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Can QB Nic Shimonek save Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury’s job?

Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury takes the field before Texas Tech plays Baylor in an NCAA college football game Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
Ron Jenkins/AP photo

FRISCO, Texas – When Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury walked to the podium for his turn before the amassed media at Big 12’s media days, he noted the music being played at The Star.

“I’m not sure why we had the Justin Bieber playing for my walk-up song,” Kingsbury said.

Yeah, Coach Bro is still “with it.” Probably many of the media folks over the age of 50 had no idea who the artist was. Kingsbury is still one of the hot, young coaches; Monday he was decked out in a runway-ready checked blue suit with the requisite stubble that would make his lookalike, Ryan Gosling, envious.

All that’s well and good, especially for the cameras, but a number of questions posed to the fifth-year coach indirectly referenced his hot-seat status and why the Red Raiders’ defense continues to give up points like freebies at a store opening. It’s time for Kingsbury to move past being the hot, young coach and become a winning coach.

The record has dipped to 24-26 overall and 13-23 in Big 12 games. While the offense has often been prolific, the defense has been laughable.

The last three seasons, Texas Tech has allowed an average of 41.3, 43.6, 43 points per game. One questioner asked why Kingsbury can’t find, in a state where 5,000 high school players play defense, 10, 15 or 20 players to hold the opponents to fewer than six TDs per game.

“That’s a great question; I wish I had the answer,” Kingsbury said. “It’s something we work on. We haven’t been good enough defensively.”

Last season, the Red Raiders twice scored 55 points … and lost. Texas Tech’s offense was often unstoppable, as quarterback Patrick Mahomes was capable of throwing for 500 yards every time he stepped on the field.

Now, Mahomes is gone, and the offense – a crutch that often helped the limping defense at least hope it wouldn’t be noticed or blamed for every loss — has a new leader.

Kingsbury has made his name as a “quarterback whisperer.”  He got the Texas Tech job after, as offensive coordinator at Texas A&M, he helped Johnny Manziel win the Heisman Trophy. Mahomes skipped his senior season and was an NFL first-round draft pick, and now the Red Raiders will rely on senior Nic Shimonek.

Uh, who?

Shimonek, who is from Corsicana, Texas, started his college career at Iowa before transferring after his freshman season. He helped his parents defray his walk-on costs at Tech by taking up his mother’s furniture refurnishing business. Kingsbury calls him a a “renaissance man,” and the hardest worker on the team.

Last season, when Mahomes suffered a shoulder injury, Shimonek came off the bench to +++++. Of course, that was a home game, and the opponent was Kansas. Is the 6-foot-3, 230-pound transfer good enough to run an offense that can score 40 points a game?

“He had a tremendous spring,” Kingsbury said. “With this supporting cast around him, we expect him to play at a high level. He’s a tough young man, studies the game inside and out. When he was at Iowa, he learned a pro style, came to Tech and learned our offense. He’s a bright kid.

“Our team loves him, because not many players in this day and age would stick around to their senior year to get their time, and he did. That carries a lot of weight.”

Shimonek also can count on a solid group of receivers. Dylan Cantrell, Keke Coutee and Cameron Batson  accounted for more than 3,000 yards last season. Cantrell, who was one of Mahomes’ go-to receivers, has confidence in the unknown QB.

“When he came in (to Tech), right when he got here, he was one of the hardest workers right off the bat,” Cantrell said. “He’s always getting extra work in the weight room. Always wanting to throw extra, so it didn’t take long at all. Right off the bat, everybody knew how determined and hard-working he was, so we have all the faith and confidence in him.”

Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt has shown confidence in Kingsbury, who received a contract extension in 2014. The buyout would cost the school about $10 million if it decides to change coaches after this season.

“Obviously, we know what’s at stake,” Kingsbury said. “We know we have to be much improved. But that’s part of the job. I think that everybody but the four that make the playoff every year are basically on the hot seat. You’re coaching for your job every year. I don’t feel any more pressure than I ever have.”

If he’s going hear another walk-up song at this event next season, Kingsbury will need to turn the pressure into victories.

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