Texas Tech fans, coaches, and players alike all have plenty of comments to make about the football program, but regardless of how many wins or losses that mount up at the end of the season, adjustments are made, problems are diagnosed, and everyone moves on with equal parts uncertainty and excitement. Unfortunately, pundits tend to discuss the “State of…” ad nauseum levels, and the opinions tend to create a narrative that former players might agree, or disagree with. The problem is, few seem eager to reach out to the guys who have shed blood, sweat, and tears in the trenches for expert analysis.
Former Texas Tech quarterback B.J. Symons was kind enough to sit down and discuss the biggest areas of concern regarding the 2018 season: Kliff Kingsbury, and quarterbacks.
Q: In a situation when a team faces a quarterback battle, how does a coach know when a guy is the guy? Does the team tell him?
BJ: I think it’s different for every coach. I can only speak from experience. I admire Kliff Kingsbury as a coach, as a fan, and as a person. He’s committed to giving players the opportunity to prove themselves and earn the job as a starter. It seems like ever since Kliff got the [head coaching] job dating back to Baker Mayfield as a walk-on, he felt like Mayfield gave him the best chance to win over Davis Webb, who was a scholarship player, so they competed.
Mike Leach for example, when he got the job at Texas Tech in 1999, Kliff ran with the 1s from Day 1 and I ran with the 2s. And that’s not a knock against Kliff or the situation, that was just the reality. There was never a competition to earn the starting job, and honestly I think that had a lot to do with Leach, who came from Oklahoma the year prior when he was coaching with Bob Stoops. Our last game–my true freshman year when I was redshirting and Kliff was a FS/F our starting quarterback–Rob Peters was injured so Kingsbury started that last game of the season against Oklahoma, and he had a decent game and we won. So I think that played into that when Leach was hired at Texas Tech. He had the mindset that, “This guy started against us last year and played well.” I knew Leach because he recruited me to come to Oklahoma out of high school, so when he got the job at Tech, I was pleased with that. I knew him, he recruited me and I knew the offense he ran, but there was never a competition, And I guess I’m making that point because Kliff [has always been] committed to letting these guys each have a chance to compete and I think that’s because he needs to know what he has in each of them, and if you know someone is the guy you’re not gonna invest reps in two other guys in practice if you think one of them is your starter. I don’t think Kliff knew [who the starting quarterback was this year], but from the outside, he really did give them all a chance because he wanted to see them prepare, practice and scrimmage, and wanted a sample size.
Going back to your original question, I think it’s different for every coach in how they know. He’s observing everything from afar. For example, how are receivers like in the huddle? What’s the morale of the team one guys in the huddle versus the other? Do guys play harder for one guy than the other? And we see in the news about things that Kliff said about game management and taking care of the football, and I think he just factors everything in. And at the end of the day, Kliff’s proven not only his ability to coach quarterbacks at a successful level dating back to Keenum, and Manziel who won a Heisman, and Pat and Davis and Baker; I think his track record speaks for himself that he’s going to make a decision to play the best guy that he feels is gonna give him the best chance to win.
Q: You were Kingsbury’s backup. Walk us through your thoughts when you knew it was your time to take over.
BJ: I was just excited because I had been a backup for four years one as a redshirt and three as a backup with Kliff as a durable quarterback. It’s really rare in todays game–especially with these offenses and the way you see qbs involved from an athletic standpoint. It’s pretty rare to see a guy not miss a start in three years. Look at the last Tech years at Tech. Mayfield started as a true freshman and had injuries, Davis had some injuries, Pat had injuries, Nik played and McLane started, so to have a quarterback start for three straight years without missing a start is rare. So as a backup, I really had no experience with the exception of blowouts here and there. In my time of being the No. 2, I had maybe thrown less than 50 passes, and it was all mop up duty, whether we were up 40 or down 40. So I think I was just excited to play in a meaningful game because I had worked and prepared for that opportunity. I was just looking forward to competing again at a high level. Part of what makes football so great and why people play it is because of the game and competition, and going out there with your team and trying to win; there’s no better feeling than that, and I had never had that because even when I played (as backup) it was fun, but it was an opportunity to play and have fun again.
Q: Dovetailing from that, what were your personal expectations, and did you use his records as your personal motivation?
BJ: No, I never once had a “I’m gonna set school records” mentality. I don’t even know how many yards or touchdowns Kliff had thrown for, but going into my year starting, I can’t tell you I knew those numbers at the time or set any goals. More than anything, I wanted to prove not only to myself, but to everyone that I was ready to light the world on fire. For me it was kind of like lightning in a bottle because we had so much depth and experience aside from me, so ya, I was starting for my first year but we had multiple-year starters, which made things easier. I just knew that I needed to do what I did in practice for four years. I was always a risk taker. I always tried to throw balls and make “wow” throws and force the issue which was good and bad… and the majority of my interceptions came after I was hurt, but I didn’t have records in mind. I knew we had a really good offense, and I knew what I was capable of.
Q: How does a quarterback carve his own legacy when he’s always being compared to the guy he replaced?
BJ: I don’t think quarterbacks think about carving legacies, but maybe some do. When I was going into my senior year at Texas Tech, I wasn’t think about carving a legacy, so I knew there would be comparisons with Kliff, but I knew my game was different than his and I wasn’t trying to be him, I was just going to go out there and be me. So I think you carve your own legacy by not trying to be the guy before you, and if that’s worthy of a legacy then it will create itself. You play your game and play how you’re coached and legacies come later.
