History of Texas Tech Red Raiders football

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The History of Texas Tech Red Raiders football covers 85 seasons since the team began play as the "Matadors" in 1925.



Texas Tech played its first intercollegiate football game on October 3, 1925. The contest, against McMurry University, ended in a controversial 0–0 tie during the Panhandle South Plains Fair.[1] Tech's Elson Archibald seemed to have kicked a game-winning 20-yard field goal but the referee ruled that the clock had run out before the score. It was later reported that the referee made the call to get revenge because he wanted to be the team's first head coach but the job was instead given to Ewing Y. Freeland.[2]

Over his four years, Freeland coached the team, known at the time as the Matadors, to 21–10–6 before handing the reins to Grady Higginbotham. The freshman team was named the Picadors.[3] Higgenbotham coached for one year, 1929, which saw only one win and two ties to seven losses. His winning percentage of .200 is the worst of any Texas Tech football coach. Pete W. Cawthon replaced Higginbotham in 1930 and led the team for the next eleven seasons. His winning percentage of .693 has not been surpassed at Texas Tech.[4][5]

For its first seven years, the program was independent, not belonging to an athletic conference. It was during Cawthon's service—in 1932—that Tech first joined a conference, the Border Intercollegiate Athletic Association, which included five other schools at the time. Several other firsts occurred during Cawthon's tenure. In 1934, the team was first referred to as the "Red Raiders".[6] Three years later, the 1937 squad became the first team in college football to fly to a game.[7] Later that year, they received their first postseason invite—to the 1937 Sun Bowl, where they were defeated by West Virginia, 7–6. The following year, Cawthon led the team, which is the only one in the program's history to have an undefeated regular season, to the Cotton Bowl Classic where they lost to St. Mary's, 20–13.[8] Cawthon's 1939 team set a still-unbroken NCAA record for most punts during a single game. Playing in a driving rainstorm, Texas Tech punted 39 times, while their opponent, Centenary punted 38 times. The combined punt total of 77 is also an unbroken NCAA record.[9]

Texas Tech's acceptance into the Southwest Conference headlines the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, 1956

The next two coaches after Cawthon each held the position for a decade. Dell Morgan started in 1941, garnering a 55–49–3 record which included three bowl appearances that ended in losses. In 1951, DeWitt T. Weaver started his run. At the end of it, he held a record of 49–51–5. During his time, Weaver coached the Red Raiders to their initial bowl victories. The first came against Pacific in 1952 Sun Bowl. The next came two years later in the Gator Bowl. The 1953 Gator Bowl, a 35–13 win over Auburn, is most memorable for the first official public appearance of The Masked Rider:

Texas Tech withdrew from the Border Intercollegiate Athletic Association in 1956 and was independent for the ensuing three years. The school had tried eight times to gain admittance to the Southwest Conference and had been denied. After the 1952 rejection, many Tech fans cut up their Neiman Marcus charge cards and mailed them back to the Dallas-based retailer. Legend holds that, in response, Stanley Marcus helped sway SMU's vote in Tech's favor.[2][11]


J. T. King became the coach of the Red Raiders in 1961. In his nine years, he fared no better nor worse than the man he replaced. With 44 wins, 45 losses, and three ties, his winning percentage of .495 was very close to Weaver's .490. One of the wins under King was on September 18, 1965, when the Red Raiders beat Kansas, 26–7, in the first intercollegiate football game to use instant video replay.[12] King led the team to two bowl games but they were both losses.

The win column saw an upswing under coach Jim Carlen (1970–74) who finished his five years with a winning record of .644. Steve Sloan (1975–77) did slightly better with .657. The team's second postseason win came under Carlen when Tech beat Tennessee in the 1973 Gator Bowl. The only bowl tie in the program's history came the following year in the Peach Bowl, 6–6 vs. Vanderbilt. The Red Raiders were not invited to a bowl in 1975 but returned to postseason play in 1976, losing to Nebraska by three in the Bluebonnet Bowl. Tech's appearance in 1977 Tangerine Bowl, where they lost 40–17 to Florida State, was to be the last time the team saw postseason play for nearly a decade.

