LUBBOCK – Joey McGuire watched from a suite inside Jones AT&T Stadium as Jonathan Garibay’s 62-yard field goal propelled Texas Tech past Iowa State and into bowl eligibility. The kick didn’t raise McGuire out of his seat because he was already standing.
McGuire, 51, was hired less than a week before the kick after a five-year stint as an assistant at Baylor University under Matt Rhule and then Dave Aranda. McGuire made his name as a high school football coach by leading Cedar Hill to three state championships in 14 seasons at a program that hadn’t won a playoff game prior to his arrival.
The new head man in Lubbock is more comfortable on the sideline. He’s only coached four games from the booth in his entire 28-year coaching career, and those were his final four games on the Baylor staff because Aranda needed an experienced presence with a bird’s eye view. McGuire moved to the booth, but he never sat down. He instructed a graduate assistant to remove his chair to free up room. McGuire even hooked his headset to his belt buckle in the same way he’d do if he was coaching on the sidelines. McGuire said he’d do the same when watching the Red Raiders from a suite until the end of the regular season.
McGuire is currently in coaching purgatory. He’s the head coach of the Red Raiders, but it is Sonny Cumbie who is leading the team on the field as the interim head coach. McGuire doesn’t want to disrupt the flow, so he spent the first week on the job tucked in an office in Jones Stadium. He needed to replace the light bulb in that office because it was set to a timer, which forced the man charged with returning Texas Tech football to conference contender to waive his arms around in order to prevent darkness from interrupting his progress.
“This has been a tough time because I haven’t been around the team,” McGuire admitted from his makeshift office. “I don’t want to disrupt what is going on. The team is my sanctuary. The energy that powers me is being around the team and in the locker room. I need to be in the action.”
McGuire is a people person. He wasn’t hired by Texas Tech because he’s an offensive genius or a defensive guru. McGuire is a chameleon. He’s proud of the fact that he’s coached offense and defense at the Power Five level. His Cedar Hill teams were known more for personnel than plays. That built McGuire a reputation as a player’s coach. It is a title he enjoys, even if he thinks most people provide the wrong definition.
“Players win games,” McGuire said. “I’m a player’s coach, and from the outside looking in, people think that equates to being soft and buddy-buddy with the guys, but it is not. It is someone who wakes up every single day with the goal of making the players as good as they can possibly be. I want to make them their best version.”
The ability to build relationships is key for McGuire. His focus during the final weeks of the season is to individually meet with each of the players on Texas Tech’s roster. He also wants to meet as many fans as possible while dedicating himself to the recruiting trail. His existing relationships with high school coaches will help the Red Raiders attract more talent. Former head coach Matt Wells wasn’t as connected inside the state, and that forced Texas Tech to depend heavily on transfers and the JUCO market.
“A team is only as good as the young men brought into the program, and no state has more high school talent than Texas,” Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt told me in his suite before the win over Iowa State. “It was important for us to find someone connected with the high school coaches and knew how to recruit the state of Texas. It is undisputed that we found the best person in the country considering what we were looking for.”
Fit was a word I heard multiple times during my two days in Lubbock leading up to the Iowa State clash. Wells wasn’t a fit. McGuire fits anywhere. He’s always loved Lubbock. His best friend growing up went to Texas Tech, so McGuire spent plenty of time in college traveling up to Lubbock. McGuire’s daughter, Reagan, graduated from Texas Tech and is a proud Red Raider. Even the family dog, Charlie, came from Lubbock.
Hocutt knew he needed the right fit. The goal when hiring a new coach was to unite Red Raider nation in a way that wasn’t achieved under Wells. It probably hasn’t been achieved since the golden years under Mike Leach. Lubbock lacked buzz, so Hocutt made a midseason change and went about finding the right fit.
“Somebody who shares our belief about what this program can be,” explained Hocutt about his criteria when searching for a new head coach. “We believe this program can be relevant in college football. We want to be talked about nationally late in the season because we’re in conference championship races.”
Graduating from high school to college
No one would’ve blamed McGuire if he remained a dominant head coach in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for the rest of his career. Even Rhule was concerned that McGuire would struggle to transition from head coach in high school to assistant in college. McGuire assured Rhule that moving up to college was the next step in his evolution as a football coach.
McGuire began his college career in charge of tight ends. He moved to outside linebacker coach with the arrival of Aranda. He learned from both men, and from every experience in Waco. McGuire learned about recruiting from the college perspective. He learned what it takes to hire a support staff and to put together a recruiting plan. McGuire helped Rhule and Aranda turn Baylor into Big 12 contenders.
“Rhule was a great mentor,” McGuire said. “He knew from the get-go that I’d be a head coach again, so he’d pull me into different things so that I understood how it all worked. That continued with Aranda. It helped me build a foundation because it gave me a bridge from high school and college.”
Still, McGuire contends that his years managing a high school program was a tremendous education for his new college gig. The head coach of a Class 6A high school wears many hats and oversees a large pool of players and personalities. In many ways, it is easier to be a head coach at a Power Five school.
“I oversaw more male athletes in football at Cedar Hill than there are total at Texas Tech,” McGuire said. “There are a lot of coaches in the state of Texas ready to do jobs like this. I want to represent them in the right way, just like Jeff Traylor.”
McGuire and Traylor, the head coach of the undefeated UTSA Roadrunners and a former high school coaching legend in his own right, are similar in a lot of ways. The two took a similar path from state championships as a high school coach to assistant in college and now head coach of a university. McGuire even admitted to exchanging texts with Traylor the night that news broke of McGuire’s hiring at Texas Tech.
