The Texas Tech football program has lofty expectations entering 2023. In fact, many believe that anything less than a nine-win season would be a disappointment on the heels of an 8-5 debut by head coach Joey McGuire in 2022. However, the second year on the job for a Red Raider head coach has not yielded positive results in quite some time.
In fact, the last three men to hold the position have had losing seasons in year two. To find one who actually had a winning record in his sophomore campaign in Lubbock, one would have to look to Mike Leach, who went 7-5 in 2001.
What’s more, to find a coach who had the type of success in his second year at Tech that we are expecting from McGuire this fall, we have to go all the way back to 1976 when Steve Sloan took the Red Raiders to a 10-2 season. Since then, no Red Raider second-year head coach has surpassed the seven wins that Leach amassed.
How notable Texas Tech head coaches have fared in year two
The modern era of Texas Tech football essential began with the dawn of the Spike Dykes era in 1987. Taking over for the despised David McWilliams who left the Red Raiders after a strong 7-4 debut in 1986 to be the head coach at his alma mater, Texas, Dykes got out of the gates in impressive fashion with a 6-4-1 mark in his first year as a college head coach.
However, his second season would see the team take a step back. Going just 5-6 in 1988, Dykes’ team lost four of its first five games including disappointing defeats at the hands of North Texas and Arizona.
In all, that season would feature losses to all three ranked teams that Tech faced. It also included a humiliating 50-15 loss to unranked Texas A&M in College Station.
Dykes did save some face by managing to pull off a 33-32 win over Texas in Lubbock, though, a huge win considering it came against McWilliams. However, losses to No. 17 Houston and No. 12 Oklahoma State in Tokyo, Japan to close the season sealed a losing campaign for Dykes.
What was the most disappointing aspect of that season was that it was the senior year of QB Billy Joe Tolliver, one of the best QBs in program history to that point. Though he would set career highs in TD passes, passing yards, and completion percentage, he couldn’t carry his team to a winning season.
Tech also had a program legend, James Gray, running the ball that year. The problem though, was the defense, which allowed at least 30 points in seven games, something that likely didn’t sit well with Dykes, a former defensive coordinator under McWilliams. The good news is that the 1989 season would be a rousing success with a 9-3 record and a win in the All-American Bowl as Tech would end the year ranked No. 16 allowing Dykes to secure his hold on the job.
Mike Leach would not have the same struggles in his second year but he didn’t take a significant step forward either. In a season that saw one game canceled because of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on New York City and Washington D.C., Leach managed only to equal the previous season’s win total. Though it is fair to assume that he would have picked up an eighth win had the game at UTEP on September 13 been played as scheduled.
That year, Kliff Kingsbury took a huge step forward as one of the nation’s top passers in his second year as a starter and his second year in Leach’s system. However, the schedule did the Red Raiders no favor that year with three games against top-five teams (Texas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma).
What was most puzzling though was the 34-32 double-overtime loss to Kansas in Lubbock on homecoming. That day, Kingsbury would suffer an injury and miss the end of the game allowing the woeful Jayhawks to storm back for the win.
Tech also laid an egg in the Alamo Bowl that year managing to score only 16 points in a three-point loss to Iowa. Had those two games gone differently, Tech would have had a wildly successful season but instead, the Leach era remained stuck in neutral.
In 2011, the most disliked Texas Tech football coach of the last three decades, Tommy Tuberville, would wet the bed in a major way in his second season as Leach’s successor. Limping to a 5-7 record, he managed to lead the program to its first losing season since 1992.
Going just 2-7 in Big 12 games, Tuberville’s team dropped seven of its last eight games. What was crazy, though, was that the lone win in that stretch was a road upset of No. 1 Oklahoma. That was the only win that season in five tries against ranked teams. Certainly, that year’s results and the terrible attitude Tuberville displayed toward Lubbock and West Texas would prove to be the start of his undoing in Lubbock.
Meanwhile, his replacement, Kliff Kingsbury, was as beloved as Tuberville was reviled. However, the 2014 season was a huge flop on numerous fronts.
After going 8-5 the year prior and signing a lucrative contract extension in the offseason, many expected Kingsbury to take the NCAA by storm in year two. However, sophomore QB Davis Webb failed to improve upon his play from 2013 and the Red Raider defense, which lost defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt after game three, proved to be one of the worst units in the country.
Going just 4-8 that year, Tech would manage only two Big 12 wins (against Kansas and Iowa State when both of those programs were in true disarray). But there was a silver lining. By the end of the season, a true freshman named Pat Mahomes would take his place as the starting QB paving the way for the best two-year runs of play that Tech has ever seen at that position.
If there was ever a Red Raider coach who didn’t get a fair shake in his second year, it would have to be Matt Wells in 2020. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, that year’s offseason program was scrapped and the season was shortened to just 10 games.
Still, Wells and Co. did themselves no favors that fall. In a 4-6 season, Tech would blow a double-digit lead to Texas in Lubbock and could not hold onto a lead at Oklahoma State, two games that were essentially lost because of strange decisions Wells made in the kicking game. (Remember the “sky kick” against Texas and the unnecessary onside kick against OSU that was returned for a TD?)
That year was when those who might have been willing to give Wells a reasonable shot began to realize that he was not the answer the program had been looking for. Now, it appears that McGuire could fit that description after an impressive debut season. Here’s hoping that he can finally be the first second-year Texas Tech football coach to take the program to a new level in almost 50 years.