Sonny Cumbie is back home at Texas Tech.
Back home, where he was once a walk-on quarterback from Snyder buried deep on a very deep depth chart.
Home, where he had a spectacular final senior season that included more than 4,700 yards passing and a pair of 70-point scoring days and a bowl victory.
Home, where he worked for Mike Leach and later his former teammate Kliff Kingsbury as an assistant coach.
And maybe home where he belongs, at a place where if he’s not the favorite son, he doesn’t rank far behind Kingsbury or Leach or Patrick Mahomes.
“If you ask B.J. Symonds, he’d say he’s No. 1,” Cumbie joked. “Mahomes, I’m not even in that hemisphere. None of us are.”
Heck, Cumbie and his wife, Tamra, even considered buying their old house in Lubbock just a fly route or so away from Jones Stadium before deciding it might be a little cramped for them and their two sons, 8-year-old Grey and 5-year-old Hays.
That said, Cumbie knows his way around Buddy Holly’s former hometown, and it just feels like a fit after seven seasons at TCU.
So does he feel like he’s home?
“Yeah, I do,” he said during a phone interview as he drove from Houston to San Antonio to hold summer football camps. “It’s a place I’m very comfortable at. Lubbock and the school have grown a lot, but it still feels the same.”
Lubbock never changes THAT much. Enrollment has more than doubled to more than 40,000 since his playing days. Texas Tech is on its third head coach — not counting a couple of interim ones — since his final season in 2004. And Matt Wells, two years removed from Utah State where he had a pair of 10-win seasons, was on the hot seat at the end of last year’s disappointing 4-6 season and eighth-place finish in the Big 12.
So why would this ascending star leave a comfy situation in Fort Worth with returning Horned Frogs quarterback Max Duggan and the stability of an established Gary Patterson program?
“First thing was the opportunity of come back to our alma mater and a place where the pieces are in place to win,” Cumbie said. “Matt has done some really good recruiting the last two years, and I don’t think we’re far off.
“And,” he added, “the way the Big 12 goes, two years ago if Texas Tech doesn’t lose to Baylor (on a final field goal) or doesn’t lose to Texas last fall, who knows how it turns out? It’s a fine line in the Big 12, and the margin for error is really small. I want to help us get Red Raider football back to winning.”
Yeah, about those finishes.
Tech has had enormous difficulty finishing games. No setback was bigger than the overtime home loss to Texas, a game the Red Raiders led by 15 in the last three-plus minutes.
Wells fired David Yost and hired Cumbie to jumpstart Tech’s sluggish offense that stopped and started behind quarterbacks (oft-injured) Alan Bowman and (erratic) Henry Colombi.
So now Texas Tech finds itself in different circumstances.
Folks are worried about the offense for a change.
Once upon a time, the Red Raiders played solid defense and play-action, run-oriented football. That all changed with Leach and Kingsbury when the West Texas air was filled with footballs as much as tortillas.
And now Tech seems poised to have perhaps the most improved defense in the Big 12 with many of the program’s 16 newcomers from the transfer portal playing on that side of the ball. That includes Duke linebacker Jacob Morgenstern, Wisconsin safety Reggie Pearson, Duke safety Marquis Waters, Florida linebacker Jesiah Pierre and Michigan State hybrid defensive end Brandon Bouyer-Randle to go with former LSU defensive back Eric Monroe.
Some even believe Tech could have the best linebackers in the league, including Colin Schooler, brother of Longhorns safety Brenden Schooler.
One transfer had better be a very impactful addition because former Oregon quarterback Tyler Shough (pronounced Shuck) came aboard after leading the Pac-12 in pass efficiency but getting replaced in the bowl game. One upside is the 6-5, 220-pound Shough took 18 hours of course work and has three years eligibility remaining even though he’s already got an Oregon degree.
“It came out of the blue,” Cumbie said of Shough, who originally committed to North Carolina out of Chandler High School in Arizona and contemplated transferring to Arizona and Cal before settling on Tech. “He throws the ball really well. He understands concepts, and he can run. He wanted a place where he could go and start.”
He’ll find that since Bowman has moved on to Michigan and Colombi is probably better suited as a backup.
Tech does have a bunch of skill position players returning like running back SaRodorick Thompson, Xavier White and Alabama transfer Chadarius Townsend to go with the injured Erik Ezukanma, but five of the top receivers back combined for only 12 catches last season.
At TCU, Cumbie helped tutor Trevone Boykin and mold him into a two-time All-American, shaped Texas A&M transfer Kenny Hill into a 67% passer and was grooming Duggan into a major threat who threw for almost 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns.
“They were fun to coach,” Cumbie said. “Max is a great player. One of the toughest, most competitive kids I’ve ever been around. Talent-wise, there’s not a thing he can’t do.”
But he chose to leave TCU and come home. He had flirted with taking a job as Charlie Strong’s play-caller at Texas before staying put because the Cumbies’ second son was on the way and TCU was poised for another strong run. “I was flattered, but it wasn’t the right time,” he said. “I felt at peace about it.”
Many would say Cumbie is back where he belongs. Lubbock fits his family, and he’ll pad his résumé further before hopefully becoming a head coach some day.
At 39, he’s on a path that could lead to that in short order.
“At some point, that’s fair to say,” he said of head coaching ambitions. “We all have goals, and it’s something I aspire to be when the timing is right.”
But for the time being, that timing has sent him home.
Touring the Big 12
The second in an occasional series taking a look at Big 12 football programs.