Big 12 Texas Tech

Texas Tech's Kliff Kingsbury finds himself on the hot seat after falling short of a bowl game for the second time in the past three years.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson

It’s kind of hard to spell Texas Tech without a pair of Ts, an idea that has become crystal clear to the Red Raider players.

In March, at the start of spring practice, Tech’s coaches delivered word that the players were being stripped of the right to wear the school’s longstanding Double-T logo. No T’s on helmets or shorts, and if your T-shirt had a T emblazoned somewhere on it, you were required to conceal it.

“As a staff, we just thought it was time to take something away,” Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “They’d been given a lot, hadn’t produced, the results weren’t good enough. The team agreed.”

The results speak for themselves. In Kingsbury’s first year in Lubbock in 2013, the Red Raiders fashioned a respectable 8-5 record, including a win in the Holiday Bowl. But three years of mediocrity have followed – a 4-8 record his second year, a 7-6 campaign in 2015 and a 5-7 mark last year.

The Red Raiders have gained a well-deserved reputation for fielding offenses that rack up gaudy passing numbers and plenty of touchdowns, just not enough to offset a defense that can’t stop anyone. Wreck ‘em, Tech? Yeah, that defense is an absolute wreck – ranking 85th, 125th, 127th and 128th (and dead last) nationally in Kingsbury’s tenure.

“We knew we had a disappointing season,” defensive back Ja’Shawn Johnson said. “We knew that the defense hasn’t been playing well for a couple of seasons now. We’ve just been taking the coaching hard, and fixing our mistakes everywhere we can.”

Texas Tech’s slide has resulted in Kingsbury finding the hot seat. It’s win-or-else time in Lubbock. The coach acknowledges that.

The players feel that pressure, too, and as such they’ve sought to take more accountability on themselves.

“In the past coaches would be the only ones talking and trying to hype everyone up, and now it’s coming from the players,” receiver Dylan Cantrell said. “We work hard to hold each other accountable in every aspect.”

Added Johnson: “Everyone wants to be the one to make that play now. We get jealous if someone makes a solo tackle. That means there’s not enough people there to the ball.”

Nobody can deny Kingsbury’s golden touch as an offensive guru. A former record-setting Red Raider quarterback who threw for more than 12,000 yards, he knows how to see the field from a QB’s perspective, how to expose and put pressure on defenses. Under his watch at Texas A&M, Johnny Manziel developed into a Heisman Trophy winner.

Admittedly, though, Kingsbury has struggled to strike a balance between being the chief offensive tactician and shouldering the myriad responsibilities that comes with being a head coach.

“It’s much more improved than it was, I think,” Kingsbury said. “When you start out, I was too heavily involved in the offense. Now, still being able to have a hand in the offense and the quarterback development, but being able to stick your nose into the strength and conditioning, the defense, the special teams – that’s a big part of it.”

Sometimes, being the head coach means getting tough with his team. Stripping the team of its Double-T logo was Kingsbury’s idea, and it certainly caught the players’ attention.

“Definitely disappointed, but we can’t blame anyone but ourselves,” Johnson said.

On the other side of the ball, Cantrell agreed. “Last year we didn’t do what it took and we didn’t deserve the right to wear that,” the receiver said. “It’s still up in the air when we’re going to get that back. We’re working for it every day.”

They’d better be working for it, Kingsbury said. The time for excuses in Lubbock is over.

If not, Texas Tech’s helmets might resemble those belonging to Penn State.

“They knew we had to be better, so we took (the double-T) away. It’s been a process to earn it back, and hopefully by that first game we’ll earn it back,” Kingsbury said. “Or else there’ll be some blank helmets out there.”

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