With the arrival of Rex Dockery, the program would, for the second time in its history, enter into a period of two successive coaches who would return overall losing records. In three years, Dockery coached the Red Raiders to 15–16–2.


Jerry Moore took the position in 1981. During his five years, he posted the second-worst record of any Texas Tech football coach, only .309. The final tally, though, only tells part of the story since many of the losses came in close games. In 1982, #1 Washington, playing at home, beat the Red Raiders by only a single touchdown. Later in the season, #2 SMU was also only able to squeak by on a single touchdown. In Moore's final season, four of Tech's seven losses were by a combined six points.[13]


Upon Moore's release, the job was given to David McWilliams. In spite of not even staying an entire season, he was able to garner a record of .636 and return the team to postseason play. McWilliams departed to become the head coach at Texas, and Spike Dykes took over at Tech just before the 1986 Independence Bowl where the Red Raiders were edged out, 20–17, by Ole Miss.

Dykes bowl game and the 13 complete seasons that followed set a record as the longest stay for any Texas Tech football coach. Although tallying 67 losses and a tie, his 82 wins also set a record as the most victories for a single Tech football coach.

It was in 1996, during Dykes's tenure, that Texas Tech joined the Big 12 Conference. The team had the distinction of being the only one in the Big 12 to have a winning season each year since the conference was created, suffering their first losing season in 2011.[14]


When Dykes departed in 2000, Texas Tech hired Mike Leach, who eventually became the winningest coach in school history. He is also the school's all-time winningest coach in postseason play, competing in a bowl game each year during his stay and garnering a 5–3 record. Behind only the Texas Longhorns, the Red Raiders are second in the Big 12 for postseason wins since 2000, having won six of their last ten bowl games. In the 2006 Insight Bowl, the team defeated the Minnesota Golden Gophers, overcoming a 31-point deficit in the third quarter to beat their opponent by three in overtime.[15] This made NCAA Division I FBS (formerly I-A) history as the largest come-from-behind bowl victory ever recorded.

Each year since 2001, the American Football Coaches Association has recognized Texas Tech for having a team graduation rate of at least 70 percent. The Graduation Success Rate figures released by the NCAA in October 2008 showed that Tech graduated 79% of its players during the period from 1998 to 2001. This placed it third among the 25 teams ranked in the USA Today Coaches' Poll at the time the data was released. Only No. 23 Vanderbilt and No. 19 Wake Forest ranked higher. It also placed Texas Tech at the top of the Big 12, followed by Nebraska (78%), Baylor (78%), Colorado (75%), Kansas State (67%), Oklahoma State (62%), Missouri (59%), Texas A&M (56%), Iowa State (55%), Kansas (53%), Texas (50%), and Oklahoma (46%).[16]

In July 2007, ESPN ranked all 119 FBS (formerly 1-A) football programs on performance from 1997 to 2006 and placed Texas Tech at number 32.[17] Also, with 13, the Red Raiders rank fourth nationally in consecutive winning seasons, trailing only Florida State (30), Florida (19), and Virginia Tech (14).[18]

Described as a program on the rise, the Red Raiders earned 56 wins from the 2000 season through the 2006 season. During the same period, only three other Big 12 teams had more victories—Oklahoma, Texas, and Nebraska.[19]

The Red Raiders, with returning quarterback Graham Harrell and redshirt freshman wide receiver Michael Crabtree opened the 2007 season in Dallas on September 3, 2007, with a televised game against SMU.[20] Texas Tech defeated the Mustangs, 49–9.[21] After a 45–49 loss to the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the fourth game of the season, defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich resigned and was replaced by Ruffin McNeill, who took the position on an interim basis.[22] The season ended with a 34–27 upset of the #3 Oklahoma Sooners, an 8–4 record, and an invitation to the Gator Bowl, where Tech defeated the Virginia Cavaliers, 31–28, on an Alex Trlica field goal with seven seconds remaining.

