Texas Tech football: Matt Wells receives poor grades from national pundits

LUBBOCK, TEXAS - OCTOBER 05: Head coach Matt Wells of the Texas Tech Red Raiders (left) and head coach Mike Gundy of the Oklahoma State Cowboys greet each other after the college football game on October 05, 2019 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images)
LUBBOCK, TEXAS - OCTOBER 05: Head coach Matt Wells of the Texas Tech Red Raiders (left) and head coach Mike Gundy of the Oklahoma State Cowboys greet each other after the college football game on October 05, 2019 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images) /

After a 4-8 debut season, Texas Tech football head coach Matt Wells is receiving less than stellar grades from national pundits for his work this year.

The end of any semester is time for students everywhere to sweat out their final grades.  Months of class often boil down to one test that can make or break a year.  But we all know that the 2019 Texas Tech football season was not one that we will be hanging on mom and dad’s fridge anytime soon.

It’s always interesting to step outside of our bubble to see how people with no emotional investment in the Red Raiders think about the state of the program and with the end of the regular season, many national publications have taken to giving grades to head coaches for the work they did this fall.  Unfortunately, the national perspective of Matt Wells’ first season is not much better than the perspective of the Red Raider fan base.

Wells struggled in his first season as a Power 5 head coach, which isn’t all that surprising given that he inherited a program that has been in a downward spiral for a decade.  Hamstrung at times by a roster that lacked Big 12 caliber depth and impacted by significant injuries at key positions, Wells found that the remarks he made when he was hired about this being a “reload” rather than a “rebuild” were a bit pollyannaish.

He was just the fourth of the 16 head coaches in Tech history to debut with a losing season and the first since Jerry Moore in 1981.  That year, the Red Raiders went 1-9-1 overall and 0-7-1 in the Southwest Conference proving that it could be worse these days despite what many fans might believe right now.

Still, Tech took a step backward in the only stat that really matters, win total after failing to even get to the five-win mark that got Kliff Kingsbury fired last fall.  It was just the third time since 1985 that Tech won four games or fewer so it should be no surprise that Wells’ work was not viewed too favorably by national observers.

Barrett Sallee of CBSSporsts.com gave Wells a grade of D+.  Hey…as any college slacker will tell you, that is still a passing grade.  Of course, like parents who are footing the bill for their son’s college education, Tech fans are not going to be happy with that.

"“Wells came to town with a proven track record but posted a worse record than Kliff Kingsbury did last year. That won’t cut it,” Sallee writes."

As for other Big 12 newcomers, Sallee gave Kansas State’s Chris Klieman an A-, Kansas’ Les Miles a C, and West Virginia’s Neal Brown a C-.  One other name of interest for Tech fans, Dana Holgorsen, was given an F for his 4-8 season at Houston.

Meanwhile, Nick Bromberg and Sam Cooper of Yahoo Sports were a tad bit more forgiving of Wells.   Giving him a grade of a C, they gave him credit for how close Tech was in a number of Big 12 games.

"“The Red Raiders lost six of seven Big 12 games down the stretch, though four of those losses came by a possession or less,” they write. “It was more of the same we saw in years past: second-best Big 12 offense, worst Big 12 defense. Matt Wells might have more work to do than he realized when he arrived in Lubbock.”"

They too had Wells graded worse than any new coach in the Big 12 with Kleiman receiving an A, Miles earning a B-, and Brown being given a B.  Thus, in the eyes of two nationally-respected publications, Wells had the worst year of the four debut coaches in the Big 12.

That’s disappointing given that in the preseason polls, Tech was picked to finish seventh in the league ahead of the other three programs with new coaches in charge.  But much of that logic was based on the notion that QB Alan Bowman would take a step forward as a sophomore giving Tech a significant advantage over the Wildcats, Jayhawks, and Mountaineers who all entered the year with significant questions at QB.

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But now, no team in the Big 12 heads into the offseason with more uncertainty at the game’s most important position.  Jett Duffey played respectably well this year but he proved to be incapable of making plays to win games.  He has grown into a player who no longer loses games for his team by committing untimely turnovers but until he proves he can actually carry his team to victory in close games, he’s not going to be the answer.

The other two options on campus, Bowman and freshman Maverick McIvor, have significant injury concerns.  We all know that Bowman has missed more games in his two years on campus than he has played but many may not realize that McIvor has played just one half of football in his last two seasons after a knee injury cost him all but the first half of his first game as a senior in high school and a foot injury kept him out all year in 2019.

Additionally, there’s no telling what we are going to get in 2020 QB signee Donovan Smith.  The Frienship QB is a 3-star prospect who has all the physical tools to be a nice player but he’s been a starting QB for just one season after playing wide receiver prior to this fall.

With that huge question lingering over the program, it’s fair to wonder if the outlook heading into year two of the Matt Wells experience is even more precarious than it was at this time last year.

Though much of Wells’ first year on campus was about establishing culture and other important endeavors that the general public is not privy to, the fact that the one position believed to be a strength has now become a huge unknown is enough to grade this season as a disappointment worthy of a failing grade, though Wells and Co. could not have prevented the injury to Bowman (other than coaching up the players more effectively in order to keep their starter from being buried by a blitzing LB in Arizona).

Regardless, Wells oversaw a loss to lowly KU, which is a crime that is punishable by death in the eyes of many fans.  And when he had an opportunity to bring home wins that could have turned the perspective of the season following that mid-season debacle, he couldn’t get the job done.

Now, we head into an offseason with Tech having to not only sort out a muddled QB situation but also looking for ways to replace LB Jordyn Brooks, S Douglas Coleman, and DL Broderick Washington (the three most reliable players on the No. 125 defense in the nation) and three starting offensive linemen.

In other words, the bar might have been lowered if we can imagine that.  On the other hand, it might be easier for Wells to exceed such lowly expectations next year and perhaps earn a grade that will at least keep his parents off his back.