Yet another coaching disaster has rocked Texas Tech and threatens to taint the legacy of AD Kirby Hocutt.
There was a time when most Texas Tech fans believed that Athletics Director Kirby Hocutt was the best AD in the nation. But after yet another ugly end to the tenure of one of his most marquee hires, that perception is quickly beginning to fade into the West Texas sunset.
This week, Hocutt was forced to fire Marlene Stollings, head coach of the Lady Raiders basketball program, after allegations of player abuse on her part and sexual harassment by her strength and conditioning coach Ralph Petrella. Now, this incident is calling into question for many whether or not Hocutt deserves the same fate.
In an opinion piece, Christine Brennan of USA Today (the same publication that broke the story of the allegations against Stollings) calls for Hocutt’s firing.
“For his appalling lack of leadership on allegations of abuse of young athletes,” Brennan writes, “an issue of growing importance in 21st century sports, and for failing to perform one of his most basic duties as a college sports administrator and quickly protect his athletes, the university’s leaders should fire Hocutt. How can Texas Tech trust him to do the right thing for student-athletes ever again?”
Whether or not one believes Hocutt should get the ax for the current mess his hand-picked Lady Raider head coach created, there’s no denying that his tenure is starting to become defined by disastrous coaching hires as much as it is defined by unprecedented success on the field or court.
On one hand, Hocutt deserves credit for overseeing a Texas Tech athletic department that has recently seen the men’s basketball team play for a national title, the baseball team reach the College World Series four times since 2014, the men’s track team capture the 2019 outdoor National Championship, and the golf and tennis programs experience success like never before as well.
But what most casual fans may not be aware of is that for all the success Texas Tech has experienced in those programs, the only two successful sports in which Hocutt hired the current head coach are men’s basketball and baseball. (Hocutt also deserves credit for hiring Beard’s predecessor, Tubby Smith, who had a nice three-year stint in Lubbock but who never had the type of success of the programs listed above.) Certainly, the decisions to hire Chris Beard and Tim Tadlock were strokes of pure genius. But the question is starting to become whether or not those two hires are enough to cancel out several disastrous hires.
In fact, the first hire on Hocutt’s ledger ended in a scenario eerily similar to the Marlene Stollings debacle. In March of 2011, just a month after Hocutt accepted the AD job at Tech, he hired Billy Gillespie as men’s basketball coach despite the fact that Gillespie had recently seen his time at Kentucky end in disgrace.
What’s more, at that time Gillespie had three DUI arrests on his record with the most recent being in 2009 in Kentucky. Still, Hocutt brought him in to lead the second-most important program on campus. It is fair to suggest that this hiring was not all Hocutt’s as he likely had plenty of influence from other higher-ups at the university given how new he was to the position. But regardless, Gillespie goes on Hocutt’s ledger.
Of course, it was a disastrous move to bring him to the Hub City. After only one season, an 8-23 embarrassment, Gillespie resigned his position amid allegations of player abuse that now sound all-too-similar to those levied against Stollings.
Unfortunately, Stollings and Gillespie are not the only bungled basketball hirings Hocutt has made. We have to put Stollings’ predecessor, Candi Whitaker in that category as well.
After taking over the Lady Raider program in 2013, the Texas Tech alum amassed a dismal 54-82 record in four-plus seasons. Never producing a winning record, the best her teams ever did was a 15-16 showing in 2014-15.
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Then there is the case of Hocutt’s most nationally significant mistake, Kliff Kingsbury.
When Hocutt hired the then 33-year-old Kingsbury as Tech’s head football coach back in December of 2012, the move made waves nationally and raised plenty of eyebrows. That’s because the former Red Raider QB had never been a head coach at any level and had just three years of experience as an offensive coordinator and five years of coaching experience overall.
Though the move was widely celebrated by Red Raider fans, hindsight has shown us how foolish it was to hand the reins of the most important program on campus over to a man so unqualified for the position. The result was a 35-40 overall record over six seasons and a dismal 19-35 mark in Big 12 play. Kingsbury ended his tenure with three-consecutive losing seasons and as a result, Texas Tech football remains in the worst shape it has been in since the Jerry Moore era of the 1980s.
What’s more, many fans are still wondering if Hocutt’s hand-picked successor for Kingsbury, Matt Wells, is going to fare any better. Though it would be unfair to judge him after just one season, the early returns are not promising. After going 4-8 in 2019, Wells appears to be struggling to rebuild the program as his current 2021 recruiting class sits at just No. 78 nationally and No. 9 in the Big 12.
A year ago, Kirby Hocutt had built up about as much equity as possible with Texas Tech fans given that the athletic department was coming off its best overall season in its history with a national title in track, a Final Four in men’s basketball, another College World Series run, and a deep NCAA Tournament run by the men’s golf team. But in the months since, that equity has quickly been spent thanks to the awful debut season of Matt Wells and the ineffective manner in which Hocutt handled the Marlene Stollings allegations.
Though I’m not calling for Hocutt’s job like others are, it is fair to point out that in the past 12 months, the perception of him has changed dramatically. No longer is he able to simply rely on the hirings of Beard and Tadlock as proof of his excellence as an administrator.
Rather, he must answer for the fact that two of the most prominent programs on campus, football and Lady Raider basketball, are in shambles because of hirings he’s made. Hocutt has made two exceptional hires in his time at Texas Tech. But now, the number of disastrous hires he has made surpasses that and his legacy and reputation are taking huge hits as a result.