Texas Tech football: Matt Wells fails to accomplish most important task in 2019

LUBBOCK, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 23: The Texas Tech Red Raiders are led onto the field by the Masked Rider before the college football game against the Kansas State Wildcats on November 23, 2019 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images)
LUBBOCK, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 23: The Texas Tech Red Raiders are led onto the field by the Masked Rider before the college football game against the Kansas State Wildcats on November 23, 2019 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images) /

After losing to Kansas State on Saturday night, Texas Tech football head coach Matt Wells failed to do what was most important in 2019, reclaim Jones Stadium and start to unite the fan base.

It’s really confounding.  How can a program that was once so tough to beat at home all of a sudden become utterly incapable of winning games in front of its own fans?  That’s become one of the greatest mysteries surrounding the Texas Tech football program during the last decade.

Saturday night’s 30-27 loss to Kansas State at Jones Stadium puts the program’s record at home in Big 12 games for this decade at 10-28.  That’s truly unfathomable.  An average of one Big 12 home win per year is what a program the likes of Kansas might expect but not one that considers itself a serious football school.

The 2019 season marked the 7th season in the last ten in which Tech has failed to win more than one Big 12 home game with 2011 and 2017 being all together devoid of conference home success.   What’s more, this program has not won more than two home conference games since 2009.

Along the way, we’ve seen Tech lose home games in every way imaginable.  There were blowouts like the 66-6 humbling at the hands of Oklahoma State in 2012 and 48-17 beat down handed out by West Virginia in 2016.  There were shootout losses like the classic 66-59 gunfight with OU in 2016, the 70-53 track meet with the Cowboys in 2015, and the frustrating 45-40 loss to A&M in 2012.

Of course, we aren’t soon to forget the last minute losses either.  In 2014, West Virginia nailed a field goal from just north of Tahoka on the last play of the game to win 37-34 and in 2015, TCU had their version of the immaculate reception to score a 4th-down TD in the final minute and come away from Lubbock with a 55-52 win.

But no matter how the losses have come, each has been another crack in the crumbling foundation of Red Raider football, a program that is now on it’s worst footing since the Rex Dockery and Jerry Moore era of the 1980s when Tech went through seven-straight losing seasons.

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That’s why Matt Wells’ No. 1 job this year was to figure out how to bring back the home success that has for so long evaded this program.  Coming into a situation where he was far from the fans’ choice to replace the beloved Kliff Kingsbury, Wells had to do one thing above all else in 2019; give the West Texas fans something to enjoy at Jones Stadium.

What was once the most raucous and intimidating atmosphere in the Big 12, Jones Stadium has now become a crypt where there only life seems to be the ghosts of the past and the bones of what once the Hub City’s top attraction.

Attendance has declined at a rapid rate.  This is the first year that I can remember going through all six home games and not having anyone in either the four seats next to mine nor the five or six seats in front of me for any game.

Selling beer, playing more rap music over the public address system, trying to enhance the tailgating scene; none of that matters one bit.  The only way to get people to come to games in 2019 is to win.

Matt Wells had a golden opportunity to do that very thing in his debut season.  This was not a tough home slate of games with Oklahoma State the only ranked team to come calling this year and when they showed up on October 5th, they were barely inside the top 25 at No. 21.

Ironically, that’s the only team Tech managed to beat at The Jones this season outside of the two three-legged dogs the Red Raiders whipped mercilessly to open the year, Montana State and UTEP.  But after a fantastic start to the Big 12 home schedule, this program once again fell right back into its normal rut.

Against Iowa State, TCU, and Kansas State, three very average teams, Wells’ team fell behind early, fought to get back into the game but couldn’t make the plays in crunch time.  Sound familiar?  It’s the same script that we’ve been following in Lubbock for a decade.

The problem for Wells is that he didn’t have the built-in advantages that his two predecessors did.  When Tommy Tuberville took over in 2009, he inherited a program at the height of its popularity and though he arrived amid a tremendous controversy, filling the stands was not difficult.  Nor was that a challenge for Kliff Kingsbury when he showed up in 2013 given how popular Lubbock’s adopted son already was.

However, Wells was as anonymous to Red Raider fans as any college football coach could have been when he was handed the keys to the program last December.  To say that his tenure began with a lack of anticipation or enthusiasm among the scarlet-and-black-clad populace might be a bit of an understatement.

Fair or not, many Red Raider fans were less than fired up for the Matt Wells era and unfortunately, that’s only worsened as the season has progressed.  But imagine how different this season would feel if Tech had managed to just pull out two of their three home games after the OSU win.

Beating TCU and Kansas State or Iowa State wouldn’t return The Jones to the way it was a decade ago but it would have at least helped to stop this program’s hemorrhaging of its supporters’ goodwill, which was already at an all-time low.

Unfortunately, it seems like we are now teetering on the verge of another civil war within this fandom.  Just as was the case during the three-year Tuberville disaster, there already appears to be two clearly defined camps among Tech fans, those who want to give Wells time and those who want to run him out of town on the next train.

Maybe it’s just the nature of society in 2019 but it feels like there’s no middle ground left for the rest of us to stand on.  Among all the online shouting and in between social media grenades being lobbed at the opposing side, there is little room for rational thought and genuine discourse about this program.

That’s tiring for fans who have just come off of at least two years of the great Kingsbury quandary; to fire or not to fire.  Wells could have helped move this program forward and cemented his place as the unquestioned leader of Tech football by bringing just average success back to Jones Stadium but instead, his first go-round only served to widen the gulf between the two camps of Red Raider fans and, more importantly, between the Big 12’s top teams and his.

Saturday night, as Tech faced a critical 3rd-and-11 on defense needing a stop to get the ball back for a chance to win the game, there may have been 20,000 fans left in the stadium.  Of course, those who were there saw their team once again fail to make the critical play as KSU QB Skylar Thompson scrambled for 17 yards to essentially ice the game.

Next. Tech loses to Kansas State in all-too-familiar fashion. dark

It was a fitting end to this decade of Texas Tech football in Lubbock.  Now, one has to wonder if the 2020s will be any different or if the almost constant feud that has been the Red Raider fan base, a spat that only died down for the first three years of the Kingsbury era, is destined to poison the next ten years of this program as well.