Generation Y’s X’s and O’s

The meteoric rise of Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury, the second-youngest head coach in the country and probably the most dashing.
Photograph by Artie Limmer

JASON COHEN: At the University of Houston, you went from being an underpaid “quality control” assistant to being offensive coordinator in two seasons. Now, after just a few years as a coordinator at U of H and Texas A&M, you’ve got the top job at Texas Tech, making you, at 33, the second-youngest head coach in the country. Were you sure you were ready?

KLIFF KINGSBURY: I didn’t really think about it too much. It was such a great opportunity. The years of playing and learning different offenses and being around great coaches and then being fortunate enough to work under Coach [Kevin] Sumlin [at U of H and A&M] really prepared me for pretty much any situation in this profession.

JC: On the same day that Johnny Manziel was in New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation, former Texas Tech head coach Tommy Tuberville resigned. You’d played quarterback at Tech under his predecessor, Mike Leach, so immediately, people on Twitter started nominating you for the job. What do you remember about that day?

KK: We were all up there for Johnny’s Heisman, and I had a nice New York weekend planned. As soon as [Tuberville’s resignation] happened, the phone started ringing, and it just escalated from there. I knew that if that job ever came open I’d be very interested. I had a pretty good gig going there in College Station with that quarterback coming back and that team coming back, so I wouldn’t have left for just any job. This was the one.

JC: You were recruited by Spike Dykes, but your Tech roots literally go back to infancy. Chancellor Kent Hance employed your uncle when he was in the Texas Senate. Is there a picture of you as a baby with a Tech rattle?

KK: No, no, none of that. But the one football camp I always went to was Texas Tech growing up, and it’s just funny how it all worked out.

JC: Your first game as a starter way back when was Texas Tech’s win over Oklahoma, which was also Dykes’s final game. You’ve said that it remains your favorite game. Did it not get any better, or was it just that special of a memory?

KK: It was just how much Coach Dykes meant to me—he was the one college coach in America who believed in me and gave me a scholarship. To send him out with a winning record in his last game, and a great win over a great opponent—that is just the best win I’ve ever been a part of. If we can have half the run he had, we’ll be really successful.

JC: What was it like to play for Leach?

KK: It was like nothing I’d ever been around—his style, his philosophy. It took all of us a little time to get used to, but once you see his passion for the game and how brilliant he is with X’s and O’s, it was easy to follow him.

JC: In high school, your father, Tim Kingsbury, was your coach. Does having been a coach’s kid affect the way you coach now?

KK: I’m not sure. The things I learned from him were work ethic and discipline to the extreme, and that’s something I try to instill in our players. I’ve always felt he was one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever played for.

JC: Your father put in place the Hal Mumme Air Raid offense at New Braunfels High in 1997, and next thing you know you’re at Tech, playing for Mumme’s most famous protégé, Leach. How much has that offense loomed over Texas football?

KK: It’s been incredible to see it expand over the years. So many high schools now are running it and so many colleges are running some version of it. So to be a part of the beginning stage of the Air Raid in Texas is something I’ve always taken a lot of pride in. What Coach Leach got going out here is something that had never been done before on that consistent of a level in college football.

JC: Anything else about yourself as a coach that you can specifically trace back to your dad, or Leach, or Sumlin?

KK: You know, a little bit from each. I think Coach Leach, the thing I got from him was the extreme confidence in his offense. I mean, he’d tell us, “Hey, I don’t care if they know what play is coming. If we execute the way I’ve taught you, I promise you, they won’t be able to stop it.” And that’s something that’s always stuck with me.

My dad, like I said, the discipline and the work ethic and the time he put in and what he expected of his players.

And then Coach Sumlin, just the amount of respect that all his players and all his coaches have for him to a man. That’s why he gets the most out of them, because they play their hearts out for him, and they coach their hearts out for him, each and every day.

JC: You also played for Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots, another coach’s son. What did you take away from him?

KK: Nobody prepares better than Coach Belichick. He knew every side of the ball, inside and out, and could coach every position on the field. I just remember the walk-throughs being the most intense, detailed walk-throughs of all time. Any situation you were going to see on Sunday you’d already seen three times that week in practice.

JC: And you got a Super Bowl ring from that year. Is that something you keep in a prominent place?

KK: Yeah, it used to be in a safe, but now I keep it in my office for recruits to check out when they come through.

JC: You’ve said you didn’t necessarily dream of being a coach.

KK: No, I didn’t. I thought I’d still be playing. That’s all I ever wanted to do

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