Texas Tech football: Empty seats are not due to ill will for Matt Wells as some suggest

LUBBOCK, TEXAS - OCTOBER 19: Head coach Matt Wells of the Texas Tech Red Raiders exits the team bus in front of the stadium before the college football game against the Iowa State Cyclones on October 19, 2019 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images)
LUBBOCK, TEXAS - OCTOBER 19: Head coach Matt Wells of the Texas Tech Red Raiders exits the team bus in front of the stadium before the college football game against the Iowa State Cyclones on October 19, 2019 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images) /

Despite what a local Lubbock journalist is suggesting, the lack of fan support Saturday against TCU was not a result of ill will for Matt Wells, but rather a product of Texas Tech football’s putrid current product.

When it comes to covering Texas Tech football, no one has done it longer than Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.  He began covering the Red Raiders in 1986, the same year that Spike Dykes was elevated from defensive coordinator to head coach.   If there’s been a story concerning Tech football in the last three decades plus, Williams has covered it. 

But he completely missed the mark with Sunday’s piece titled “When fans turn against a program”.  In it, Williams essentially chalks up the thousands of empty seats at Jones Stadium on Saturday to the fact that a significant portion of the fan base wants head coach Matt Wells to fail.

Seriously?  The man who has been covering Texas Tech football since the Reagan years thinks that Red Raider fans want to endure more seasons of 4-win football just because Wells wasn’t our first choice to succeed Kliff Kingsbury?

As preposterous as this belief may be, Williams doubles down on his take and alleges that a segment of the fan base has wanted every head coach in the last decade to fail.

"“Simply put, a not small number of people who pay close attention to Tech football want to see Wells fail in the same way they wanted Kliff Kingsbury to fail the past three years to expedite the firing process, in the same way they wanted to see Tommy Tuberville fail before him because he wasn’t Mike Leach,” Williams writes.“For these folks, it’s more important to their self-image to see their assessments validated — in this case, that Wells is out of his league, a group-of-five coach who lacks the stuff to make it in the Big 12 — than to see the Red Raiders win.“We know this because, in our interconnected age of social media, talk radio, message boards and so on, instead feedback bombards us all. To not hear it, you’d have to make a concerted, consistent effort to withdraw from your circles, and even then …”"

Williams is so far off base here, it is laughable.  His reasoning lacks logic and a basic understanding of the nature of the common sports fan.

The reality is that of the 60,000 people in attendance at a Texas Tech home sell-out, the number of fans on hand who are rabid enough with their fandom to have any type of emotional investment or reaction to any head coach is quite minuscule.  Instead, the overwhelming majority of fans treat game day like a social event where they get to tailgate, see friends, take pictures with Raider Red, let their kids watch the Masked Rider run the field, and maybe watch some football in the process.

Williams is right on one account; there is a group of millionaire boosters who wanted former West Virginia and current Houston head coach Dana Holgorsen to be Kirby Hocutt’s choice last fall.  Most prominent among them is a pair of former Tech football players who played with Kingsbury while Holgorsen was an assistant at Tech under Leach.

They had essentially lined Holgorsen up for Hocutt but the Tech AD gave them the Heisman stiff-arm.  Since then, on message boards and through not so subtle back channels, they’ve made their displeasure known.

But to believe that a sizeable portion of the fan base is angry or bitter enough about the head coach to lead to the type of meager showing from the Tech populace as we saw on Saturday is puzzling.  For every millionaire booster in the seats at The Jones each week, there are at least 5,000 normal fans there who have no say in the head coaching hires and thus don’t really have an ax to grind.  They just want to see winning football.

The student section was about 60% empty.  I’ve never seen the Goin’ Band make up the entirety of the fans in the south end zone seats before as was the case on Saturday.

Does Williams think that today’s students, who were in middle school when Leach was fired, have any grudge against Wells?  Or, is it more likely that an 11 am kickoff between two 4-5 teams isn’t enough of a hangover cure to get 18-22 year-olds out of bed?

To his credit, towards the end of his piece, Williams acknowledges that the early kickoff times have hurt fan engagement, as has the rising cost of attending college football games.  But to imply that a significant number of Tech fans have wanted every coach since Leach to fail is simply ludicrous.

The overwhelming majority of fans wanted Kingsbury to succeed even as late into his career as last year.  That was evidenced by the fact that both the late-season Texas and Oklahoma games in Lubbock were near sell-outs and there was overwhelming sentiment that he should get another shot this year.  I know because I heard from a slew of those people when I finally came to the point that I could no longer stand to see the Kingsbury experiment continue.

Though many of us did not like Tommy Tuberville as a person or a football coach, there was nothing wrong with the support his program received during his three-year run.  Was the fan base split in the wake of the Leach firing?  Obviously.  And Williams’ phrase “decade of divisiveness” is a perfect way to sum up the years since Tech sent The Pirate sailing off into the sunset.  Still, attendance, like we saw this past Saturday, was never an issue Tuberville faced.

The truth is that outside of a scant number of influential boosters, fans don’t want Wells to fail any more than we want to see Baylor win the Big 12.  Sports fans have shown throughout the years that they will cheer for anyone that wins while wearing their team’s colors and Red Raider fans are no different.

Dallas Cowboys fans found a way to cheer for Deion Sanders and Terrell Owens.  Texas Rangers fans learned to cheer when Alex Rodriguez joined the team.  Houston Rockets fans this year are now buying Russell Westbrook jerseys en masse.  Jerry Seinfield was never more spot-on when he said that we are all just cheering for laundry.

The reality is that fans are not rooting for Wells to fail.  If anything, we are desperate for him to succeed, the same way we were desperate for the two coaches before him to succeed.  The problem is we have no reason to believe he will and until we start to see that, Jones Stadium is going to continue to be a mausoleum.  If Wells is the man to turn things around, even the rich boosters who wanted someone else will be throwing rose petals at his feet.

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Don Williams doesn’t strike me as a man easily swayed by what he hears or sees through social or other forms of media.  That’s why the fact that he suggests his misguided observation has been substantiated by what he’s heard from fans on those mediums is strange.

He should know that the ones who make the most noise on social media are the vocal minority.  And as a journalist who has seen this program at its highest and lowest points, he should also know that once the wins come back around, so will the fans, regardless of who wears the headset on the sidelines.

This fan base consists of more than just a few high-dollar influencers and a group of loudly complaining fans.  Just like every other school in the nation, Tech is finding it tough to get people to football games in 2019 and the problem is not that fans are staying away because they don’t like the head coach.

When I hear people complain about why they don’t go to the games, they say things about the inability to get good cell phone service during games, the price of tickets, the parking situation, the weather, and the kick off times.

I’ve never heard one of the thousands of fans I’ve talked to this year say that they aren’t going because they want Wells to fail.  Rather, most talk about what a good person he is and how they like him as a human but aren’t sure about his as a coach.  He’s the anti-Tuberville in that regard.

It all boils down to the fact that they are staying away because they don’t like the product on the field.  We are tired of seeing Tech lose to virtually every Big 12 opponent that comes to town other than Kansas and that’s a problem that predates Wells.

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I respect Don Williams but this inconsequential friendly neighborhood blogger completely disagrees with his take.  What’s more, if there were any group that should be more motivated than ever to go to games, it should be the small group that is actively rooting against Wells, because as Saturday showed, they have plenty of chances to see that which they are hoping for right in front of their very eyes.