The two also know about the pressure that comes with Texas high school coaches watching their every move. McGuire still sees himself as a high school coach.
“I take a lot of pride in that responsibility,” McGuire said. “It is a great opportunity. I once told Matt Rhule that I wasn’t going to embarrass the high school football coaches rooting for my success, and that’s still true with this opportunity.”
McGuire hopes to take what he’s learned from his coaches, his time as a high school coach, and his five years as a college assistant to Texas Tech. He knows that players win games, and that recruiting the state of Texas is his ticket to success. But what about the schemes and philosophy that will define the McGuire era? Look for RPOs and a run-oriented offense, and a defense anchored by an odd-man front.
“I want to play complimentary football,” McGuire said. “What I’ve learned is that complimentary football allows you to build a culture and turn a corner. That is what we’re striving for. Everybody I’m talking to on both sides of the ball are all similar in what they like to do and what they want to do on either offense or defense. We want those units working together because the teams that don’t play complimentary football tend to be powered by only one side of the ball.”
Even with McGuire’s connections, Texas Tech took a risk hiring a coach with no head coaching or coordinator experience at the college level. Hocutt said those fears were partially squashed because guys such as Bob Stoops, Mack Brown, and Matt Rhule vouched for McGuire’s character as a man beyond the football field. Any remaning doubts were eliminated during the interviewing process.
“He has a way of captivating an audience with his energy and his plan,” Hocutt said. “He walked into the interview with a plan of how he was going to recruit to Texas Tech. He came into that room with the determination that this was his dream job. He asked for the job. He wanted this opportunity.”
Working towards expectations
McGuire’s opportunity requires work. Texas Tech went 13-17 in the two-plus years under Wells, including a 7-16 record in the Big 12. The Red Raiders never won consecutive Big 12 games under Wells, and the Red Raiders never qualified for a bowl game. The expectations in Lubbock are higher, and Hocutt sees their profile raising with Texas and Oklahoma leaving the Big 12 soon.
“It is our expectation that we’re competing for conference championships in everything that we do, and there is no sport where that is more important than football,” Hocutt said “As the Big 12 Conference takes a different form, it is our expectation that we’re on top. If we win the Big 12 Conference, we’ll be right there in the College Football Playoff conversation, and that’s where we want to be and that’s where we look forward to finding ourselves in the coming years.”
McGuire was hired before the end of the season in order to reach those expectations sooner. He’ll get to recruit for over a month before the early signing period in December. He’ll get to evaluate his current roster. He’ll also get time to put together a staff without rushing. That’s important for a coach without experience building a staff at the college level. It’s not something McGuire’s done in a long time. Cedar Hill was known for elevating coaches under McGuire rather than hiring from the outside. Four of his five offensive coordinators, for example, were coaches at Cedar Hill prior to the promotion.
“The silver lining to be walled off from the team is that I can take the time to put together the right staff,” McGuire said. “Not just the football coaches, but the recruiting staff and the operations team. That’s honestly the biggest difference for me as a college coach.”
Cumbie is an option at offensive coordinator. The two held a previous relationship, and the win over Iowa State only elevates his status inside of Lubbock. Coaches tend to keep a few familiar faces around the program during a regime change, and Combie has plenty of West Texas and Big 12 connections.
The recruiting momentum is already starting. Texas Tech was ranked last in the Big 12 for the 2022 recruitnig class when McGuire was announced as head coach. The group is now seventh in the Big 12 and 55thnationally. The Red Raiders finished the previous cycle 10th in the Big 12 and 74th nationally. A trio of Cedar Hill prospects, all on the defensive side of the football, pledged to Texas Tech on Nov. 8. A flurry of offers were sent out. Even the first calls after the announcement of his hiring on Nov. 8 were made with recruiting in mind.
“Some of my first calls were to our commitments,” McGuire said. “I wanted them to know me and introduce myself. I knew a lot of them, so that helped. It is huge because I can do some in-home visits once those start.”
On paper, McGuire walks into a better situation than the one Wells inherited. Texas Tech is a bowl team following the win against Iowa State, which gives McGuire and his new staff even more time to evaluate the current. A roster with some talent. Redshirt freshman Donovan Smith was the breakout star in the win over Iowa State, throwing for 322 yards and three touchdowns in his first collegiate start. Wide receiver Myles Price, a sophomore, caught nine of those passes for 175 yards and a touchdown. The running game possesses a pair of pillars in Tahj Brooks and Saradorick Thompson.
To reach expectations, the real work needs to be done in the trenches and on the defensive side of the football. The Red Raiders are allowing 33.5 points per game. Texas ran for 336 yards in a win over Texas Tech back in September. TCU racked up 394 a few weeks later. The Wells tenure ended after allowing 306 passing yards in a loss to Kansas State.
But for McGuire, roster construction will take of itself as he and his staff get on the road and get their message across to football recruits. The improvements might not happen overnight, or even in 2022, but the talent level will rise as McGuire works his magic across the state of Texas. McGuire took the job because he thinks he can win big at Texas Tech, and the reasons are simple, and predictably important for McGuire: Passion, support, development. The things he says he received at Cedar Hill.
“First, the people here are passionate about the Red Raiders,” McGuire said. “When you are looking at jobs, you want one that allows you to recruit to a fan base that is fired up. To me, the second part of that is the administration and the support you get from behind the scenes. But the thing that really drew me to this job, is that I think you can recruit and develop players here at Texas Tech and win the Big 12.”
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