Big 12 Media Days is now one week away.
Next Monday and Tuesday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, league coaches, players and others will reconvene to discuss all topics germane to the 2019 football season.
At the top of the list is the Big 12’s new identity.
Forty percent of the league’s teams are helmed by new coaches this season. That’s a major paradigm shift in leadership, fundamentals, philosophy and scheme.
One is a former retiree who’s already built up one Big 12 program and also owns a national championship. Two constructed offensive powerhouses at Group of 5 schools. And one put together near unprecedented success with four national championships on the FCS level.
- At Kansas, Les Miles, 65, comes off a one-year hiatus after a successful run at LSU and a rebuild at Oklahoma State hoping to breathe life into Power 5 football’s most moribund program — the Jayhawks.
- At West Virginia, Neal Brown, 39, a former Texas Tech offensive coordinator, had dynamic teams at Troy that won three straight bowl games, and now replaces another former Red Raiders OC — Dana Holgorsen.
- At Texas Tech, Matt Wells, 45, a Sallisaw native and former Tulsa assistant, built a contender at Utah State with a Mike Leach-based offense and will try to do the same as he steps up a level — at the same place Leach got his start.
- And at Kansas State, Chris Klieman, 51, who won four FCS national titles in five years at North Dakota State, will use his defensive background to replace the patron saint of all college football reclamation projects — Bill Snyder.
“It’s good,” said Texas coach Tom Herman, who begins his third season tied for the third-longest tenure among Big 12 coaches. “It infuses some new blood, some new energy and is always gonna ramp the competition level up.”
Herman, Baylor’s Matt Rhule and Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley each have two seasons under their belt. Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, 39, now ranks third in Big 12 longevity with just three seasons.
Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, 51, is now the Big 12’s longest-tenured head coach at 14 seasons. TCU’s Gary Patterson, 59, is entering his 20th season in Fort Worth, but only his eighth as a member of the Big 12.
“It’ll be an interesting year,” said Gundy. “We’ve been in a pattern in our league where we knew each other well for a number of years, so this’ll throw a little curveball to everybody in the league for a couple years.”
Said Patterson, “It’s always good for a league to have new blood come in (with) new ideas.”
Miles, Brown, Wells and Klieman will get to tell their stories next week in Arlington. They’ll recount their previous stops, their hiring at their new school, their offseason efforts to reenergize the fan base, their team’s progress in spring practice, their new challenges and triumphs and what they’re looking forward to the most in the Big 12.
And since 80 percent of the league coaches have turned over within the past three years, it will all sound a bit familiar to Big 12 fans.
For example, when Campbell sat down in the Big 12 boardroom for the first time in the spring of 2016, Bob Stoops sat on one side and Art Briles and Bill Snyder sat on the other. Now Campbell somehow has become one of the league’s elder statesmen.
“Yeah, that’s certainly hard to imagine,” he said. “I remember how intimidating it was for me walking into the first Big 12 meetings. … It certainly has changed. The dynamic in that room has changed tremendously from the first couple of years.”
Rhule, who has guided Baylor through the post-Briles dark years from 1-11 his first season to 7-6 last year, said all the changes have made for a busier spring and summer.
“It’s a little bit more offseason work,” Rhule said. “It’s a little bit more in-week work as you get ready to prepare for a guy you don’t have as much history with.”
Rhule likened the Big 12’s old familiarity with his brief tenure with the New York Giants.
“You play the Cowboys twice a year every year, so you really began to develop sort of a book of business of how to play them, or how to play the Redskins,” he said. “That, to me, is true for this league. You play the same teams every single year and teams don’t get off your schedule. The things you did last year that worked might not work because people are more prepared for you. Obviously, four new teams changes that dynamic to a degree.”
Said Patterson, “I was one of those guys a long time ago — in whatever league that we joined. So it takes you a while to get used to everybody and playing, just like now we have to get used to the new coaches and how they do things in their teams. But yeah, it’s exciting and I’m looking forward to spending more time with them.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.