It doesn’t seem that long ago that the Red Raiders were in contention for a national championship. Remember the gun slinging offense Mike Leach offense comprised of Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree? If you do, you’re memory is jogging back seven years when they finished No. 12 in the nation in part due to a controversial decision in a three-way tie for first place in the Big 12 between themselves, Texas, and eventual conference champion Oklahoma.
The tail end of the season was a whirlwind of a finish and still sparks debate. Most fans look back and discuss the lack of a tie-breaker affecting Texas the most, considering they beat Oklahoma. The Sooners would then lose the BCS Championship game, sending Texas fans into a fit. But Texas Tech fans were just as disappointed since they beat Texas. The Red Raiders would go forgotten after losing the Cotton Bowl to Ole Miss. That season was arguably the apex in their football history, setting up the program for disappointment ever since then.
Sure, Tech has had moderate success in the past few years but have now lost any share in the football breathing state of Texas. After developing a dominant Air Raid offense in Lubbock since 2000, Leach would be indefinitely suspended for misconduct towards a player, and with him, the attraction to the school died down — Harrell and Crabtree were already gone for the NFL as well. Since that highly anticipated 2008 season, the Red Raiders have entered the AP Poll every season but 2014. Sound good, right? But they have only been teases of what could be, catching everyone off guard considering they haven’t been ranked in the preseason(and more importantly, finish ranked).
Now the Red Raiders are led by a different coach, Ryan Gosling doppelganger and former Tech QB Kliff Kingsbury, looking to pick up the pieces left by another abrupt coaching departure from Tommy Tuberville. But of course, that’s a work in progress as we just laid witness to an eight-loss season. Simply put, the empire in the making made possible by Leach has collapsed. Like Texas Tech, teams like TCU and Baylor have emerged and add another obstacle for the Red Raiders to rebuild their program.
They don’t benefit from having historical success and players like Texas. Even though the Longhorns are not near their former prominence, that doesn’t stop them from having one of the most sought after programs in the nation. Recruits flock to Austin and travel up I-35 to Waco and Fort Worth as well, leaving Lubbock the odd man out in the state. There’s just not enough of an attraction to build a talented roster like what was expected during Leach’s reign. If there needs to be any more proof then their recent successes (Holiday or Meineke Car Bowl, anyone?), just look at their recent pro players.
It’s a really short list. Crabtree was a name they could plaster on the walls for a time, but he has since become irrelevant both due to lack of production. You don’t even need one hand to count how many players were drafted this season: zero. For the last couple of seasons, they’ve had a relatively low output of pro players. Somehow they still rake in Top 50 recruiting classes but haven’t been able to pull success out of them.
Most of their troubles probably stems from the inexperience of the coaching staff that was turned on its head after Tuberville’s departure. There has been some good along with the bad of course, and if the brass is willing to stick with Kingsbury, he has the program heading in the right direction. As the youngest coach in a Power Five conference, they could be riding success for some time once the wheels get moving, and word is that the wheels are greased up this season.
Their fall from glory has more to do with inconsistency from the coaching staff than anything else, and the rise of other programs in the Big 12 has not helped their cause. Hopefully Davis Webb or Pat Mahomes (Kingsbury isn’t decided on the QB yet considering they both had limited practice) can lead them back to a bowl appearance again to get the revival going, but they’ll need their bottom-tier defense to step up to have any reasonable hope.
But whatever their past looks like, Red Nation is ready to have their “Guns Up” once again (hopefully sooner than later).
*Editor’s Note: the original post referred to Davis Webb as lead QB but now includes Pat Mahomes