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July 27, 2010

Texas Tech's Tuberville can stir it up, too

There were no pirate references or funny sound bites, but in a radio interview, Tommy Tuberville demonstrated that the football coach at Texas Tech still can cause quite a stir.

With a few candid remarks, Tuberville showed that changes at Tech don't necessarily mean things will be different.

"I don't think this conference [the Big 12] will last long because there is too much disparity between all the teams," Tuberville told Rivals Radio earlier this month. "In the SEC, for instance, Vanderbilt makes as much money in the television contract as Florida. Everybody is good with it. Everybody is on the same page. Everyone gets the same votes. That doesn't happen here in the Big 12."

Although that candor drew a quick reprimand from Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe, it indicated that Tuberville would be just as outspoken as his predecessor, Mike Leach, the pirate-loving eccentric who was fired in December amid controversy.

Provocative quotes are fine, but the fandom out on the South Plains of West Texas really wants to know if Tuberville can be as successful as Leach. In 10 years under Leach, Texas Tech routinely fielded the one of the nation's most explosive offenses, posted 84 victories, made 10 bowl appearances and became nationally relevant. Tuberville has stated that his aim is to be even more successful than Leach. The fans are buying it, as Tech has set a record for season-ticket sales.

"You can win a lot of games the way Mike was doing it," Tuberville said via phone recently. "But you can't win championships. You have to run the ball and play defense to win championships."

Senior running back Baron Batch said that he thinks Tech's backs are going to be more involved in the offense under Tuberville.

"The running back in the spread is kind of like the 'x' factor," he told FoxSports Southwest in April. "If you can get the running back going, break some big runs, catch a few passes and make some plays, it's really hard to stop."

While Texas Tech's defenses were inconsistent and often generous under Leach, the defensive units that Tuberville fielded in 10 years at Auburn typically were among the stingiest in the nation.

"That's my specialty," said Tuberville, who was defensive coordinator at Miami and Texas A&M before taking his first head-coaching position at Ole Miss in 1995. "Look at teams that win championships. Pete Carroll won with great defense. Nick Saban wins with great defense. Mack Brown has been very good, but started winning championships because of Will Muschamp and defense. Bob Stoops will play defense.

"You've got to play offense and have consistency. But to win championships, you've got to play defense."

Auburn won the SEC championship and was in the national championship race in 2004, a season in which the Tigers surrendered fewer points than any team in the nation. While there is no denying the importance of sound defense, much of Tuberville's success also was built on a powerful running game, which is a far cry to what the locals in Lubbock -- or anywhere in the Big 12, for that matter -- are accustomed to seeing.

During the Leach regime, Texas Tech led the nation in pass offense six times and ranked among the top five nine times in 10 seasons. The other year, the Red Raiders ranked 11th. Meanwhile, Tuberville's Auburn teams never ranked higher than 40th in passing.

Yet as he enters his first season at Texas Tech, Tuberville promised the Red Raiders' offense won't change dramatically. Tuberville wants to run more frequently, but he still plans on using a version of the spread offense that was so productive for Leach. Tuberville even hired spread disciple Neal Brown away from Troy to be his offensive coordinator. That would seem to prove he's committed to the spread -- except that Tuberville already has had a failed experiment with the offense.

After the 2007 regular season, Tuberville hired coordinator Tony Franklin -- coincidentally, also from Troy -- to install the spread at Auburn. But when the Tigers' offense was struggling midway through the '08 season, Tuberville fired Franklin and reverted to his favored power running game.

This time, Tuberville said he's fully committed to the offense.

"We had to live and die with [QB] Chris Todd, who was a guy who knew a little about the spread," Tuberville said of Auburn's '08 season. "Three or four games into the season, he got hurt. We had to go back to running the ball because we didn't have a quarterback who could run the spread. We were just looking for any way to move the football.

"Fast forward to here. ... Texas Tech has been recruiting to the spread and has players who have run the spread. It's easier to make the transition knowing you have four or five quarterbacks who can run it and the offensive linemen and receivers have run it. I thought it was a great offense [at Auburn]. We just didn't have the people to run it."

Texas Tech quarterback Taylor Potts threw for 3,440 yards last season, while Steven Sheffield threw for 1,219 yards in a limited role. The Red Raiders have five receivers who had at least 35 catches last season. Tech also has an underrated group of running backs led by Batch, who rushed for 884 yards in '09. And with Tuberville's influence, one would think Texas Tech at least eventually will play strong defense.

That is, if Tuberville proves willing to stay in Lubbock.

Some wonder if he's committed for the long haul because he's already voiced his doubts about the future of the Big 12.

But Tuberville insisted coaching Texas Tech is the perfect job for him.

"This one best fits my personality," he said. "They haven't won championships here and it's a huge challenge. We're not the so-called team on top of the hill now, but we have everything we need to win a championship."

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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