Texas Headlines

The Voice of the Red Raiders Goes Dancing— Finally

The Voice of the Red Raiders Goes Dancing— Finally
Brian Hanni courtside with Texas Tech Men's Basketball Coach Tubby Smith and Texas Tech Sports Network partner Chris Level

“Win or lose on the floor, I’m getting to live my dream every day,” he says. “But as the late, great Jack Dale would tell you, the broadcasts always sound better when you win.”

SITTING ALONE ATOP A PRESS BOX with Albuquerque winds howling, Brian Hanni watched a stream introducing the new Texas Tech men’s basketball coach, the third such coach since he’d arrived in Lubbock less than a year prior.

It was April 2013, and the voice of the Texas Tech men’s basketball team was calling a baseball game. In a strange gesture of hospitality, the University of New Mexico assigned opposing team play callers to the top of the press box. It wasn’t the most difficult spot Hanni had been in over the last year, but it was certainly one of the more trying.

“The wind got so bad that our audio was being completely drowned out,” Hanni recalls. Grabbing all the gear, cords still plugged in and all, he climbed down and crammed into the press box. He called the remainder of the game jammed behind the UNM play caller “as close as a quarterback to a center.”

Words used to describe Hanni by those who know him are most often “enthusiastic” or “optimistic.” Some say “relentlessly optimistic,” and the past year had required a good bit of relentless optimism.

But on this day, he was tapped out. After another coaching press conference, after nine long innings, after a 10-3 loss, after enduring Albuquerque in April, he was as mentally exhausted as he’d ever been after a call.

The voice of Texas Tech men’s basketball climbed on to the team bus and headed home, to become acquainted with another basketball coach.

HANNI ARRIVED IN LUBBOCK in the summer of 2012. A Kansas University graduate who’d compiled quite a resume broadcasting an array of Jayhawk sports over a decade, he wanted his own men’s basketball broadcasting gig. Anteing up his impressive stack of Rock Chalk chips, the 31-year-old gambled on a new opening at Texas Tech Sports Network with Learfield Sports. With the help of Kansas coach Bill Self, as well as exiting longtime Texas Tech sportscaster Mark Finkner, he landed the job.

Like Lubbock, Self and Hanni believed that under new coach Billy Gillispie, Texas Tech would become a perennial NCAA tournament team. Just as he had done with University of Texas at El Paso and Texas A&M, Gillispie was about to turn another mediocre Texas program into a winner. Hanni’s gamble was a sure-fire. So it seemed.

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Hanni

But what Hanni didn’t know was what very few knew at the time: Gillispie was falling apart. Fifteen of 18 players had transferred or been cut since Gillispie’s arrival in March 2011; stories of student athletes being forced to practice through significant injury began to emerge.

On September 10, while Hanni was still learning his Lubbock address, Gillispie resigned.

With seven weeks before the season tipped off, and no chance of acquiring a suitable replacement, Athletics Director Kirby Hocutt opted for the continuity before him and named Chris Walker, a longtime Gillispie assistant, as interim head coach.

The new voice of the Red Raiders would only call 11 wins in the 2012-13 season. And things weren’t going much better off-court.

Daily attempts to engage hoop fans on his midday sports radio show, fans that had endured a 65-97 record over the last five-year stint, were largely reciprocated with apathy and disinterest. “I remember wondering at the time how long it would take to change that culture,” Hanni recalls.

“There were certainly disappointments early on,” he lets slip through his optimistic firewall, “but I never questioned the move to Lubbock.”

What becomes clear as Hanni further describes the “disappointment” in his first season, however, is that he was much more disappointed for fans than for himself. An important insight to the man behind the voice, a rare altruism for a fellow with a microphone, an indication of what character fuels his relentless optimism.

But if Hanni’s first season were a plot full of twists he could’ve never expected, the plot would only thicken going into the offseason.

TEXAS TECH ATHLETICS IN SPRING 2013 HAD MORE acrimony per cubic foot of air than the air itself had oxygen molecules. Three years had passed since football coach Mike Leach’s termination, but the fan base was, even with Kliff Kingbury’s hire, hardly past it—particularly since Tommy Tuberville had just posted the program’s first losing season since 1992.

