It's been one week since the summary dismissal of Mike Leach as Texas Tech's head football coach, and to say the natives are still restless is an understatement. Calls and letters to the Tech Alumni Association and the Red Raider Club number in the thousands with the majority of calls coming from those who wish to terminate their memberships in those organizations. Sales of Texas Tech merchandise are down, while sales of pirate related items are going through the roof. Yes, Lubbock and the Tech alums are taking the firing of Mike Leach hard, and it doesn't look like we're going to get over it anytime soon.
So why all the fuss? To understand that, you have to understand where Texas Tech footballl was prior to Mike Leach, and what Leach has meant to the program.
When I was growing up, Tech football was the doormat of the old Southwest Conference. Try as we might, we could never get past the conference big 3- Texas, Texas A&M, and Arkansas. Coaches came and went, all promising to make Tech football competitive with the Big 3, but they couldn't even convince the best high school players in Lubbock to give Tech a shot. Eventually, Tech pulled itself out of the cellar and became competitive with UT, A&M, and Arkansas, but before the dream of a New Year's Day appearance at the Cotton Bowl as conference champs could be realized, along came the Big 12. Tech went back to being the conference doormat. Sure, we could still hold our own against UT and A&M, but we were no match for the likes of perennial national powerhouses Nebraska and Oklahoma; therefore, when Spike Dykes announced his retirement in 1999, the athletic department once again promised us a coach who would take Tech football to the next level. They gave us Mike Leach.
Leach was unconventional. He did not fit the mold of the "good ol' boy" coaches that Tech had hired in the past. The faithful had their doubts. Leach was coming to Tech with what most people called a "gimmick" offense, and we were certain that it wouldn't be long before the other teams in the conference were able to figure it out. That didn't happen, and Tech football found itself moving up from the conference basement. Texas Tech went to a post season bowl game every year under Leach's leadership, and with the 2008 season, the Red Raiders finally took their place as one of the conference powerhouses. All the promises that had been made to the faithful were now(finally) being fulfilled, and we were certain that before too long, Tech football would be competing for a national championship. So much for that dream now.
And now comes the biggest decision the TTU athletic department and administration will ever have to make- who do we hire to replace the most successful(and most popular) coach in program history and start healing the rift between the university and the fan base. With recruiting fixing to swing into full force, that decision is crucial. Players aren't going to commit to a team if they're unsure about what to expect. The candidates most mentioned are: current TTU interim Coach Ruffin McNeil, former Auburn head coach Tommy Tubserville, and current Baylor head coach Art Briles. Let's look at them in reverse order.
Art Briles- Possibly the only decision WORSE than firing Mike Leach would be to hire Art Briles. Let's not even look at his lack of accomplishment with the Baylor football program. The Tech fan base believes that e-mails sent from a former regent to the university administration show a clear conspiracy to get rid of Leach as soon as possible and hire Briles(for more on the e-mails, click here ). Hiring Briles will do nothing for the football program except confirm the fans' belief that there was a conspiracy to fire Leach and further fracture the fan base.
Tommy Tuberville- I don't know anything about the man except what I've heard on television. He's from Auburn; he had an undefeated season(but no national championship for that season- I know, BCS), and he has roots in West Texas. One analyst in commenting on Tuberville speculated that Tuberville would more than likely scrap the offense that the Tech faithful have come to love. Tuberville tried Leach's offensive program at Auburn and quickly scrapped it for something more conventional. While hiring Tuberville wouldn't further fracture the fan base, it wouldn't go very far to healing the fracture either.
Ruffin McNeil- The players want him. He proved that he is more than capable of taking on the job of head coach. He managed to keep the team focused on the game(at a time when most people expected the team to just give up), and led the Red Raiders to a victory over Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl. Recruits who have made verbal commitments to Texas Tech have stated unequivocally that they will honor that commitment if McNeil is named head coach. McNeil would more than likely keep the current staff. Hiring McNeil would also go a long way in healing the rift between the fans and the university.
The university has said that they hope to have a decision by the end of the week. McNeil interviewed Monday, Tuberville yesterday, and Briles was expected to interview today. Let's just hope that the administration doesn't send Tech football back to the days of being the conference doormat.