Matt Wells’ first real class ranks right where most Tech classes have

TUCSON, ARIZONA - SEPTEMBER 14: Head coach Matt Wells of the Texas Tech Red Raiders watches from the sidelines during the second half of the NCAAF game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on September 14, 2019 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
TUCSON, ARIZONA - SEPTEMBER 14: Head coach Matt Wells of the Texas Tech Red Raiders watches from the sidelines during the second half of the NCAAF game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on September 14, 2019 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Now that Texas Tech football head coach Matt Wells has put the majority of his first real class in Lubbock in the barn, we can compare his work to those of other Red Raider coaches…and the results are amazingly similar.

The 2020 recruiting cycle was important for Matt Wells on a number of fronts.  Of course, he needed to infuse his roster with talent after a 4-8 year in which depth was often an issue.

But he also needed to prove to his fan base that he has the ability to recruit to Lubbock.  That’s not something we were able to gauge in 2019 because, by the time that class was officially completed, he has been on the job for less than three months.

But now that 80% of his scholarships for 2020 have been filled, we can see what type of a recruiter he’s proving to be.  And we are learning that perhaps recruiting is more about the school and the program than the head coach.

That’s because the first real class of Wells’ tenure is exactly in line with the average class that Tech has managed to assemble during the two decades of the so-called “Air Raid” era.   Exactly…in…line.

Right now, Tech’s class sits at No. 44 nationally and No. 7 in the Big 12.  Those numbers might adjust a bit as Wells adds a few more JUCO or high school recruits before February’s traditional signing day but they are not likely to fluctuate so much that we see this class in a significantly different light.

What’s amazing is that from 2000-2018, the average Red Raider class was ranked 43.5 in the nation and 7.1 in the Big 12.  In other words, Matt Wells has proven to be able to at least bring in a class that is up to par with the average class that we’ve seen come to Lubbock in the last 19 years.

From 2000-10, Mike Leach’s average class ranked 46th in the nation and 7th in the conference.  And remember how we bashed Kingsbury for landing the worst class in the Big 12 in 2017?  Leach managed to do that twice.

More from Wreck'Em Red

In 2003, he signed only eleven players to bring in the No. 71 class in the nation.  The only players in that class to ever become contributors of any significance were DE Key Dawson and DB Antonio Huffman.

In 2008, the Red Raider class was again last in the conference and ranked even worse than the 2003 class at No. 75 nationally.  That 11-player class included S Cody Davis, WR Austin Zouzalik, QB Seth Doege, and K Donnie Corona.

As for Tommy Tuberville, though we all curse his name, we must also admit that he was the best recruiter we’ve had in the last two decades.  His average class was ranked 28th nationally and 4.6 in the conference.

Some of his success came from the reputation the program had built nationally in the final years of the Leach era.  But another aspect of his success came from the fact that he prioritized recruiting ability over coaching acumen when looking for assistant coaches.

In 2011, his second class in Lubbock was the best we’ve seen in the modern era of the sport.  Sitting at No. 19 in the nation and third in the Big 12, that class included TE Jace Amaro, OT LeRaven Clark, WR Bradley Marquez, RB DeAndre Washington, and WR Jakeem Grant.

As for Kingsbury, his average class checked in at No. 47.1 nationally and No. 6.3 in Big 12.  Of course, we all criticize him for his 2018 class, which was No. 72 in the country and last in the conference.

But his undoing came in the 2015 class which was No. 32 in the nation and No. 3 in the Big 12.  The problem was that most of that year’s marquee signees, including DT Breiden Fehoko, RB Corey Dauphine, OL Conner Dyer, S Jamile Johnson, and so many more left Tech before their careers were over.

So what do we take away from this?  Perhaps, Matt Wells isn’t the key to improving Tech’s success on the recruiting trail, at least not in the way we think.  It appears that the key for this coaching staff isn’t to try to win in December or February because even in the best of the Leach Years, Tech was never a top 15 program when it came to recruiting.

Rather, the key might be in identifying the right players for his systems and cultures and then developing them into players.  After all, we talked earlier about how 60% of the top 10 all-time highest-rated recruits in Tech history turned out to be huge busts.   Thus, Wells success as a recruiter isn’t going to be in his ability to sign a top 10 class but in his ability to take a mid-level class and coach it up to the point that it becomes a top 10 roster.  That’s how he can win at the talent acquisition game.

Most of the legendary players to come through this program in the last two decades, Welker, Ammendola, Grant, Filani, Hicks, Brooks, etc. were players that didn’t crack the top 50 or 100 nationally as prospects but they developed into All-Big 12 and even All-American players.  That’s what Wells needs to do on a more consistent basis than his predecessor.

Also, what Wells needs more than a high recruiting ranking is an increase in the level of retention among his recruits.  One flaw of the Kingsbury era was how often signees jumped ship before their eligibility had been exhausted.  Perhaps that was just a product of the current mindset of players or perhaps that was due to a failure on the part of the Kingsbury staff to identify players with the right mental makeup and skillset to be leaders and contributors.

After looking back at the rankings of the last 20 years, it’s become clear that Tech isn’t going to get back to prominence by suddenly becoming a top-level recruiting juggernaut.  The key is going to be identifying players that want to work hard and improve and then coaching them to reach their full potential.

That’s what the theory was last year at this time when Wells put together his coaching staff.  Rather than focusing on high school coaches that could recruit better than coach, he assembled a staff of coaches who all had multiple years of experience at the college level with the idea being that player development is more important than player acquisition.

What we know after this year’s December signing period is that Wells can recruit just as well as the rest of the coaches in the modern era of the program have in an average year.  No better.  No worse.  The key is going to be what happens after his recruits step on campus.