Richard Justice: Texas Tech paid tribute to Mike Leach, then put a solid finishing touch on Joey McGuire’s first season

Texas Tech’s head coach Joey McGuire wears a “swing your sword” before game against Ole Miss in the Texas Bowl, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, at NRG Stadium in Houston.

Richard Justice: Texas Tech paid tribute to Mike Leach, then put a solid finishing touch on Joey McGuire’s first season

   Few schools are finishing this college football season with as many good vibes as Texas Tech, and a 42-25 victory over Ole Miss in the TaxAct Texas Bowl on Wednesday only validated that.

   From the hiring of head coach Joey McGuire a year ago to the ongoing construction of first-rate facilities to last week’s signing of one of the best recruiting classes in Texas Tech history to the program’s first eight-win season since 2013, the Red Raiders are rolling into the New Year.

   Quarterback Tyler Shough — 242 passing yards, 111 rushing yards, Texas Bowl MVP — announced he would be returning for another season. He’s one of at least 14 Red Raider seniors, almost all of them starters or prominent backups, taking advantage of the COVID-19 bonus season, creating a wave of optimism heading into the offseason program.

   “For them to accept us the way they did and just play the way they do every single game, how hard they play, it shows that they believe in what we’re doing,” McGuire said, “but more than anything, they love each other and they believe in each other. And tonight just showed that.”

   It’s not just that McGuire is the right guy for the job. It’s that Texas Tech fans believe he’s the right guy for the job. That’s important in all sorts of ways, especially in creating positive energy and getting everyone pulling on the same end of the rope.

   This hasn’t been true very often, if ever, in the post-Mike Leach era at Texas Tech. At times, it looked like Tech might never recover from Leach’s ugly and divisive departure in 2011.

   McGuire has changed that. Almost from the moment Tech went looking for a new coach last year, he was the guy Red Raider fans wanted.

   Actually, Jeff Traylor might have been the guy they most wanted, but when he let it be known he wouldn’t be leaving UTSA, McGuire became the guy.

   Red Raider fans wanted one of their own. That is, someone ingrained in the culture of Texas high school football and someone that understood and appreciated the appeal of both Texas Tech as an institution and Lubbock as a great place to live and work.

   One of McGuire’s favorite quotes is: “I tell everybody I’m a Texas high school coach that gets to coach college football.” His three state championships at Cedar Hill established him as one of the best to ever do it.

   To go back and watch the videos of his locker room chats with his Cedar Hill players is to understand that some people simply were born to lead and inspire.

   “People ask me all the time, what’s the difference?” McGuire told me last fall. “Whenever it comes to dealing with players, it’s making sure they know how much you care about them and want them to be successful. That’s the same everywhere. What you do every day, how you deal with your staff, there’s really not a lot of difference.”

   Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt deserves so much credit for having the guts to hire a guy that had never even been a coordinator at the college level.

   McGuire’s only collegiate experience of any kind was five years at Baylor as an assistant for first Matt Rhule and then Dave Aranda. What impressed Hocutt when he met him was McGuire’s passion, optimism, and people skills. He never seems to have had a bad day, and that energy is infectious.

   “Obviously, he’s very well-known for the success that he had at the high school level,” Hocutt told me last fall. “And, he had built relationships with a significant number of Texas Tech alumni and Texas Tech. Those individuals saw in his character, and who he is as a person, just a set of values and a sense of grit and work ethic that’s synonymous with West Texas and Texas Tech University.”

   McGuire’s relationships with other Texas high school coaches will get Texas Tech a huge measure of respect on the recruiting trail. They know this guy, this trust him, and they’ll convey that message to their kids.

   Dozens of high school coaches visited the Red Raiders this week as they prepared for Ole Miss, and McGuire seems to know all of ‘em, shaking hands, sharing gossip, and making them instantly feel like VIPs.

   Tech’s 2023 recruiting class ranks behind only Texas, Oklahoma, and TCU in the Big 12 and will grow from there. He also understands that, as Traylor preaches, player development is just as important as player recruitment.

   Shough’s decision to return should be a huge driver in Tech’s ability to put a strong finishing touch on this recruiting season while setting up 2023 as potentially a special season.

   Tech offensive coordinator Zach Kittley — a Lubbock native — had a masterful game plan that relied as much on Shough’s leg as his arm in leading scoring drives of 75, 71, and 66 yards.

   Ole Miss self-destructed with five turnovers and an onside kick attempt that resulted in a 44-yard Texas Tech touchdown return. But none of that should take away from what the Raiders did themselves.

   It was a dizzying day for McGuire. Tech announced a new contract — and a big raise — for their coach before the game. And on the first play of the game, McGuire honored Leach, who died last week at 61, by having his guys line up in an Air Raid formation. The Red Raiders never snapped the ball, instead taking a delay-of-game penalty.

   It was as if McGuire wanted a tip of the hat to the greatest coach Tech has ever had before showing off all the reasons Tech fans have to believe in this new era.

   “It’s a pretty awesome day,” McGuire said. “I really do love this place and love this team, love the school, love everything about Texas Tech. And for them to put that much behind me and belief behind me, I told Kirby at the end, whenever we got through finalizing everything, I said, ‘Kirby, I promise you we’ll work every single day to reach our goals at Texas Tech.’”

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