Maybe we had it wrong about Texas Tech. Maybe, because Mike Leach succeeded there for so many years, we thought Texas Tech had become something new, that it had turned that proverbial corner.
We are quick to assume these kinds of things, and there are good examples of it in the Big 12. It was only nine years ago that Kansas State won the Big 12 championship, capping a 10-year run that saw the Wildcats in bowl game after bowl game and one overtime period away from playing for the 1998 national championship. The Wildcats appeared to be a national power. But then coach Bill Snyder retired, and K-State sank back to the bottom of the standings again, until Snyder unretired and the Wildcats won 10 games in 2011.
It was just five years ago that Kansas went 12-1 and received a first-place vote in the final Associated Press poll. The Jayhawks announced plans to build glorious new stadium suites. But two years later coach Mark Mangino was fired and last year the Jayhawks were one of the worst teams in the country. They never built those suites.
Nebraska has never quite been the same since Tom Osborne stopped coaching it. Colorado even won a share of the national championship in 1990 and looked for all the world like a national power. That is, until coach Bill McCartney left in 1994.
Certainly these programs are all unique but it seems that sometimes a coach and a place just go together. The personality of a coach is just what the personality of a place needs. These things are relationships. Marriages, even. And the good ones are magical and romantic and feel like they will last forever.
Bad coaches don't win, but sometimes good coaches lose. Sometimes they can't quite capture the magic.
So maybe we should cool it on Tommy Tuberville at Texas Tech for a minute.
He has been there for two years and has won 13 of his 25 games. But he went just 5-7 in 2011, which was Texas Tech's first losing season since 1992. The natives are concerned. They got used to thinking of themselves as the next big thing under Mike Leach.
Tuberville is aware.
"Just being here a couple of years, everybody said, 'You're on the hot seat,'" Tuberville said this week at Big 12 media days in Dallas. " I'd like to coach a few of these guys I recruited.... We're not there yet. I'll be the first to tell you, but we're much closer than we were three years ago."
Texas Tech was 114th out of 120 in total defense last season, 120th against the run and 105th in sacks. Tuberville made a change at defensive coordinator, hiring an old-ball-coach-type named Art Kaufman who played linebacker at Arkansas-Monticello in the 70s and has spent most of his career in the south coaching linebackers, most recently at North Carolina, where he also coordinated the defense.
Also, Tuberville says he's had more recruiting success the last two years than people told him he would, and so his point seems obvious: Give me a chance to make this program mine before you give it to somebody else.
And this is good and fair. Except in extreme cases, coaches should not be fired until they've at least had the chance to see one recruiting class through to graduation, and the case at Texas Tech is far from extreme.
This should not be a make-or-break year for Tuberville, who has proven himself to be one of the better coaches in his profession. He is 123-72 at Ole Miss, Auburn and Texas Tech. His Auburn team went undefeated in 2004. He deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Tuberville is a good coach, but good coaches sometimes lose.
That's not a prediction. It is just a way of saying there might have been a little magic and a little mystery to Leach's success in Lubbock, and that these things aren't so easily duplicated. Not way out there in west Texas. Not in a league that still includes Texas and Oklahoma.
There was a certain peculiarity to Leach's program, with all that pirate stuff and the weird quotes and the simple offense that seemed spectacular. Teams would go out there, and that west Texas wind would start blowing and some unrecruited Texas quarterback would start throwing and that Zorro-looking mascot would be riding around and a blacked-out student section would be going a little bit crazy... and weird things would start happening. There was a strangeness and a chaos to it, and it always seemed like the Red Raiders were more comfortable in it.
Maybe there was something in that peculiarity that just worked out there, something inherently Leacherous. And maybe that will be impossible to duplicate.
Or maybe you don't need that. Maybe in a couple years Tuberville will have his recruiting classes all tuned up and you'll go out there and the Red Raiders will just stuff your running game and throw touchdown passes off play-action and beat you 24-17 and there will be nothing the least bit weird about it.
If that happens, it probably will mean it is true that the last 10 years or so have lifted Texas Tech onto a new plateau.
But if it doesn't, let's not be too quick to blame Tommy Tuberville.