One-Hit Wonders: The Other Klingler

In Ridley Scott’s 1982 neo-noir science fiction flick Bladerunner, Dr. Tyrell sums up this new series succinctly enough when he says to Harrison Ford’s character Roy, “[t]he light that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and you have burned so very very brightly, Roy.” Let’s meet the lights that burned twice as bright, but maybe half as long, one hit wonders. Our third installment delves into the Other Klingler, Houston’s Jimmy, who carved a path in Houston’s proud passing history in 1992.

You’ve heard of David Klingler, he of the 716-yard performance, in Tokyo against Arizona State. He of the 9,430 career passing yards, the school record 54 touchdown passes in a season, the eleven touchdowns passes in a single game, the Heisman finalist, and the sixth overall pick in the NFL draft. David Klingler set 48 NCAA records in two seasons starting for the Cougars; he more than qualifies as a Houston legend.

Have you heard of the other Klinger? Jimmy?

Let me introduce you to Jimmy Klingler. The younger Klinger, like his older brother, came to Houston from Stratford High School. Like his brother, Jimmy transitioned from a high school wishbone quarterback to a master of John Jenkins’ Multiple Adjusting Passing Offense, known as the run and shoot to laymen such as myself.

Jimmy wasn’t the heir to Houston’s vast passing legacy that included Heisman winner Andre Ware and David who left for the NFL in the spring of 1992. First, he had to win the job from a passel of passers including Donald Douglas, Chandler Evans, and JUCO transfer Kyle Allen from San Francisco Community College. Jenkins also signed a ready-made run and shoot quarterback from Huntsville, Chuck Clements.

By the opener against Tulsa, Jenkins announced that Jimmy and Douglas would alternate possessions with Douglas getting the first snap. That was the plan anyway, but by the end of the afternoon, a 28-25 Cougar loss, Klingler threw for 327 yards, Douglas threw for 70. The next week Houston avenged a 1991 loss to Illinois by drumming the Illini 31-13 in Houston. Klingler connected on 15 of his 21 throws while splitting time with Douglas.

Fourth-ranked Michigan awaited in the Big House and buried the young Coogs 61-7. Houston’s porous offensive line allowed Wolverine defenders to harass the dual quarterbacks into a subpar afternoon. A week later against Southwest Louisiana, Klingler put a firm grasp on the job with five touchdowns in a 63-7 dusting of the Ragin’ Cajuns. Houston’s passing offense was second in the nation averaging 323 yards per game.

Klingler torched the Texas defense for 464 yards, but a critical pick-six gave Texas the lead and the victory 45-38. Houston overcame a 28 point deficit but still left Austin with a loss in spite of another five-touchdown performance from the young Houston starter. The next week, Klingler threw five interceptions, but his three touchdowns and 392 yards were enough to overcome TCU 49-46. That might be the takeaway from Jimmy’s time in Houston, he was prone to throwing an inopportune interception, or five.

Klingler continued to put up significant numbers despite Houston’s struggles. He threw for 412 in a loss to Texas Tech, 385 in a loss to SMU. Klingler threw for 488 yards in an eight-point loss to fourth-ranked Texas A&M. Then, in the season finale against Rice, Klingler went off, throwing for 613 yards and seven touchdowns on an icy hot necessitating 71 attempts. The Coogs won 61-34.

By the time the smoke cleared on the 1992 season, Klingler had led the NCAA in yards, completions, attempts, touchdowns, total yards, and touchdowns responsible for. He led the league in all those categories plus passing efficiency, yards per play and, well, interceptions. For all those superior numbers the SWC saw fit to name him Second Team All-Conference.

By the spring of 1993, turmoil bubbled in under Jenkins and the Houston program. Players accused him of exceeding the 20-hour practice limit; a disgruntled former assistant accused him of conducting illegal summer workouts and making illicit payments to players. Then there was the bizarre accusation that coaches spliced in topless photos to Houston game tape to “break the tension.” The real issue for Jenkins was back t0 back four-win seasons. Jenkins resigned under pressure in late April.

If Houston fans were frustrated by, the extra workouts, and topless photos, they had no clue of the frustration to come - the Kim Helton era. Helton went 4-28-1 in his first three seasons as the Cougars fell into disarray and out of the SWC.

Helton scrapped the run and shoot and installed a “pro-style offense” that lacked professionalism and any style. Opponents battered and bashed Klingler in 1993. Ankle, shoulder, and rib injuries plagued him and limited him to just eight games. The humiliation of the campaign became complete when Houston lost to Rice in the season finale 37-7, thanks in part to a three-interception afternoon.

Two weeks later, Klingler announced he would turn pro, following in his brother’s footsteps, and leaving the dumpster fire of the Helton program in his past. The NFL passed, so Klingler caught on briefly with the CFL and later the arena league. He went into coaching after his playing days.

So, while it’s easy to remember David, the other Klingler had a pretty good year and sat on top of the NCAA stat sheet.

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