Richard Justice: Joey McGuire wasn’t a conventional hire, and Texas Tech couldn’t be happier about it.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Brad Tollefson/AP/Shutterstock (13417806q) Texas Tech coach Joey McGuire reacts to a play call during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Texas, in Lubbock, Texas Texas Texas Tech Football, Lubbock, United States – 24 Sep 2022

Richard Justice: Joey McGuire wasn’t a conventional hire, and Texas Tech couldn’t be happier about it.

    To the people that have ever spent time around new Texas Tech head football coach Joey McGuire, those that have played for him and coached alongside him, those dozens of Red Raider fans that have run across him on the recruiting trail and at fast-food joints and speeches all over Texas these last 10 months, this very thing is what they expected.

   They do not see beating Texas 37-34 in overtime on Saturday in Lubbock as an upset because they know their head coach does not see it as an upset. Sure, it had a magical feel, especially at the end when Trey Wolff’s 20-yard field goal sailed through the uprights and thousands from a roaring packed house of 60,975 poured onto the field to celebrate.

   “Those are the moments that we work for,” Wolff said.

   This was one of those moments that reminded all of us why we love this stuff and why we love Joey McGuire and believe he’s precisely the right guy to lead Texas Tech’s football program. 

   For starters, he has the single greatest gift a coach can have, in fact, the very thing that separates the special ones from all the others. That is, he has the ability to make players and assistant coaches and fans and administrators believe they can do pretty much anything they set out to do.

   Texas Tech beat Texas because its players were more resilient, because they were tougher and because there was way more buy-in. Of all the ways Tech could have won, this was the sweetest of all. Down by 14 in the third quarter and tested a time or two in the fourth, Texas Tech never blinked amid some adversity and a sweltering 90-degree day.

   “At any point, they could have given up,” McGuire said. “They didn’t. We asked ‘em to come out (after) the half and keep fighting, and good things would happen.”

(If you’re keeping score at home, Saturday was the fourth double-digit second-half lead Steve Sarkisian’s Longhorns have let slip away in their last 11 games. He’s 7-9 as the Texas head coach.)

   Donovan Smith, who began the season as Tech’s No. 2 quarterback, passed for 331 yards and led the Raiders on scoring drives on four of their final five possessions in regulation. Those drives came at a point when players were tired, when they were tested and when the game became a contest of wills.

   McGuire pushed and pushed, and Tech converted six of eight fourth-down plays, including one or two that are not recommended in most coaching manuals. When a coach does that, he’s sending his players a message that he’s not scared because he believes in them.

   When Texas kicked a last-second field-goal to force overtime, the Red Raiders simply kept going. In overtime, they promptly forced a Bijan Robinson fumble that set up the winning field goal.

   “These guys believe, and whenever you have results like this, it fires that belief even more,” McGuire said.

   Tech went for almost 500 yards of total offense (479) and dominated total plays (100-60), first downs (31-20) and time of possession (36 minutes to 24 minutes). Tech forced the only two turnovers of the game.

“Defense did a phenomenal job,” Smith said. “That’s like big-time what we needed. “I just knew we had to finish as a team. We had a long game. We all fought hard. I feel like that was a win we definitely deserved.”

   Senior running back SaRodrick Thompson rushed for 70 yards, and Myles Price caught 13 passes for 98 yards. Numbers can mislead. These numbers say the better team—the better team by a significant margin—won.

   Did you see the video clip of a post-practice talk McGuire gave his team that ran on ESPN’s College Gameday last week? It’s not what he said that was so impressive. In fact, that was boilerplate stuff, part to-do list and part checklist of the preparation the remained for what would be a loss to North Carolina State.

   Instead—and this is what the Gameday crew mentioned afterward—it was the way his players listened, how their eyes were glued to their head coach and following his every word. This small moment is symbolic of the transformation Joey McGuire has brought to Texas Tech.

In the years since Mike Leach was fired in 2009, Red Raider fans never really believed in their coaches. They always seemed to be grousing about the past, longing for Leach’s return and resigned to a nondescript future.

   McGuire has united Red Raider Nation in a way they haven’t been united in the post-Leach era and in a way that sometimes seemed impossible. His enthusiasm and energy and passion are so compelling that it’s impossible not to believe.

   A Texas Tech friend of mine discovered this firsthand when he dropped into a Chick-Fil-A in Lubbock last winter and encountered McGuire’s touch firsthand. In the half hour or so he was there, he watched as McGuire worked the room, shaking hands, slapping backs, chatting up every single person of all ages.

   In that small window, my friend could see why Texas Tech athletics director Kirby Hocutt had been blown away by Joey McGuire in their interview. Hocutt believed in his passion and his ideas even though the resume was frighteningly thin.

   Hocutt is on quite a roll. His promotion of low-key men’s basketball assistant Mark Adams when Chris Beard bolted for Texas 18 months ago is looking like a very smart hire. To revive a floundering football program, Hocutt hired one of the beat high school coaches in Texas history. McGuire won three state championships in 14 seasons at Cedar Hill High School. He was 31 at the time he took over a program that had had eight consecutive losing seasons. Cedar Hill made 12 consecutive playoff appearances, and McGuire became a hot name.

   He turned down an assortment of offers, including one from the University of Texas, in part, because he was coaching his son at the time. He finally made the jump when Matt Rhule convinced him to join his staff at Baylor in 2017.

   Thus began a stretch of five years as a Baylor assistant. He found plenty of the same things that motivated his players at Cedar Hill worked at Baylor thanks, in part, to his never-met-a-stranger, guitar-picking demeanor. Hocutt interviewed McGuire’s buddy, UTSA’s Jeff Traylor, but McGuire ended up with the job.

   In the 10 months since, he has given Texas Tech a measure of credibility with Texas high school coaches it hasn’t had in years, if ever. Tech is recruiting at a level unseen since the Leach years.

   McGuire packed his coaching staff with more Texas high school coaches and some with Texas Tech backgrounds, especially offensive coordinator Zach Kittley, a Tech alum who was the architect of high-flying offenses at Houston Baptist and Western Kentucky. In Tim DeRuyter, he got an experienced defensive coordinator and brilliant football mind.

   In the wake of his first signature victory, McGuire focused, not on beating Texas, but on the Red Raiders being 1-0 in the Big 12. What’s that someone said about a journey of a thousand miles beginning with a single step? This was a big, big step for Texas Tech.

   “Our guys are going to enjoy this,” McGuire, “but it’s not going to be the end of what we’re about to do. We’ll build off of this. I’m proud of my guys.”

This game was so thrilling and so dramatic that it’s hard to imagine the Longhorns may never play another game in Lubbock given how lukewarm UT officials seem about continuing the series after the move to the Southeastern Conference.

This is another reminder why Texas moving to the SEC is a dumb idea and bad for college football in Texas, student athletes on the Forty Acres and plenty more. No game against Ole Miss or Florida will generate anything close to the theater we saw in Lubbock on Saturday.

“We should. We should,” McGuire said when asked about continuing the Texas-Texas Tech series. “There’s a reason they don’t want to, and it happened today. But we should. It should be in every sport.”

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