CINCINNATI (AP) — Tommy Tuberville wasn’t expecting a call from an old acquaintance. A few hours later, he was headed north for a new job.
Tuberville left Texas Tech to become Cincinnati’s football coach Saturday, moving away from a Big 12 school to one that has an uncertain future with conference realignment. He left the Red Raiders after three years to coach at a school where his recent predecessors have lasted no longer.
Two hours after Cincinnati’s 11th-ranked basketball team won its ninth game of the season, the Bearcats hauled out their Big East trophies and held a pep rally — complete with cheerleaders, band and several hundred fans — for the new coach at midcourt.
“There’s always a next step,” Tuberville said. “I’m going to get the question: Why did you come to Cincinnati? That’s exactly it.”
His quick hiring ended a whirlwind week in Cincinnati, which had won a share of its fourth Big East title in the past five years a week earlier. Coach Butch Jones interviewed at Purdue and Colorado before accepting the job at Tennessee on Friday morning.
Athletics director Whit Babcock had Tuberville — whom he worked with for three years at Auburn — at the top of his list of candidates. Working on two hours of sleep, Babcock called Tuberville on Saturday morning to see if he was interested.
“I was perfectly satisfied,” Tuberville said. “I had a great home in Lubbock, Texas. The people of west Texas are great people, they love football. Our football team played hard. … But there was something when Whit called that I thought, ‘You know? Let me think about this.'”
Texas Tech athletics director Kirby Hocutt was stunned when Tuberville called to tell him he was leaving.
“The first indication I got was at 10:32 this morning when he called me,” Hocutt said. “Tommy and I have talked a number of times since the conclusion of the Baylor game this year, and as recently as yesterday he looked me in the eye and gave me his commitment and dedication to Texas Tech football and leading this program forward.”
Both teams are headed to bowl games with their coaching staffs in flux.
The Bearcats (9-3) held their first practice on Saturday for the Belk Bowl against Duke. Players heard the news while eating lunch after practice.
“We had a real smooth practice,” senior quarterback Brendon Kay said. “We knocked the rust off from not practicing for a week. After practice, I was in the locker room and then eating lunch, it came on (television). We said, ‘Wow, this is real.'”
Tuberville won’t coach the Bearcats in their bowl, leaving it up to the staff.
Tuberville went 20-17 in three seasons at Texas Tech, after coaching at Mississippi and Auburn. The Red Raiders (7-5) will play Minnesota in the Meineke Car Care Bowl after missing out on a bowl last season.
By hiring the 58-year-old Tuberville, Cincinnati broke with its recent practice of attracting up-and-coming coaches from smaller conferences. The last three coaches left after three years each — Mark Dantonio came from Ohio State and left for Michigan State; Brian Kelly came from Central Michigan and went to Notre Dame; Jones succeeded Kelly at both Central Michigan and Cincinnati.
Like Kelly and Jones, Tuberville likes a wide-open offense. The Red Raiders ranked second nationally with 361.9 yards passing this season.
His final season at Texas Tech was marred by a sideline outburst. Tuberville lost his temper with graduate assistant Kevin Oliver during a 41-34 win over Kansas.
Tuberville appeared to strike Oliver after the Red Raiders had trouble getting the right players on the field. Tuberville said he grabbed Oliver’s headset, but wished he’d handled the situation better.
The Bearcats hope his hiring allows them to end their streak of losing football coaches every few years. He agreed to the framework of a five-year deal, with details still to be worked out.
The university has been disappointed by the Big East’s massive exodus and lobbied to get into the Atlantic Coast Conference. Instead, rival Louisville got accepted by the ACC, leaving Cincinnati hoping it could make the move in a few more years.
Tuberville wasn’t put off by the conference uncertainty, saying he wants to get the program to the point that “anybody would be proud to have Cincinnati in whatever conference is out there.
“But we’re excited about where we at right now. Things will change and they’re going to change every day for the next few years, and everybody knows where it’s headed.”
There’s also a lot of work to do on the athletic facilities.
During Jones’ tenure, Cincinnati expanded its football facility, adding a practice field with a protective bubble for bad weather. The school is trying to figure out how to upgrade 35,000-seat Nippert Stadium, which is the second-oldest playing site in the nation for a college team behind Penn’s Franklin Field. Nippert has been in use since 1901.
Despite their Big East success, the Bearcats have played in front of disappointing crowds at Nippert. They drew only 21,171 fans on senior night — their smallest crowd of the season — for a 27-10 win over South Florida this year.
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