Q: Any advice to the quarterbacks this season?
BJ: Trust your teammates and coaches… put in the work and just play. Don’t concern yourself with what’s going on around you. Don’t pay attention to media–good or bad. Focus on being the best, put in the time, watch film as much as you can, commit yourself to being the best quarterback you can without worrying about the distractions. At the end of the day these kids are student-athletes; they’re going to class, they’re on campus, but going out and doing other things can lead to distractions they can get caught up in and. So I would just say, my advice would be work hard listen to your coaches, study film, take care of yourself off the field, and play ball. Go out without hesitation and ball. [To be fair] I would give that advice now, but I wouldn’t necessarily have followed it. It was hard for me. I wasn’t accustomed to it. Maybe Kliff was used to everything that came with being quarterback at a high level for a D1 team, but for me it was still my first year, so I’m dealing with people in class, and fans at dinner. So it’s easy for me to sit here [now] and say “don’t pay attention to distractions,” but I wouldn’t necessarily expect 18, 19, 20 year old kids to be able to do that.
Q: If you could say one thing to the fans to excite them about this quarterback race, what would it be?
BJ: At the Ole Miss game, Carter was showing something. He was locked in, and I felt bad that he got hurt. I haven’t really seen Duffey play so I can’t give thoughts on him, but I’m excited about what I see in Bowman. Go back to when Patrick Mahomes came in as a freshmen. If I can make an analogy to Mahomes’ first start, he looked awful. Actually, I don’t think he looked awful, I just think he wasn’t ready. The very first action I remember seeing Mahomes he was a true freshman, and I think Webb was still here and he got hurt, but Mahomes looked lost. I’m not hating on Pat, and I’m one of his biggest fans, but he looked like the lights were too big. What I’ve seen from Bowman makes me excited. It didn’t look like the stage was too big for him. We didn’t win the game, but he showed me a lot, especially in the way he competed. He didn’t make every throw, but he made a lot of good throws, and he’s athletic so he’s capable of making things happen with his feet, whether it be on the run or escaping pressure and making plays. I think about that and think “Wow, this is literally this kid’s first week–well not on campus–but this was literally his first game,” and I think that gets me excited. I’m not favoring him, but it was exciting.
What makes me excited about Texas Tech is the coach that’s coaching them.
Looking at the QB position in a vacuum, I’m exciting at what I see from Bowman. I didn’t see Duffy play, but Kliff gets me excited and comfortable with what we have at QB because he’s proven himself as a coach, and we’ll be fine there, but there are other issues. Penalties are a big one, and he’s the head coach and it’s all gonna fall down on his shoulders, but when you look at the QB position specifically, what’s not to be excited about? We’re gonna be fine at QB, but here’s the thing, with the track record Kingsbury has had with coaching quarterbacks, I think it’s hard to understand what’s been going on recruiting-wise the past three years where you have all this success at QB and a guy that gets drafted in the Top 10, so how do you not have five stars ready to plug in? People are on edge because it seems like we’re in a rebuilding mode and fans want to win now.
On money, infrastructure, coaches, and recruiting: The new facilities will help Texas Tech not get left behind. I love Lubbock but we know Tech isn’t gonna recruit at the level of OU, Texas, and A&M. And I hate to say this… actually, maybe that’s the wrong stance to have as a fan. In fact it is. It’s bullshit to even say that. Why can’t we? Lubbock is a great city. I love going there. It’s a great school, campus, and has great weather, so I think the mentality has to change. It can’t be like “Oh Tech can’t compete with OU…” Why not? Chris Beard is doing it. He’s proven that kind of talk shouldn’t be acceptable. He’s coming on back-to-back NCAA appearances and landing top recruits left and right. Players want to win. High school kids coming out want to do two things: Win and go somewhere that’s gonna get them to the next level… the NFL. The problem is, every kid lives in a false Twitter reality where they think they’re gonna be a star, and a first round pick. That’s not the real world. You having three thousand followers because you’re a four-star recruit doesn’t mean shit. So kids want to go where they’ll have the best shot. You have to put yourself in the position to win, and we’ve done what we need to in terms of infrastructure, but 6-6 isn’t gonna get you five stars. Winning a Big 12 championship is what’s gonna get you to where you’re constantly having a chance to compete for recruits and win.
Fans are nervous because they feel like there’s so much uncertainty and if there’s all this uncertainty, it feels like we’re in rebuilding mode. Then there’s the expectation at defense, but I was more disappointed in the defense than the offense. I get it, we’re down three starters in the secondary, but where was Dakota Allen? You’re preseason all Big 12 All American. I’m not hating on him, but come on, Special Teams? You’re giving a kick return for a touchdown on the second drive of the game after we’ve go 90 yards and get the momentum back and tie the game, and that shit kills the team.
Guys bought into the hype and were humbled. Regardless of what people say, Tech still has a ways to go. But here’s the thing, even if we go 6-6, Texas Tech doesn’t have the bank roll to be going through $5m a year coaches. So fire Kliff? And get who? [When he was hired at Texas Tech] Kliff was a new coach and didn’t have a huge network of assistant coaches who he could go to. He trusted them, and has been doing his job of diagnosing when coaches aren’t working out, and going from there.
I truly think Kliff Kingsbury is the guy who can get us to where we need to be, but with that said, he has to get it done and there’s work ahead, but I don’t think we’re going to find someone whos gonna come in and take us to a title. I could be wrong… look at what Chris Beard did, but let’s also take into account the size of the staff and roster.
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