Back to the Future

Kingsbury and the Red Raiders play their home opener on Saturday

Sep 5, 2013

by Nick Kosmider
Special to TexasTech.com

Mickey Peters can still vividly remember the look.

It was a kid-in-a-candy-store gaze that could be seen on Kliff Kingsbury's face more than a decade ago, when he was handed the keys to an offense that would break records and change the landscape of college football.

"I'll never forget his expression," says Peters, who caught passes from Kingsbury as a Texas Tech receiver for three seasons. "We all knew it was going to be exciting, an offense where everybody touched the ball. He couldn't wait."

Kliff Kingsbury

Some of the fervor emanating from the Tech fan base over the hiring of Kingsbury, which will reach a fever pitch when he makes his home coaching debut Saturday against Stephen F. Austin, can be attributed to his magnetic personality, his pedigree and his clear passion for his alma mater.

Others, though, are simply happy to be transported back to a time when Kingsbury was at the controls during seemingly countless magical Saturdays at Jones AT&T Stadium, conducting a parade of points on the scoreboard and taking college football fans to a place few had ever been.

`This kid's got charisma'
Spike Dykes' first five minutes with Kliff Kingsbury 15 years ago produced a simple, one-word reaction: "Wow."

"I said, `Boy, this kid's got some charisma,'" says Dykes, who won 82 games as Tech's head coach from 1986 to 1999 and coached Kingsbury for two seasons. "He's got some great vibes about him. It didn't take a lot of time to figure out that he was going to be a good quarterback."

Dykes' initial glowing endorsement of Kingsbury, the son of his high school coach, Tim, had little to do with his physical abilities as a signal-caller. Sure, he had a strong arm. Yes, he was mobile. But what was most special, Dykes says, was the leadership ability of a then 18-year-old kid who soaked up information and regurgitated it like a player far beyond his years. Almost, one could say, like a coach.

So it was of little surprise to Dykes that Kingsbury would make his first start at quarterback as a redshirt freshman in the 1999 season finale and precede to throw three touchdowns and rush for another while leading the Red Raiders to a 38-28 upset of Oklahoma, the game Kingsbury still counts as his favorite.

Texas Tech fans that day had their first lesson of a principle Dykes already knew, that Kingsbury "never wavered."

"He's just a real guy," Dykes says.

Those lessons were only just beginning.

The cutting edge
Football, Dykes points out in a sentiment shared by many who have been around Tech's 34-year-old coach, is not only Kingsbury's job. It's also been his No. 1 hobby and his true passion since long before he arrived in Lubbock. It's why he had already closely studied Tim Couch, a future No. 1 NFL draft pick at Kentucky, and the offense he executed under Mike Leach, who became Kingsbury's coach in 2000.

"But until you see it, you don't really comprehend how fun it is for a quarterback to play in," Kingsbury says. "It was really a dream come true. We had great skill players and to grow in that system together, it was a lot of fun."

Fast-paced, spread-attack offenses are as common in college football today as BBQ tailgates and HD scoreboards, and the basic origins of such schemes originated before Kingsbury was slinging footballs at The Jones.

But make no mistake, the type of "fun" Kingsbury produced beginning at the start of his sophomore season, was one-of-a-kind at the time, and the quarterback himself had a decent barometer.

"On a personal level, it was not like anything I had been around in football," Kingsbury says. "As a coach's kid in high school, you see a lot of football, and I had never seen anything like it. I was definitely ecstatic to be a part of that. It was fun to be on the cutting edge of offense."

I had one scholarship offer at the time and it was from Texas Tech. I always felt like I owed this place everything I have."

All Kingsbury did was stand on that edge and break record after record. After three seasons as a starter, during which he amassed 24 victories and three bowl berths, he had set 39 school-best marks and broken seven NCAA FBS records.

Kingsbury, still the school's second all-time leading passer behind Graham Harrell, often made it all look easy. But if you believe that it was, you weren't seeing what Mickey Peters was seeing: a quarterback who used every spare minute he had to better his craft.

"He's the smartest guy I know when it comes to football," Peters says of Kingsbury, "but he also works harder than anyone. He'd call me and B.J. (Symons, the backup quarterback during Kingsbury's three seasons as the starter) on Saturdays during the offseason to throw the football, work on routes. We'd jump the fence to the practice field, and one day this police officer comes over, thinking there were a bunch of kids playing on the field who shouldn't have been. It took a while for him to realize who we were and that we were just getting extra work in."

The anecdote, told by Peters through bouts of chuckling, gives way to an analogy: You can be handed the keys to a horsepower-heavy muscle car, but without taking the time to learn the intricacies of how it handles, how it reaches its maximum capabilities, you're not going to experience everything it has to offer.

And Kingsbury didn't take the shiny set of wheels for granted.

"I just think I was always so grateful for the opportunity," Kingsbury says. "I had one scholarship offer at the time and it was from Texas Tech. I always felt like I owed this place everything I have."

`Confidence breeds confidence'
Spike Dykes asks that you don't hold it against him, but he does have a friend who is a loyal Texas A&M supporter. Dykes was speaking with this friend last November, shortly before the Aggies were set to head to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to face the top-ranked Crimson Tide.

"He said, `I really hate it for our guys; they have to go to Tuscaloosa this weekend. It's going to be a tough deal," Dykes recalls the friend confiding. "We're going to have a hard time winning. I just hope they don't embarrass us."

Dykes told his friend he knew there was one person who certainly wasn't basking in that type of trepidation.

"I told him Kliff has never gone into a game thinking he couldn't win," Dykes says. "He's that kind of a guy. Confidence breeds confidence and success breeds success."

At an age that makes him the youngest coach in major-conference football, Kingsbury has plenty of the former and has already experienced a great deal of the latter, turning his record-setting talents as quarterback into teaching tools to guide players like Houston's Case Keenum and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel into elite, breathtaking-to-watch athletes in their own right.

Now he gets to share the same knowledge with quarterbacks who are wearing the same jerseys on their backs - if only a bit sleeker-looking - as he did.

Peters wasn't there when Kingsbury told those quarterbacks, the Michael Brewers, the Davis Webbs, the Baker Mayfields, about the offense they would run, about the excitement it would create and about the games it would help them win.

But he can probably take a pretty good guess about what the expressions on their faces looked like when he did.




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