Texas Tech needs at least one upset in the last two weeks of the regular season to avoid a third losing record in four years. Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt stuck up for coach Kliff Kingsbury, though, after the Red Raiders 38-24 victory Saturday against Baylor that snapped a four-game losing streak.
Kingsbury, in his fifth year coaching Tech, is 29-31 and his job security has been a source of speculation.
“I tell you what, and I’ve said it: Kliff Kingsbury has and continues to do the right things,” Hocutt said. “We are a program that is operated the right way each and every day, and to me it goes back to persistence. You keep doing the right things each and every day, good things are going to happen.
“Kliff continues to operate this program the right way. These kids continue to compete and represent us with class. Good things are going to continue to happen down the road for Texas Tech, and look forward to these next two weeks.”
Tech (5-5, 2-5 in the Big 12) hosts No. 11 TCU (8-2, 5-2) at 11 a.m. Saturday in the Red Raiders’ home finale. Tech opened as a seven-point underdog on Sunday. The Red Raiders finish the regular season at 7 p.m. Nov. 24 at Texas (5-5, 4-3), a game in which they’ll also likely be the underdog.
Twice, Hocutt fired coaches after four seasons who had better winning percentages. Hocutt inherited Miami football coach Randy Shannon and Tech baseball coach Dan Spencer, but said upon dismissing them that he expected the programs to compete for championships. And when Kingsbury let go three assistants after the 2015 season, Hocutt said, “We have to see progress.”
Hocutt was asked Saturday how well Kingsbury’s program has met his standard for progress.
“Progress over perfection. I say that frequently to our staff,” he said. “It’s something we talk about, and this is a football team that’s better than last year’s football team. Our record is not indicative of the progress that I believe we’ve made as a program. And you are what your record says you are, but nonetheless this is a better football team than we had last year.”
That’s evident on defense, where the Red Raiders have cut their average yield to 34.1 points per game from 43.5 last year.
Tech might be touting a turnaround if not for two late-game meltdowns: The Red Raiders blew a 35-17 third-quarter lead in a 46-35 loss at West Virginia and blew a 35-24 fourth-quarter lead in a 42-35 overtime loss to Kansas State. Preseason all-Big 12 kicker Clayton Hatfield missed 7 1/2 games with a hip injury, and that led to massive kicking-game failings that cost the Red Raiders games.
Tech kickers had gone 0 for 5 on field goals, all inside 45 yards, in the previous four games before Hatfield made one from 39 yards Saturday. Three missed field goals at West Virginia and one late in the fourth quarter against Kansas State were costly.
Asked Sunday if he ponders what his record might be had Hatfield been healthy all year, Kingsbury grinned and said, “I try not to. Just straight ahead. Control what you can control.
“But it was good to see him make that kick. I don’t think he hit it all the way, but he’s such a good kicker he still found a way to make it through. He’s kicked really well in practice, so hopefully that continues and that’s a big plus for us.”
Hocutt lauded the Red Raiders players, saying he sees fight and hard work.
“They worked extremely hard to become a better football team,” he said, “to position themselves to win games, and the past month has been a challenging one. They’ve been so close. But they’ve come back to practice each week with their chins held high and a determination not to let this season slip away from us. So I’m proud of these kids and the way they continue to maintain a positive attitude and continue to compete.”
Kingsbury is signed through 2020 and due to make $3.7 million next season, $3.9 million in 2019 and $4.1 million in 2020. He’d be owed $6.775 million in buyout money if Tech dismissed him after this season.
Asked what he expects to be doing in two weeks, Hocutt said, “Celebrating. Celebrating a seven-win regular season and proud of these young men, how they overcame a tough month’s stretch, and it’s a group of young men that I believe in.”