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December 8, 2012

Hocutt has surprising Saturday

Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt thought he was in for a leisurely Saturday.

Even with an in-season bye to close out the regular season last week, there were bowl game maneuverings, a big home men's basketball game against No. 9 Arizona and a women's basketball home game against Lamar. This Saturday, the Red Raiders knew where they were going for the postseason and the university's athletic teams were off because of finals.

Saturday was going to be about his son's soccer tournament and spending some much deserved time with his family on a week where Tech athletics had been pretty much shut down due to finals.

But a leisurely day began to melt away at 9:15 a.m. local time and Hocutt's expectations of a quiet weekend quickly shattered.

"It started for me at 9:15 this morning," Hocutt said in a quickly assembled press conference Saturday afternoon in the football team's meeting room. "I was at my son's soccer game and got a call from an Ohio number I did not recognize. I subsequently listened to the voice message and it was the athletics director at Cincinnati saying that he intended to visit with Tommy Tuberville today regarding their head coaching position.

"I did not return the phone call and then at 10:30 this morning I received a call from Coach Tuberville and had the chance to visit with him. He notified me at that time of his resignation and his intention to accept the job at Cincinnati."

This was a new one for Hocutt in his nearly two years in Lubbock.

During his time as the athletic director at Miami (Fla.), Hocutt was able to dismiss Randy Shannon and prepare for the ensuing media attention during the coaching transition. Just a few months ago, the Billy Gillispie situation played out long enough to where it didn't come as a surprise when the embattled head coach resigned.

This time, however, Hocutt had six hours to prepare something for both the media and the thousands watching at home via the local TV stations and Tech's live online feed.

Hocutt spoke with passion. The former Kansas State linebacker was up on a podium in a suit, but the speech he had written up seemed more like something a team leader would say in the locker room behind closed doors.

"This is a great university and a football program that is steeped in tradition," Hocutt said. "We have 35 Bowl game appearances. This year will be our 35th as we go to Houston and participate in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. We've participated in postseason Bowl games in 11 of the 12 past college seasons. It's a football program that has 11 conference championships and a football program that has had 48 All Americans. This is a program that has tremendous athletic facilities. Texas Tech University has invested over $230 million into our athletic facilities over the past decade. Our resources at Texas Tech are great."

Still, those resources and that tradition were not enough to prevent Tuberville for leaving for a program that plays in a stadium that holds barely more than 35,000 fans. The news took Hocutt, and everyone, by surprise.

"The first indication I got was at 10:32 this morning when he called me," Hocutt said when asked if Tuberville had given indication he was looking to leave the South Plains. "Tommy and I have talked a number of times since the conclusion of the Baylor game this year, and as recently as yesterday he looked me in the eye and gave me his commitment and dedication to Texas Tech football and leading this football program forward."

Is this story about betrayal? You'll have to decide for yourself. Hocutt was not going to help you, noting that college football is a business.

On the ground in Lubbock, fan reactions were mixed.

Some fans people had wanted Tuberville gone before he even played his first game. It stemmed from the the rift among fans when Mike Leach was abruptly dismissed from Tech in late December, 2009.

They thought Tuberville didn't fit in. A longtime coach from the Southeastern Conference, including long stints as the head coach at Mississippi and Auburn, there was an idea Tuberville didn't understand how to play the style of football necessary to win in the Big 12.

Others thought Tuberville had Tech headed in the right direction. He did bring in back-to-back strong recruiting classes and Tech won big games in 2012 against ranked West Virginia and TCU squads on the way to a 6-1 start before ultimately falling to 7-5.

Tuberville's tenure and departure will be rehashed for years to come in Lubbock. The immediate focus now, though, is finding the university's 15th head football coach.

"As we begin the search for the next head coach, it is important for us to find an individual that has the following characteristics and possesses the following qualities," Hocutt said. "In every sense of the word we want to find a leader, winner, want to find someone who knows the fabric of West Texas, someone who is committed and wants to be a part of our great community. Fit is very important to me, and I think finding the right fit for Texas Tech is critical at this point in time."

If you're looking for a hero and a villain, Hocutt prevailed as the white knight.

He had fans feeling better about the situation than they did before the press conference which is all that could be expected after six short hours.

"This is a great job," Hocutt said. "This is a great job. And this is a football program that has the resources and facilities to compete at the highest levels, and we're going to find the right leader for us at this time."

The nitty gritty

It didn't take Hocutt six hours to write his speech. But it's amazing he got it done in that short period of time.

There were more important things to do beforehand, honestly.

He had to first call a meeting and sell Tech's assistant coaches on committing to the program through the bowl game even though there's a chance they won't be on the staff next season. In fact, many members of the program's defensive staff are expected to join Tuberville at Cincinnati.

Every coach but offensive coordinator Neal Brown attended the meeting. Hocutt said Brown, a candidate for several head coaching jobs as well as the offensive coordinator position at Kentucky where he played, was out interviewing for another job as expected.

They agreed to continue doing their daily duties until the head coaching situation is resolved and that includes maintaining their relationships with 17 verbal commits and their other targets.

"We have 25 scholarships," Hocutt said. "We have, I believe, 17 verbal commitments at this time. I've asked our assistant coaches to remain in communication with those commitments as well as those individuals that they're recruiting. They're recruiting them to come to Texas Tech University. They're recruiting them to be a Red Raider."

An interim head coach has not been named.

After that, Hocutt met with a group of disappointed football players.

"When I had the opportunity at three o'clock this afternoon to meet with the team in this very room, it was a team that, while surprised to hear the news of the day, a team that loves each other," Hocutt said. "A team that's together and a team who is focused on the Minnesota Gophers and team determined to go to Houston and come back with a win. I saw a very determined group of young men and a very proud group of young men."


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