College GameDay broadcasting from Texas Tech on November 1, 2008

Prior to the 2008 season, Ruffin McNeill was made the Red Raider's full-time defensive coordinator. The team remained undefeated for the first 10 games of the season and, on November 1, 2008, the Red Raiders (ranked #5 in the Coaches' Poll, #6 in the AP Poll, and #7 in the BCS Rankings defeated the #1 (in all polls) Texas Longhorns.[23][23] A pass from Graham Harrell to All-American wide receiver Michael Crabtree with 8 seconds remaining in the game led Tech to a 39–33 victory. This marked the 500th win in program history and the first win over a #1 ranked team. Billed as the most significant game in Texas Tech history, the game was broadcast nationwide on ABC. It was the fifth-most viewed telecast of any regular-season game in ABC history, drawing a 7.5 rating, meaning an average of 8,590,000 households tuned into the contest during each measurable segment.[24] It also attracted the largest home crowd in school history.[25][26] The win also catapulted the Red Raiders to the number-two spot in both major polls, as well as the BCS rankings (and as high as number one in some computer rankings). They also became the second Red Raider team to win eleven games in the regular season. However, Tech would go on to lose two games—a conference matchup at Oklahoma and the Cotton Bowl Classic versus Ole Miss.

A March 2009 announcement stated that Texas Tech and Baylor would move their next two games to the Dallas metropolitan area. The schools played November 28, 2009, at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington and will play again on October 9, 2010, at the Cotton Bowl Stadium during the State Fair of Texas.[27] There is also an option to extend the arrangement for an additional two years.[28]

On December 30, 2009, Texas Tech fired head coach Mike Leach for allegedly mistreating Adam James, an injured player.[29] Leach's record at Tech stands at 84–43. Following Leach's departure, Defensive Coordinator Ruffin McNeill was named the interim head coach and led the team to a 41–31 victory over the Michigan State Spartans at the 2010 Alamo Bowl. Texas Tech finished the 2009 season ranked #21 in the AP poll, and #23 in the USA Today poll.[30]


On January 9, 2010, former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville was named the new head coach for the Red Raiders.[31] On January 12, 2010, Neal Brown, from Troy was selected as the new offensive coordinator.[32] After 3 seasons and a 21–17 record, 9–17 in Big 12 play, Tuberville departed to become the head coach for the Cincinnati Bearcats. Kliff Kingsbury, a former Texas Tech quarterback who was serving as the Offensive Coordinator at Texas A&M, was hired to replace Tuberville as Tech's next Head Coach.

Kingsbury completed his first season as Head Coach in 2013 with a 8-5 record and a Holiday Bowl Victory. Kingsbury became the first Big 12 Conference coach to begin his career with 7 straight wins.[33] The season saw the departure of assistant coach/ Co-Offensive Coordinator and former Texas Tech quarterback Sonny Cumbie, as he would become the next Offensive Coordinator for the Horned Frogs at TCU. Tight end Jace Amaro was also named as a Consensus All-American, and the first Red Raider to be selected as such since Michael Crabtree in 2008. Michael Crabtree currently is a wide receiver for the Oakland Raiders, and Jace Amaro is a current tight end for the Tennessee Titans, as of the 2016 football season.


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  2. ^ a b "Texas Tech A-to-Z". Retrieved 2006-12-31. 
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  5. ^ As of January 1, 2008.
  6. ^ Making Matadors
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  14. ^ Big 12 breakdown: Texas Tech
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  19. ^ ESPN - Teams just outside top 25 include big names, underachieving programs - College Football
  20. ^ Football - Texas Tech Red Raiders :: The Official Athletic Site
  21. ^ Tech's defense has the answer | Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | SportsDay: Colleges: Top Stories
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  28. ^ George, Brandon; Carlton, Chuck (2009-02-12). "Texas Tech, Baylor discuss playing football series in North Texas". Dallas Morning News. Retrieved 2009-02-13. 
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  32. ^ Troy coordinator Brown to be offensive coordinator under Tuberville
  33. ^ Fox, David. "Big 12 Week 8 Recap and Awards". Athlon Sports Communications. Retrieved 20 October 2013. 

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