Texas Tech football: Kirby Hocutt’s silence has fans wondering if change is imminent

Dec 3, 2017; Grapevine, TX, USA; College football playoff selection committee chairman Kirby Hocutt speaks with members of the media during the College Football Playoff Selection Sunday event at the Gaylord Texan resort. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 3, 2017; Grapevine, TX, USA; College football playoff selection committee chairman Kirby Hocutt speaks with members of the media during the College Football Playoff Selection Sunday event at the Gaylord Texan resort. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

With no word from Texas Tech AD Kirby Hocutt concerning the future of the Texas Tech football program, many fans are wondering if his silence is a sign that changes are about to happen.

As Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers once told us, “the waiting is the hardest part”.  That classic rock and roll line is certainly ringing true for Texas Tech football fans these days as we wait to find out who will be leading the program in 2021 and beyond.

But the man who has the loudest voice in the room when it comes to the fate of Matt Wells and his coaching staff, Kirby Hocutt, has been noticeably silent since the Red Raiders ended their 2020 season with a pitiful 16-13 victory over winless Kansas.  While no logical fan would expect the embattled AD to be 100% transparent during this uncertain time as he tries to fend off a coup from influential boosters, his silence is a bit unusual and it gives one reason to believe that change is blowing in the West Texas wind.

This isn’t Hocutt’s first rodeo in regards to having to defend one of his hand-picked head football coaches at Texas Tech.  In fact, he spent most of the final three years of the Kliff Kingsbury era trying to convince us all that his experimental hiring of a 30-something head coach with no head coaching experience at any level of football and only five years of experience as an assistant coach was going to work out.

To gain some insight about what might be going on in regards to the 2020 head coaching power struggle, we should look back at one important night in the history of Texas Tech football.

On November 25, 2017, Kingsbury guided his Red Raider team to an upset win over Texas in Austin.  You may remember that game for being the one McLane Carter started over Nic Shimonek.

But the lefty was ineffective prompting Kingsbury to bring Shimonek, who had started every game of the season to that point, off the bench in the 4th quarter.  With his team facing a 10-point deficit, Shimonek engineered two 4th-quarter TD drives for a 27-23 win to secure bowl eligibility.

Immediately after that game, the media found Hocutt somewhere in the bowels of Darryl K. Royal-Memorial Stadium and asked him point-blank if Kingsbury was going to return despite having missed postseason play in both 2014 and 2016.  Hocutt was unflinching in his defense of his head coach that night.

"“I’ve said it before: Kliff has led this program the right way,” Hocutt said. “And he continues to do that. We’re excited tonight to get to six wins and to get bowl eligible.“But at the same time, we’re not where we want to be or we expect to be as a program. Kliff is going to continue to lead this program into the future. And at the same time, he and I, at the right time, will have a chance to sit down and talk about what we’ve got to continue to invest in, what we’ve got to continue to change for this program to get to the level we expect it to be at. We’re not far, but we’re not there yet either.”"

In all, Kingsbury would return for two more seasons, which many fans still believe was two seasons too many.  But if you think Hocutt was dug in on Kingsbury, multiply that by a dozen and you will get a sense of how dug in his is in regards to Matt Wells.

Remember, Wells is Hocutt’s third head football coach hire at a Power 5 program and he’s yet to pick a winner.  Thus, his reputation as an administrator is on the line with Wells and for a man like Hocutt, who has upward mobility aspirations beyond Texas Tech, it is imperative that this hiring work out.

But if we all know Hocutt is staunchly in Wells’ corner, why hasn’t he yet been given the same reprieve that Kingsbury received in 2017 that night in Austin?  Perhaps it is because this decision is no longer just Hocutt’s to make.

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There’s a belief that his autonomy is gone after the Kingsbury failings as well as the controversial endings to the Marlene Stollings and Adrian Gregory sagas with the women’s basketball and softball programs respectively.  In fact, some even question whether Hocutt himself is safe in his current position given the numerous missteps he’s made in recent years, missteps which include the hiring of Wells.

But in 2017, Hocutt could do no wrong in the eyes of most Red Raider fans, and more importantly, the powers that be to whom he answers (namely university president Dr. Lawrence Schovanec).  At the time, the equity he’d amassed from the hirings of Chris Beard and Tim Tadlock was enough to buy him free reign and he cashed in his chips when he doubled down on Kingsbury.

However, three years later, Hocutt does not wield the same level of power.  In fact, he may have less power now than at any point in his nearly decade-long run as AD at Texas Tech.

Thus, he’s remained silent instead of coming out and unequivocally saying that his head coach would return in 2020.  What’s more, he has managed to avoid having to hold his weekly radio “progrum” The Kirby Hocutt Show because the Lady Raiders have scheduled a game against Angelo State for noon on Wednesday, which is convenient for Hocutt given that his show airs at that same time thus meaning that this week’s show will not take place.

Though it seems a stretch to think that Hocutt would go to such lengths as to schedule a basketball game just to avoid fielding questions about the state of his football program on his weekly radio show, that cancelation just adds more mystery to what’s going on behind closed doors when it comes to Wells and his future.

Will the coaching staff return intact?  That seems unlikely.  Will Wells get the ax after two years?  That’s what many big-money boosters are pushing for.  Will Kirby go down with the ship if those over his head decide to make a change and can Wells?  It isn’t out of the realm of possibilities.

It’s safe to say that any number of outcomes is possible and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if we didn’t have official word until after next week’s early signing period for football recruits has come and gone.  But while we don’t know what is going on right now, the silence from Hocutt is telling and it gives us all a reason to believe that significant changes are being discussed.  Now….we wait.  Cue Tom Petty.

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