Texas Tech football: How notable coaches fared in second season

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#26 and head coach Matt Wells of Texas Tech (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images)

As Matt Wells prepares his Texas Tech football team for the second season of his tenure, a look at some notable former Red Raider head coaches shows us that the going can often be difficult in year-two.

Typically, the second year of a head coach’s tenure is when the expectations ramp up.  With a full calendar year under his belt, the man in charge has had time to put his fingerprints on the program and year two is when many believe we get our first real glimpse of what the head coach can do.  Texas Tech football fans hope the second year of the Matt Wells era will mirror the second season of a couple of other prominent coaches on campus.

In their second seasons at Tech, both Chris Beard and Tim Tadlock took their program to never before seen heights.  Beard took his basketball team to the program’s first-ever Elite Eight while Tadlock’s baseball team qualified for the College World Series for the first time in program history.

Interestingly, both of those milestones came just a year after each coach saw his program take a bit of a step back in year one, which is often referred to as a “transition year”.   After Tech basketball reached the NCAA Tournament in 2015 under Tubby Smith, Beard’s team missed out on the Big Dance in his first year after going 18-14 overall but just 6-12 in the Big 12.  Likewise, Tadlock’s first team in 2013 won three fewer games than the 2012 team that went a mere 29-26.

Of course, Wells also saw his first season in Lubbock fail to even match the meager win total from the final year of the Kliff Kingsbury era. Managing just a 4-8 record in 2019, Tech took a step in the wrong direction after posting a 5-7 record in 2018, which was bad enough to cost Kingsbury his job.

Now, Wells needs a solid second year to get the fan base back on his side and rekindle some of the lost passion that has escaped this program over the course of the last decade.  But history suggests that a huge turnaround in year two is no guarantee in Lubbock.

Of the 15 head coaches that came before Wells, only Pete Cawthorn, Steve Sloan, Jerry Moore, and Mike Leach saw their programs perform better in year two of their tenure than they did in their debut seasons.  (Keep in mind that two other coaches, Graddy Higginbotham and David McWilliams, were only in Lubbock for one season.)

What’s more, the only coach in Tech history that has had rousing success in his second year was Sloan.  After a 6-5 1975 season, he guided his second team to a 10-2 record in 1976 which included an appearance in the Bluebonnet Bowl and a final ranking of No. 13.

Meanwhile, Cawthorn led his team to a modest 6-3 record in 1931 after a 3-6 showing the previous year.  Also improving upon his first-year win total by three games was Moore in 1982 but that was good for only a 4-7 record.  (We will discuss Leach in a moment.)

As for Wells, his second season at Utah State was actually one of the best of his career.  After going 9-5 in 2013, he took the Aggies to a 10-4 record in 2014 including a victory in the New Mexico Bowl.

While a 10-win season in 2020 seems unlikely to be in store for Wells in his second season with the Red Raiders, it is going to be imperative that his program take a step forward this fall.  And if it does, it will buck a recent trend as Leach is the only coach in the last four decades that has improved in year two and as you will soon see, that improvement should come with an asterisk.  So let’s take look at how the modern era head coaches have fared in year two beginning with the man who brought Tech into the Big 12, Spike Dykes.

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