Tuberville finds convenient escape by bolting Texas Tech for Cincinnati
After struggling to fit in at Texas Tech, Tommy Tuberville has left for Cincinnati
Tuberville's bolt is the latest reminder why this period is called the 'silly season'
Texas Tech has two solid replacement options in Kliff Kingsbury and Chad Morris
They call it "silly season" for a reason. The frenzy that is college football's coaching carousel never lacks for bizarre and amusing twists and turns this time of the year, heightened by a slew of unfounded rumors and misinformation. Just consider the dominos that occurred over a roughly 72-hour period from Wednesday to Saturday.
First, Colorado had apparently hired Cincinnati's Butch Jones. So said Woody Paige. But the deal was never done, and it's no coincidence that Jones began backtracking around the same time Louisville's Charlie Strong turned down Tennessee. Next thing you know, Jones, who also interviewed with Purdue last week, is the Vols' new coach.
For the third time in six years, then, Cincinnati needed a new coach. Would the Big East school turn once again to Central Michigan, from where it plucked both Jones and Brian Kelly before him? If not, would it pursue some other mid-major star, or perhaps a Big Ten coordinator? That's how these things usually work.
Nope. In a shocking response, Cincinnati AD Whit Babcock took no more than 24 hours to hire Texas Tech's Tommy Tuberville -- a big-time hire for the Bearcats. Tuberville coached an undefeated team at Auburn. He's compiled a remarkable 6-3 record against top-5 teams. But the only connection between Tuberville and Cincinnati is that Babcock worked at Auburn when Tuberville was there.
So why would the 58-year-old coach, whose spent his entire career in the Southern half of the country, bolt the powerful Big 12 for a job in the increasingly unstable Big East? Apparently, he really wanted out of Lubbock.
It was an awkward marriage from the start. Tuberville, forced out at Auburn in 2008 after 14 years as an SEC head coach, had been out of the game for a year when he took the Texas Tech job. He had the unenviable task of succeeding revered Red Raiders coach Mike Leach, fired in controversy in Dec. 2009 to the considerable chagrin of the locals. Tuberville tried to embrace the Air Raid mentality instilled by Leach, but the defensive-minded coach was clearly uncomfortable trying to win 56-53 games. He went through three defensive coordinators in three years and appeared to finally be gaining traction during this year's 6-1 start, shutting down Geno Smith-led West Virginia, but the Red Raiders lost four of their last five, the second straight season they finished with a whimper.
Tuberville brings instant credibility to Cincinnati, though it's now been five years since he truly distinguished himself. But just because he's taken a different path there doesn't mean he'll stick around longer than his predecessors. Knowing Tuberville, he sees this as an opportunity to restore his good name. It's certainly easier to produce a BCS team in the Big East (where Cincinnati has won or shared four of the past six league titles) than in the Big 12 (where Tech has never won the conference), and if he does, he sets himself up for what he truly desires -- a return to the SEC. After all, the last Bearcats coach, Jones, parlayed a 23-14 three-year run into a $3 million-a-year job at Tennessee.
Meanwhile, Texas Tech gets a chance to reinvent itself, which, if AD Kirby Hocutt wants to please the fans, may mean returning to its roots. And to that end silly season may have taken a wrong turn this week.
On Thursday, Cal introduced former Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes as its new coach. Dykes told me unsolicited a couple of months ago, that if he could live anywhere, it would be the Bay Area. He got his wish. But if he'd held out three days longer, the Air Raid proponent would likely be returning to his alma mater, a school where his father, Spike, coached from 1986-99, and where Sonny was an assistant under Leach from 2000-06. Dykes is a great coach but an odd fit in Berkeley. He would have literally been at home in Lubbock. Talk about bad timing.
As it is, though, Texas Tech may have its choice of two excellent candidates. One obvious route is to bring back former Leach quarterback Kliff Kingsbury, now the darling offensive coordinator at Texas A&M, where this season he unleashed quarterback Johnny Manziel and took the SEC by storm. He would be an instant hit with the fans, but he's only 33. He's been a college coordinator for three seasons. Is he really ready to be a Big 12 head coach?
Another option might be Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who's gained similar renown for his quick-paced, high-scoring offenses and is the believed to be the highest-paid coordinator in the country ($1.3 million). Morris, 44, is no more experienced on the college level than Kingsbury, but from 1994-2009 he was a Texas high school head coach. He'd likely give the Red Raiders an immediate in-state recruiting boost.
Those are the two most logical options -- but logic is not exactly a staple of silly season. We'll be reminded of that next season when Tommy Tuberville, a year removed from facing Oklahoma and Texas, is coaching conference games against UConn and USF.