Texas Tech football: Matt Wells must end recent trend of moral victories

EAST LANSING, MI - AUGUST 31: Head coach Matt Wells of the Utah State Aggies looks on while playing the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium on August 31, 2018 in East Lansing, Michigan. Michigan State won the game 38-31. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
EAST LANSING, MI - AUGUST 31: Head coach Matt Wells of the Utah State Aggies looks on while playing the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium on August 31, 2018 in East Lansing, Michigan. Michigan State won the game 38-31. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

Because he is not a native son nor a fan favorite (yet), new Texas Tech football head coach Matt Wells can’t have as many moral victories as his predecessor if he wants to win over the fan base.

Depending on where you stand on what your grandfather taught you about horseshoes and hand grenades, you may see moral victories on the scoreboard as either a sign of progress or yet another reminder that your team is just not good enough to get over the hump.  But we can all agree that we are desperate for the Texas Tech football team to finally start turning some of their close calls into victories that can truly change the trajectory of the program.

Over the last six years, we saw the Red Raiders lose eight games to ranked opponents by eight points or fewer.  That included three in 2018 when Kliff Kingsbury’s job was on the line.  Making matters worse is the fact that all three came at home.

Had his team been able to pull out the 8-point loss to West Virginia, the 7-point loss to Texas, or the 5-point loss to Oklahoma, the former Red Raider QB would not also have the title of former Red Raider head coach on his bio page.  But he does and Matt Wells is now at the helm of a program that is in desperate need of a winning season.

While at Utah State, he certainly had his share of near misses that most people pointed to as quality losses (as oxymoronic as that term seems). Last fall, his Aggies took Michigan State to the wire in East Lansing before falling 38-31.

In 2015, USU was within a touchdown of Utah in the 4th quarter in Salt Lake City before losing 24-14.  And in 2013, Wells’ team scared the water out of mighty USC at the Coliseum in a 17-14 loss that first put Wells on the radar of Tech AD Kirby Hocutt.

But those close calls are easier to stomach in Logan, Utah where the expectations for the Aggies are to be a top-tier team in the Mountain West, not to beat Power 5 schools on a consistent basis.  Now though, Wells has to figure out how to get his new program over the hump in close games, especially when presented with an opportunity to take down a ranked foe.

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Kingsbury just had far too many such opportunities slip through his hands.  In 2013, his team dropped a 38-30 game at No. 15 OU that would have moved Tech to 8-0.  Entering the game ranked No. 10 in the nation, the Red Raiders would not win another game in the regular season.

In 2014, Tech could have stunned No. 7 Baylor in Arlington but a furious rally came up short in a 48-46 loss to end the season.  The next season, No. 3 TCU escaped Lubbock with a 55-52 win on a tipped ball touchdown in the final minute.

In 2016, the Red Raiders could not come up with one second-half stop of No. 16 Oklahoma in Lubbock leading to a memorable but frustrating 66-59 loss.  And three weeks later, a missed extra-point attempt in the final two minutes kept Kingsbury’s team from taking No. 14 Oklahoma State to OT in Stillwater.

The simple truth is that Wells has not been universally accepted among the Texas Tech fan base yet.  Though he has worked as hard as possible to ender himself to his new constituency, there will be a significant portion of those in scarlet and black that have a wait and see attitude towards the new coach who not only has no Red Raider or Texas roots but who most wouldn’t have been able to pick out of a police lineup prior to the end of last November.

Fair or not, the fan base is not going to extend their new coach the same grace that they extended their previous one.  For proof, just look at what happened the last time an outsider was hired to replace a beloved coach.

While comparing Tommy Tuberville to Matt Wells is an apples-to-oranges proposition because the former was an ungrateful boob from the moment he arrived and the latter appears to be fully bought-in with Texas Tech and the community of Lubbock, we must also admit that a huge portion of the Red Raider populace was waiting for Tuberville to fail.   Replacing Mike Leach in the most controversial of times, Tuberville had virtually no grace period.  He and the Texas Tech fans never had a honeymoon, much less the love-affair that Kingsbury and the fans did.

After an 8-5 season in his first year disappointed a fandom that had seen Leach put together 19 wins over the previous two seasons, Tuberville did the unthinkable and failed to produce a winning record in 2011.  That 5-7 season was the first losing season in Lubbock in 18 years and prompted people on the South Plains to sharpen their pitchforks and begin lighting their torches.

Even a 7-5 regular season in 2012 could not satisfy anyone associated with Tech.  Following that campaign, Hocutt admitted that he met with Tuberville to say that more was expected in 2013, a discussion that likely helped “Pine Box Tubby” decide to skip town when Cincinnatti called.

Why wasn’t Tuberville given the same type of leash by Hocutt that Kingsbury was?  Simple: he wasn’t Hocutt’s hire.  He was the final awful present former AD Gerald Myers bestowed upon the university before his retirement.

While Wells is even more of Hocutt’s guy than Kingsbury (whose hiring was heavily influenced by high-ranking Tech officials and influential boosters), he isn’t yet the fan’s guy.  That’s certain to change if he proves capable of winning games.  After all, fans have proven throughout history that winning will make an ally out of an enemy and a friend out of a stranger.

So for the new man in charge, signature wins must outnumber moral victories.  That’s not to say that Wells can’t afford to drop a close game or two.  Such is the nature of college football.

But to build the type of enthusiasm and dedication among the Texas Tech fans base that he knows is required to take the program back to where it was ten years ago, the new head coach has to provide wins that stir something within the heart of the fandom.

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He has to have something substantive to point to as reasons for an apathetic base to emotionally reinvest in a program that they have lost so much faith in.  When those moral victories start turning into actual ones, Wells will be on his way towards joining Chris Beard and Tim Tadlock as truly beloved figures in West Texas.  If they don’t, his stay in Lubbock will not be as long as was the one of the man who previously occupied his office.