The prevailing theme thus far this spring has been a change in culture within the football program. It started in the spring when Kliff Kingsbury hired Rusty Whitt, the strength and conditioning coach from Louisiana to fill the same position here. Whitt had a long reputation as a guy that pushed players probably more than they’ve been pushed before.
Kingsbury then hired a speed coach. Yes, that’s right, a guy who’s main purpose is to focus merely on making players faster, and not just faster from a linear perspective, but Salwasser gets deep and focuses on “multi-directional speed.” Bring. It.
But back to Whitt. Kingsbury has seemingly said over the course of this preseason camp that the accountability factor for the team has changed dramatically. Defensive coordinator David Gibbs tweeted on picture day about the culture change and posted a photo of the strength and conditioning coaches:
— David Gibbs (@CoachDavidGibbs) August 14, 2016
The Texas Tech football program has embraced Whitt and so has Kliff Kingsbury. I can only think of two things that Kingsbury has loaned his name to in terms of assistance or sponsorship, the first one being the “Carry the Fallen Ruck March” that Coach Whitt is heavily promoting and benefits Active Heroes, a non-profit organization that supports veterans to eliminate suicide, and the second is Team Luke Tennis Classic that benefits Luke Seigel. This post isn’t about what Kingsbury is or isn’t doing, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Kingsbury is participating in the Carry the Fallen Ruck March.
Kingsbury even had the team participate in the 22 Pushups Challenge with the entire team and maybe some ROTC members (not sure, but they’re dressed in camo).
— Kliff Kingsbury (@TTUKingsbury) April 1, 2016
Kingsbury has continually talked about accountability during the spring and preseason camp. During the Big 12 Media Days Kingsbury talked about how Whitt’s culture has created accountability within the team and how Whitt has challenged the group each and every day:
“I think just the self-policing of just being accountable, being on time, everybody pushing themselves in workouts,” Kingsbury said. “That used to be coach-driven. It’s not anymore. The players are handling that, and that’s exciting.”
“They’ve responded well,” Kingsbury said. “He challenges them every day. There’s no backing off. There’s no easy days. There’s no going-through-the-motion days. Every day he has a plan to push them to the max, and I think we’ll see the result of that this fall.”
Just yesterday at the kickoff luncheon, Kingsbury again talked about Whitt’s impact:
“A lot of programs do what they do: You run. You lift,” Kingsbury told the audience at the annual Red Raider Club kickoff luncheon. “But he each and every day challenges them mentally and physically. That’s what we needed. I had some big-time coaches I really trust call on his behalf. They swore by him. He’s been awesome.”
Kingsbury spoke again about Whitt just a few weeks ago:
Whitt spoke to Robert Giovannetti and emphasized one is none, all is one. Accountability. You win every moment you can, there are hundred and hundreds of chances during a game and day to win. Make every one of those opportunities count by being accountable to your teammates because if you aren’t prepared then you let the entire team down. Oh, and the background music is Journey. Heck yes.
Ed. As an aside, the camaraderie that the players show and watching it again is inspiring. That’s a credit to Whitt and those players.
And last, but not least, there was one photo that I ran across that was with all of the seniors and you want to guess who was in the middle of it?
— Rusty (@rustywhitt) August 14, 2016
I don’t know if it’s cliche, but I believe the cliche is that change starts at the top and if the head guy isn’t believing in what’s being sold then there’s really no reason for anyone else to follow suit. But here we are, smack dab in the middle of a culture change for Texas Tech football. Three years into the Kingsbury era and changes had to be made. When Kingsbury was on with AJ Hawk, Kingsbury essentially said that he was limited to who he knew when he first got the job. His circle of potential candidates was relatively limited due to his age and not being in the coaching profession all that long. So, it was understandable last year when Kingsbury had to let his friends go, Trey Haverty, Mike Smith and Kevin Curtis all saw their tenures at Texas Tech as coaches end.
As I try to ponder how the season is going to play out for Texas Tech, I can’t help but consider this culture change in the grand scheme of the football program. I’ve read about and heard folks talk about culture change and my general feeling is that these sorts of discussions don’t really mean anything. You’re just doing things a bit different nothing’s really changing.
But Whitt’s hiring, I think, really has changed things. Kingsbury said during the luncheon that he essentially stayed here during the summer and watched Whitt work. I think the culture changed because Whitt was given a huge amount of control, although I don’t think that it’s any different than the control that is normally given to a S&C coach. But Whitt apparently owned the room and if you maybe wanted to guess as to why Devin Lauderdale was kicked off the team in the spring, it was because he talked back to the S&C coaches one too many times (I’m guessing that it was one time for Whitt, if at all and I don’t remember where I read/heard this story about Lauderdale).
I think we can effectively state that something has changed, whether or not we want to chalk it up to a full-on culture change, the house was cleaned and we all started fresh.
The question is how much stock do you put into that culture change?
I think this idea of culture change and the players being more disciplined and bigger and stronger and in better shape is the reason why I can’t decide what I think this team is going to do. I can’t believe this, but consider that the entire defensive line, sans Fehoko, Jackson and Alston were so out of shape, they couldn’t play. Think about that for a second and then gently weep into your pillow.
Diving deeper into this idea of culture change, how long does something like this to really take affect. Even if Whitt has changed the attitude of these guys, it can sometimes take years for the results of Whitt’s work to really pay dividends. Building bodies takes time, it doesn’t happen overnight.
I am working on the poll results, but when I asked you how satisfied you were with the job that Kingsbury has done, early 83% of you rated Kingsbury as a 4 or 5 on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the most satisfied. And if you were to ask the rest of the Big 12 what they think we think about Kingsbury and with another rough year, they think we’re ready to replace Kingsbury and according to the poll numbers, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
And it was darn near unanimous that Kingsbury is getting better as a head coach:
Here we sit, on the eve of yet another football season and despite the fact that every year, I try to be realistic with myself and think that Texas Tech will be trotting out the same thing that they have every year, I’ve convinced myself that this year it’s different. I’m not at all convinced that it will show up in the won-loss record because culture changes take time and it’s hardly an overnight fix for things like this.
But I do think that Kingsbury is absolutely on the right track, more so than he’s ever been. I don’t know if you’ve bought into the hype of Rusty Whitt, but I have. Rusty Whitt was the kick in the ass that this program needed and I really wish it had come one year sooner, but I can’t cry over what didn’t happen, but just focus on what has happened.