Hocutt feels Tech football in position "to take significant steps forward"
Red Raider football is less than two weeks from kicking off their 2017 season, one where there are certainly real stakes on the line for Kliff Kingsbury and his coaching staff. After a disappointing 5-7 finish in 2016, many wondered if the clock was nearing midnight on one of Lubbock's favorite sons that's yet to find consistent success as a head coach at Texas Tech.
In late November after the season came to an end, athletic director Kirby Hocutt met with members of the local media to discuss Kingsbury's tenure and status.
The AD was surefooted with his words, saying "I believed in Kliff Kingsbury when we hired him in December of 2012, and I believe in Kliff Kingsbury today."
But belief is certainly different than proof. Proof is what Kingsbury needs this fall to assure his return in 2018. He needs proof to assuage fans, boosters, and faculty that his program is headed in the right direction.
Hocutt has certainly been around the Texas Tech Football Training Facility throughout the spring, summer, and now during fall camp, getting a first hand look at what Red Raider football is preparing to be this season.
The athletic director, who's entering his seventh fall at Tech, shared his thoughts on what he's seen from Red Raider football over the last seven months.
"Attitude, determination. I think we got knocked down. We got knocked to the canvas last year, and I think the mark of being a fearless champion is how you stand up in times of adversity. This group of young men, they've stood up, and this coaching staff has stood up, and they've worked extremely hard to stand back up and move forward. That's what we'll do over the next three to four months as we move forward. You never know over the course of the season how the ball is going to bounce in certain situations, what obstacles might be coming our way, but I know this team has worked hard to put themselves in a position to take significant steps forward."
When Hocutt hired Kingsbury in the December of 2012, he was well aware that he was hiring a first time head coach. On top of that, he knew he was hiring a green coach period. The then Texas A&M offensive coordinator had only been coaching for five years total, and at just 33, he became the youngest head coach in all of Power Five.
In the near-five years since then, Kingsbury's gone from being a man in his early thirties to one in his late thirties, he's changed all but a few members of his coaching and support staff, and he's altered his own day-to-day operations for his football team.
Hocutt sees a man who's evolved, a man he still believes in as a head coach. He also still sees the same person.
"I've seen growth. We knew that when you hire a first time head coach, it's a significant change. We've seen Coach Kingsbury grow over the course over his time leading this football program, and I've continued to see the makings of someone who's going to be a very good football coach, and he is. Above all else, Kliff is a man who operates with the highest integrity, highest character, treats young men with respect, but he also challenges young men. Kliff is someone who has an unbelievable drive and determination to be successful and to win, and with that to win the right way. I see a man who wants to be at Texas Tech, who takes great pride in this university, this football program, this athletic department, and this community, and he wants to bring pride to all those areas. I appreciate the way that he operates day to day. I can't emphasize enough the character of the man, the integrity of the man, and the example that he sets for the young men in this program. I look forward to watching him have success and reap the benefits of what he continues to work very hard for."
One of the most noticeable on-field changes made by Kingsbury during the spring was simply being around the defense more, something Hocutt encouraged. At practice, Kliff can trust Eric Morris to run the offense while graduate assistant Zach Kittley can coach the quarterbacks, giving him more time to spend with the other unit.
Hocutt believes that Kingsbury's passion and personality have brought needed energy to the defense, something he's certainly enjoyed seeing.
"Kliff is our head coach, head coach of all 115 young men out there on the field, so they all want his time. They all want his attention and his affirmation, and Kliff has such an energy on the field, such a positive atmosphere around him, and it brings immediate energy to the team. It's been fun to watch as he's become more involved day to day with the defense, just how the players have reacted, because it's that energy that he brings to the field that they build off of, and it's fun to see them react to his engagement."
And Big 12 defense is something Hocutt is certainly familiar with as a former All-Big 8 linebacker and team captain at Kansas State. So, as someone who's played this game at a high level before, what's he seen from defensive coordinator David Gibbs and this defense so far this fall?
"I played in the Big 8 Conference. Kids on the team now, they don't even know what the Big 8 Conference was," he laughed. "But, David Gibbs is a talented football coach. He had success before he came to Texas Tech. He has remained consistent to his drive to build a successful defensive team here. We're going see signs of that this year. I've had so much fun watching our defense over the course of this fall camp. We're better. We're better from a personnel standpoint. These men understand the scheme, the language, and it's just about having it for three consistent years. You can't continue to have the turnover and transition that we've experienced, especially on the defensive side of the ball, and expect to have success within this league. But, we're better defensively. On the scrimmage on Saturday, I was fired up after watching our defense play. There's a different vibe on that side of the ball this year that I think our fans will be excited to see in a few days."
And now, as Hocutt points out, the wait for Texas Tech football is nearly over. The Red Raiders will play Eastern Washington on Saturday afternoon, September 2nd, an afternoon where the first samplings of Kingsbury's fifth year team will take place.
Hocutt knows that despite the success of a large number of other sports during his tenure, what happens on the football field will weigh largest on the scale. He believes that could be a good thing this fall.
"We're judged by the success we have at Jones AT&T Stadium, and that's the reality of college athletics these days. We embrace that, and having watched this team through the spring, through the summer, I can't wait for a week from Saturday when we kick off the season, because I know how hard these young men have worked, and I know with that persistence, success is coming their way."