Texas Tech football: All is Wells’ as Red Raiders open 2019 season

PROVO, UT - OCTOBER 3: Head coach Matt Wells of the Utah State Aggies looks on from the sidelines during their game against Brigham Young Cougars at LaVell Edwards Stadium on October 3, 2014 in Provo, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images )
PROVO, UT - OCTOBER 3: Head coach Matt Wells of the Utah State Aggies looks on from the sidelines during their game against Brigham Young Cougars at LaVell Edwards Stadium on October 3, 2014 in Provo, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images ) /

As the Texas Tech football team opens the 2019 season, Red Raider fans hope that a man none of us knew nine months ago, Matt Wells, is the one that takes the program back to its glory days by not living in the past.

Today, a new era of Texas Tech football dawns and it’s tough to think about where we are without acknowledging where we’ve been.  This is a program that has fallen from the upper echelon of the sport to virtual obscurity in the span of a decade all the while almost everyone from the fans to the media to the athletic department has spent too long trying to recreate the past.

Now, Matt Wells becomes the fourth head coach to guide the Red Raiders since 2009, yet another sign that Red Raider football has not been healthy since the days of Graham Harrell to Michael Crabtree.  But unlike his predecessors, Wells was a complete unknown when he was handed the keys to the castle by Kirby Hocutt.

Dating as far back as the mid-1980s, every Red Raider head coach has been somewhat of a known commodity to people in Lubbock.  Of course, Kingsbury was a beloved alum and record-setting QB.  Before him, Tommy Tuberville was a famous name in the college football landscape given the success he’d had at Auburn.  Whether or not you were on board with Tuberville, you had an idea of what you were getting when he was hired.

Though most did not know all of Mike Leach’s quirks when he was brought on prior to the 2000 season, Tech fans were at least familiar with his resume and scheme which they saw first-hand while he was at Oklahoma.  In fact, he was in the stadium for the final game that his predecessor Spike Dykes coached and the first game his future star QB Kingsbury would start. 

Speaking of Dykes, when he was elevated to the throne in 1987, he did so after three seasons as the Texas Tech defensive coordinator.  And many West Texas football fans were plenty familiar with him given his long and prolific high school coaching career in the area.

Even David McWilliams was a name familiar to Tech fans when he was hired as head coach in 1986.  Prior to that, he had spent 16 seasons as an assistant at Texas, including three as defensive coordinator.  And like Dykes, he too got his start as a West Texas high school coach.

So you’ll have to forgive many Red Raider fans for scoffing at the idea of hiring Matt Wells, who was as anonymous to most Double-T lovers as he was to the Aboriginal peoples of the Australian Outback.  Not only had he never passed through Lubbock or West Texas in his career, he’d never been in the Big 12, or any other Power 5 conference and had only been a head coach in the Mountain West, which plays most of its games after people in Texas have gone to bed.

But in just a short period of time, he’s become as ingrained in the culture of Lubbock and West Texas as any coach since Spike.  That’s a testament to his personality, which appears to be in line with the values and attitudes of his new home.

Sporting “I Like Spike” shirts at practice, showing up at the Final Four and the Lubbock Super Regional, and being as visible in the community as any Red Raider head coach this century, Wells has endeared himself to his new constituency with ease.  That has helped quell the prevailing tide of frustration over the fact that guys with Texas Tech ties like Neal Brown, Dana Holgorsen, or Seth Littrell were passed over for a man that would easily have been mistaken for an associate pastor around Lubbock just a year ago.

This is the second man hired by Kirby Hocutt to lead the Tech football program but this time feels different.  This hire was 100% Hocutt’s and he’s made certain that this program is 100% Wells’.

When Hocutt hired Kingsbury, he had been on the job for less than two years and did not have the equity required to ignore the wants of high-ranking officials and big-money boosters.  The Kingsbury hire was a gamble that was made in a reactionary state of being and one that Hocutt made in conjunction with others.

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The program was embarrassed after being shunned by Tuberville for a non-Power-5 job at Cincinnati.   So we collectively turned to a place of comfort, to someone we knew would never do us wrong (at least intentionally).  Hocutt, the administration, and the fan base were willing to overlook the deficiencies on Kingsbury’s resume because, after two tumultuous coaching changes, we needed emotional safety and security.

But like Hocutt was heavily influenced in making the Kingsbury hire, Kliff was heavily influenced in how to build and run his program.  As might be expected of a 34-year-old first-time head coach, he proved to be too malleable as evidenced by the constant turnover among his assistant coaching staff and the shifts he had in regard to how he portrayed himself in public and on social media.

This time around, Hocutt ignored all outside influences and picked the man he wanted; a man he’d been closely observing for six years.  This was not a reactive decision.

Finally having earned the benefit of the doubt with his superiors and the fan base, Hocutt has cashed in all of the equity he’s earned in the Chris Beard and Tim Tadlock hires and doubled-down on Matt Wells.

To his credit, he’s allowed Wells to build the program the way he wants.  None of the previous assistants were retained though many hoped that a couple would be.  Wells has stocked his staff with coaches with which he’s familiar, most of whom he coached with last season.

This truly is the Matt Wells era of the program.  He’s not being influenced to do things the way we’ve always done them, which is a favorite but often flawed West Texas doctrine.  Wells is building his program his way.

That’s why there seems to be a renewed hope.  This rebuild feels different and it needed to be different.  Texas Tech football has spent far too long forlornly pining away for the days of the Leach years as if that season were an old lover we pray will return.

We’ve tried to bring in a Leach disciple to try to recreate that magic and it didn’t work.  Now, we turn the page and hopefully close a book that should have been closed 10 years ago.

Though Tech will still run the spread and try to light up the scoreboard, the “Air Raid” era of the program is over.  Today, we turn our focus towards a new reality, one that we hope will be far more prosperous than what we’ve experienced in the last decade as we’ve tried unsuccessfully to recreate the past.

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An old Arabic proverb says, “What is coming is better than what is gone”.  That has to be the mantra of Texas Tech football from this point forward.  Today, we all saddle up with Matt Wells and begin to ride in the same direction, one that is pointed forward and not backward.  Let’s ride!