As a football conference, the Big 12 has earned a reputation over the years as a league where, with rare exception, offense rules and high-scoring shootouts are the norm.
The Big 12, however, has undergone a massive facelift within its coaching ranks over the last four seasons -- with the bulk of that change coming this offseason in the form of four new head coaches in the league. In total, the Big 12 has replaced eight of its 10 head coaches since Matt Campbell took over at Iowa State prior to the 2016 season. The next season, Lincoln Riley took over at league powerhouse Oklahoma, Tom Herman stepped in at Texas and Matt Rhule did the same at Baylor. Since the end of the 2018 season, Matt Wells was hired by Texas Tech, same with Chris Klieman at Kansas State. National title winner Les Miles is now at Kansas and Neal Brown was hired to replace Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia.
With 80 percent of the Big 12's head coaching jobs having turned over in the last half decade, it is a fair time to ask the question -- is the identity of the Big 12 changing? Has it already changed?
"I think anytime you bring coaches in, things are going to change from a philosophy standpoint compared to their predecessors," West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons said during Big 12 Media Days at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. "I think the league, and the coaches we've hired in the league, are very proven coaches where they've come from. I think they've been great hires along with Neal Brown, so it'll be interesting to see how it all plays out. For the league, it has helped from an identity standpoint and has the media talking about what the new coaches bring to the table. It's an exciting time for the Big 12."
Exciting? Sure. With new coaches come high expectations. Brown, as has been well documented, is an Air Raid disciple from the Hal Mumme lineage who came to WVU from Troy where, perhaps with a little more of a run game and defense than people are used to seeing from Air Raid coaches, he had a very successful stretch with the Trojans that included wins at Louisiana State and Nebraska. Wells was at Utah State prior to being hired by Texas Tech, and he liked to throw the ball around and score a lot of points with the Aggies. Klieman was the architect of North Dakota State's dominant run of four Football Championship Subdivision national championships before being tabbed as the man to take over for longtime, legendary coach Bill Snyder at Kansas State. Miles had been out of coaching for a few since his departure from LSU, where he won a BCS national championship with the Tigers. Now he has perhaps the toughest task of any Power Five coach in the country -- turn perennial Big 12 doormat Kansas into a winner.
"There are four tremendous coaches, all with great pedigrees and histories of success," Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. "They've all kind of done it different ways. It's hard to imagine with that group of four coaches that they wouldn't make the league better. I think they've made us stronger. I think the league will always continue to shift because it is innovative and on the cutting edge in so many different ways. I think it will constantly evolve, but those four guys will certainly add to it."
But will the addition of the four new coaches for 2019, combined with the four new, but not brand new, coaches at Iowa State, Texas, Oklahoma and Baylor, mean a new identity for the league? Probably not as much as one would assume. Miles could bring a different style to Kansas than people around the Big 12 are used to seeing, but the rest of the group are all individually known to have a style and game philosophy not all that different than their predecessors.
Mike Gundy, who is entering his 15th season as the head coach at Oklahoma State and has become one of the league's elder statesmen, doesn't think the change will be very significant.
"Just going off what you see, West Virginia is throwing it and Neal throws it," Gundy said. "Same thing with Matt -- Utah State was doing a lot of three-down and throwing it, the same thing [Texas] Tech was doing. There are some similarities with what North Dakota State was doing and what Coach Snyder was doing. Kansas would be the team, if Coach Miles is going to play with a fullback and a tight end there would be a change there compared to what Kansas did. So, not a lot [of change]. For the most part, it will be pretty similar."
Longtime TCU coach Gary Patterson, who is about to begin his 19th season as the Horned Frogs' head coach, agreed with Gundy.
"I think with Matt at Texas Tech, they're a vertical passing game," Patterson said. "If you listened to him [at Media Days] one of the selling points was they are going to play better on defense. I think he's going to practice to make sure. Through the years, he and I have had conversations about how to do that as a head coach. I think, West Virginia -- they're always recruiting a style of kid that can make them physical doing things. Then you have where you play with two tight ends and two backs from North Dakota State, and then the one-back stuff. I don't see it being much different [at Kansas State]. Baylor, Texas -- they all found their running games and tight ends. You better be able to prepare for all of the above in your first 30 days of fall ball."
Campbell has not been around the league as long as guys like Gundy and Patterson, but he has seen his fair share of "classic" Big 12 football during his three seasons so far at Iowa State -- including back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners in Oklahoma quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. Campbell said the new coaches and meshing of styles could make for an interesting 2019 season.
"It is going to be fascinating. I think they bring some similar traits to what has been successful in this league," Campbell said. "They're tough, hard-nosed guys who are disciplined and do it the right way. It's going to be really fun to watch. Those are some tremendous hires in the Big 12 this year and it's going to be a really fun conference."
Baylor's Rhule was more willing than some of the other Big 12 coaches to take a wait-and-see approach with predicting how -- and if -- all of these new head coaches could change the league's identity or culture. Rhule, of course, knows a thing or two about changing a culture and an identity after taking over the Bears' program in the wake of the disastrous off the field tenure of previous BU coach Art Briles. Following that mess, Baylor needed to find the right person for the job. Rhule got BU turned around an into a bowl game in his second season at the helm.
Finding the right person for the specific jobs is key, Rhule said. And he thinks the four schools who hired new head coaches this offseason in the Big 12 might just have found the right people.
"I think, when you look at all the different teams, they hired the right person for their school," Rhule said. "Obviously Kansas State has always been a physical, play defense, run the ball, time of possession -- and that's who Coach [Klieman} ]s. He did it at North Dakota State and he'll continue to do that at Kansas State. Coach Brown, he's an offshoot of the Air Raid but he played defense and ran the ball at Troy. That's what he'll do at West Virginia. Coach Miles is a national championship caliber coach and he'll lead the rebuild of Kansas football. Coach Wells scored a ton of points last year at Utah State and he's going in there [at Texas Tech] with a great quarterback in [Alan] Bowman, and I'm sure he'll do the same thing. I'll have to kind of reserve judgment until I see what those guys are doing."