What Principals can (and should!) learn from Kliff Kingsbury

Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury is a fan favorite, partly because he’s a former-player-turned-coach, but also partly because he bears a striking resemblance to Ryan Gosling. He also holds the distinction of being the first coach in Big 12 history to start his career at 7-0. With an impressive track record of grooming athletes in his previous positions, notably Houston Cougars quarterback Case Keenum, and then there was, what was his name? Oh yes, the Texas A&M Heisman winner, Johnny Manziel, Kingsbury’s first season at Texas Tech led to a palpable air of “swag” in West Texas.

A head coach is in charge of developing his players, ensuring that as a team, you get overall success from individual strengths. Isn’t that just like the role of principal? How impactful is the catalyst of a dynamic leader on a team? Well, according to Red Raider players, very instrumental.

Really, a team gets its personality from its head coach. Coach Kingsbury is a very strong person. I think the way he conducted himself…made us a stronger team.” 

– Texas Tech senior RB/OLB Kenny Williams

12 games in, it looked as if the wave of momentum of the Raider Nation was about to crash. You’d have never known that from Kingsbury’s demeanor. It didn’t change the whole season. Not when they started 7-0, or lost the next five. He got to the field house at 4 am, every day. He worked out twice day. He refused to dwell on the past. He refused to let his players do that, either. Many educational theory books point to the principal as being the tone setter for the campus. Todd Whitaker says that when the principal sneezes, the whole campus catches a cold. A leader doesn’t dwell on the present, he looks to the future.

Kingsbury brings an air of excitement to his team. He relates to them. A dance off amongst players that he participates in? Genius. Not only is he showing his team that he can still relate to them, but Kingsbury is showing them that you can work hard and still have fun. We are losing the FUN in our edu world! It is up to the administrators to remind both our staff and students that you can have fun and learn. We can model that in a variety of ways…no dancing required!

In Leverage Leadership: A Practical Guide to Building Exceptional Schools, my favorite chapter details the importance of timely, effective feedback through regular observations. It also details how the single most important attribute of a principals’ role is coaching. At Texas Tech, Kingsbury coaches each player to get to a level of success as a team. He recognizes that you’re only as strong as your weakest link and that you always want your best players on the field. Effective observation and feedback isn’t about judgmental evaluation, it’s about coaching. The primary focus of observations shouldn’t be used to judge your teachers, but to find the most effective ways to COACH them to help improve student learning.

Kingsbury also brings resiliency to the Red Raiders.

” That’s how you build for the future. Because it’s not always going to be going well. It’s not always going to be fall in your favor. But you gotta keep fighting.”

—Kliff Kingsbury

With ever-changing paradigms in education, administrators have never faced more changes and challenges day-to-day. Resilience and unwavering optimism is necessary as a leader. You become resilient by CHOOSING to be resilient. Believing that you are making a difference in the lives of children is motivation enough to keep moving forward. Leaders must bounce back, choosing self efficacy over feeling powerlessness. It doesn’t matter if you lose a game, Kingsbury says “learn from the loss”. We all know that things don’t always go our way. Teachers can harness this power in their classrooms as well, recognizing that while every student may not be the “best”, there is something they are the best at.

Kingsbury has been called the “quarterback whisperer”.  He doesn’t want his players to be so afraid of failure that they can’t be loose,  can’t reach their potential, can’t have fun. While I’m no Robert Redford, I do think there is much to learn as an administrator from a coach who chooses to lead fearlessly, in his on way. #ourcoachiscoolerthanyourcoach, indeed.


Guns up,


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