock last month. The slate is clean; past successes and failures have been wiped away.

"We don't have any preconceived notions about anybody," Tuberville said.

That goes for quarterbacks, where Taylor Potts, who was the nation's leading passer last season before suffering a concussion, and last season's backup, Steven Sheffield, are battling for the job this spring. And it even goes for the third-string wide receiver who was at the center of Mike Leach's firing.

"I haven't treated Adam [James] any different than the others," Tuberville said of the player whose alleged mistreatment led to the end of Leach's 10-year run. "I'm not here to judge him. I'm here to judge him as an overall person, how he's going to act after this."

It's a new day for Texas Tech football. Gone is the wildly popular pirate, who installed a record-breaking, scoreboard-abusing offense and led the Red Raiders to 84 wins and 10 straight bowl games. Gone is the coach who went on a Lubbock TV station to do the weather and gave a freshman dating advice. Gone is the loose cannon whose mouth was so often a liability ("fat little girlfriends," anyone?) and who was fired Dec. 30 following an indefinite suspension while the university investigated his isolating James in an electrical closet after the player suffered a concussion.

In stepped Tuberville, southern to the core with his drawn-out twang and down-home charm. He comes off more politician than football coach, and after their ugly divorce from Leach, he is the perfect remedy for the Red Raiders, able to win over the press, boosters and alumni. As Potts said: "I think it's a general consensus on everybody's part that they're complete opposites."

Tuberville is also no stranger to messes. When he was hired at Ole Miss in 1995, the school was under NCAA sanctions and had only 55 scholarship players. Two years later he led the Rebels to their first bowl game in five seasons and was named SEC Coach of the Year.

Of course, Texas Tech is a different kind of monster. This is not a program in need of rebuilding, coming off its eighth straight season with at least eight wins, which is why Tuberville doesn't intend on reinventing the wheel; he simply wants to add bite where the Red Raiders have been lacking it.

The running game and defense had been almost afterthoughts with Leach's teams. In each of the last nine seasons, the Red Raiders finished in the top five nationally in passing offense, ranking first six times. But in the last 10 years Tech was better than 104th in rushing only once (94th in '08) and ranked in the lower half of the FBS in total defense five times.

Charged with adding more balance to the offense is new coordinator Neal Brown, who engineered a Troy attack that was fourth in passing in '09 and 60th in rushing. He'll be maintaining the core of the Air Raid offense that made the Red Raiders into a slick, fan-friendly show and use it as a way to make further use of the running game, which includes a back with 1,000-yard potential in Baron Batch.

The irony of hiring another offensive coordinator from Troy isn't lost on Tuberville. His last season at Auburn, he brought in spread guru Tony Franklin to take the Tigers into the new millennia, but like a longtime vegetarian eating a porterhouse steak, the system rejected it. But at Auburn, Franklin made wholesale changes without the personnel to do so. Tuberville has learned from his mistakes, even if his going back to the well that ultimately paved his way out of Auburn makes it seem otherwise.

"I'm not here to make drastic changes, but we're going to make subtle changes on what we do and how we do it on offense," Tuberville said. "I think we can be just as explosive; not that what they've done here in the past isn't good, but I think we can make it better."

Adding a new dimension to an already potent offense is one thing; giving teeth to a defense that was sixth-best in the Big 12 and must replace three starters on the front line is another.

"I'm going to have to spend more time on the offensive side of the ball, giving my input and I needed somebody to come in, who knew my mentality that had worked for me and really understood what I think can work for us on defense," Tuberville said.

Defensive coordinator James Willis is well-versed in the SEC attitude Tuberville is looking to bring to the Big 12 South, having served as an assistant under both Will Muschamp and Gene Chizik at Auburn before spending last season as linebackers coach for Nick Saban at Alabama. He's installed a three-man front at Texas Tech to combat the spread offenses that are so prevalent on the Red Raiders' schedule. Defense was also Tuberville's priority in recruiting, as he signed eight linemen and six defensive backs, making up more than half of the class.

"Most teams run the spread in this league, they're going to throw it and we have to make that adjustment here," Tuberville said.

When the coach took to the practice field in Lubbock last week, he did so as a man reenergized. The year away from the sidelines wasn't spent away from the game; he worked as a studio analyst for ESPN, evaluated recruits and traveled across the country to the likes of Air Force, Georgia, Notre Dame and South Florida to observe other coaches' philosophies and reevaluate his own tendencies.

"There's a lot of ways to do things, there's not just one or two," Tuberville said. "When you're coaching sometimes you get ingrained in 'It's gotta be this way; I believe in this.'"

The lure of the Big 12 and Texas Tech was about more than a fresh start or a new approach -- it was about a particular opportunity. While Leach laid the groundwork and built the program up to national prominence, he may have only been able to take it so far. Tuberville saw an opportunity to move the program forward, and when he first met with his new team, he looked across the room at the players and preached a simple message.

"Mike did a good job here, he won games," Tuberville said. "But the thing here is that we don't want to try and just win games, we want to try and win championships."