The atmosphere of acrimony, in what seemed like a football and basketball famine at the school, fueled a debate about what to do about a basketball coach.

Many fans saw promise with Chris Walker, who had not only won a Big 12 tourney game with a chewed up and continually out-manned roster, he also had what some deemed as the best recruit in the nation ready to come to Texas Tech.

Keith Frazier, a McDonald’s All-American from Kimball, would reportedly sign with the Red Raiders if Walker were named head coach. For many, the quid pro quo was a no-brainer. For then-Chancellor Kent Hance, a legendary Texas political pro far more accustomed to doing the leveraging than being leveraged, there must’ve been a bit too much quid involved in the deal. Texas Tech ultimately decided to let Walker (and Frazier) go; Frazier would ultimately be at the center of Southern Methodist University receiving postseason and scholarship penalties from the NCAA.

With Walker out, Texas Tech was back to square one. A square at which it had been only two years prior when Gillispie arrived to reset the program after Pat Knight’s tenure ended. Texas Tech was becoming anything but a perennial NCAA tournament program—and Hanni wouldn’t be dancing anytime soon.

“Getting to tell the story of the resurgence of this program and experiencing a fan base rejuvenated has been one of the great thrills of my career.” – Brian Hanni, Voice of Red Raider Basketball

TUBBY SMITH WAS INTRODUCED as Texas Tech’s basketball coach on April 2, 2013— while Hanni was on top of a press box in Albuquerque.

Two mysteries initially surrounded—and still surround—Smith’s arrival at Texas Tech. The first is how the University of Minnesota (which went 8-23 in 2015) lost its vertical hold and convinced itself to fire Smith. The second is what Hance and Hocutt said and did to get Smith to Lubbock.

Hanni was occupied by his own Smith mysteries at the time.

When Smith was hired, he recalls thinking, “How lucky am I? I got to cut my teeth under (Kansas coach) Roy Williams, really hone my craft under Bill Self and now this?”

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Tubby Smith arrives in Lubbock, 2013

But despite reputation and hoopla, the next two years would be as lean as the five that preceded them. In 2013, Smith would post a 14-18 record. In 2014, he’d go 13-19. At times, there were near sellouts at United Supermarkets Arena. At other times, a
s this author can vouch, arena attendance was so sparse and quiet that fans could literaly hear Hanni and color analyst Chris Level calling the game.

Then this season, it all changed. The Red Raiders took on shades of a perennial NCAA tournament program. Signs and wonder.

And what has become apparent to many, as Smith has demonstrated genius for his craft, is just how good Hanni is at his own.

But nothing has changed in the voice’s presentation, or the type and quality of his service. He’s only doing what he’s been diligently doing since 2012. What has changed, however, is that the fan culture, about which Hanni was so long concerned, has been transformed by Smith.

Now on playground courts in Lubbock and across West Texas, boys put on their “three goggles,” girls “pull the string from the right wing” and winners boast “Guns Up, Horns Down!”

SITTING COURTSIDE IN RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA on Thursday, Hanni will call his first Red Raider NCAA tournament game. Finally.

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Hanni at N.C. State practice facility in Raleigh, N.C. where the No. 8 seed Red Raiders tip-off Thursday in the NCAA Midwest Regional

And he’s come a long way from Albuquerque.

“Getting to tell the story of the resurgence of this program and experiencing a fan base rejuvenated has been one of the
great thrills of my career,” reads one of his several texts from Raleigh.

“Win or lose on the floor, I’m getting to live my dream every day,” he says. “But as the late, great Jack Dale would tell you, the broadcasts always sound better when you win.”

Guns Up, Bulldogs Down.

 

 

Jay Leeson can be heard on West Texas Drive on KRFE AM 580 – Lubbock, weekdays from 4:30-6:30pm. He is also founder of MakeWestTexasGreatAgain.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jayleeson.

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