Texas Tech basketball: Kirby Hocutt may now have his get out of jail free card

Jan 28, 2023; Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders head coach Mark Adams looks on against the LSU Tigers during the first half at Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 28, 2023; Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders head coach Mark Adams looks on against the LSU Tigers during the first half at Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports /

I must begin this piece by apologizing for being away from the site for a few days as a death in my immediate family has taken my attention away from my normal day-to-day.  However, the shocking suspension of Texas Tech basketball head coach Mark Adams is a story that can’t be ignored.  In fact, it is one that has the potential to rock the foundation of the program.

"Sunday morning, news broke that Adams had been suspended by the university for an incident in which Adams allegedly “referenced Bible verses about workers, teachers, parents, and slaves serving their masters” during a coaching session according to the Texas Tech basketball website."

Texas Tech released no other details including no information about the length of Adams’ suspension or when another update may come.  Obviously, the timing is less than ideal given that this week sees the Red Raiders in Kansas City for the Big 12 Tournament, an event Tech must win if the team is to have any hope of participating in the NCAA Tournament.  However, with that outcome highly improbable, the focus of most Texas Tech fans is rightfully on what Sunday’s development means for the beleaguered head coach’s future.

In reality, this incident may prove to be a badly-needed “get out of jail free” card for Texas Tech AD Kirby Hocutt who signed Adams to a lucrative contract extension this past offseason after just one year with Adams at the helm.  While that assessment might seem heartless or come across as a rash judgment, it is the consequence that we must consider.

I’m not here to convict Adams of any wrongdoing.  It’s Hocutt’s job to sort through all the details and make that decision and none of us on the outside will likely ever know everything that the ensuing investigation into this incident uncovers.

However, what we must quickly wrap our minds around is the unavoidable reality that Hocutt now almost certainly has a way to get out of the mess that Adams has created this season.  Were Adams to have coached this team to the best of his ability, were he to have endeared himself to prominent boosters, were he to be leading a team guaranteed to have a bid the Big Dance sown up rather than one almost guaranteed to be watching from home, we might be having a different discussion.

Instead, Adams has made numerous mistakes both on and off the court and as a result, his program was already teetering on the edge of implosion before Sunday’s suspension.  Already, there was reason enough for Hocutt to truly consider if his basketball coach was deserving of a third year on the job; and the greatest factor in that decision was likely to be the buyout of Adams’ contract, which would have been in the neighborhood of $7 million.

Now, if Tech can fire Adams for cause, what does Adams have going for him?  What reason does Hocutt have to keep the 66-year-old on as the face of his program?  Positive momentum?  Nope.  Cohesion among all the moving parts in the program?  Nope.  A track record of sustained success at the major conference level of the sport?  Nope.

Adams had done severe damage to his reputation and his standing as head coach long before Sunday.  In fact, credible rumors about dissension inside his program and especially among those who grease the expensive wheels with their million-dollar donations have been rising to the surface since at least the start of the season in November.  What’s more, the product on the court has not given many people reason to look past the alleged missteps taken by Adams, decisions that many believe have bled from Adams’ personal life into his professional one.

Now, those without intimate knowledge of the turmoil bubbling under the surface of this program all season; those who only look at Texas Tech hoops from afar, have reason to turn a critical gaze toward Adams as well.  Fairly or not, the suspicion of racism has now been attached to Adams.

I don’t know the man so I have no way to determine his character nor do I know or have the right to judge how a player might feel about a Bible verse that Adams quoted.  But I do know that in the culture that exists in 2023, even the slightest hint of racial discrimination or prejudice is taken more seriously than ever before.  That doesn’t bode well for Adams as he tries to earn a living in a profession where the vast majority of the players he will coach and recruit will be African American.

That leads us back to the man who must make such judgments, difficult as they may be.  Hocutt now might have reason to terminate Adams for cause thus nullifying the massive buyout that has kept Adams somewhat secure throughout this disastrous season.

Prior to Sunday, Hocutt was still going to have to make a tough call about the leadership of his basketball program.  In some instances, he was facing a worst-case scenario in which the team was almost guaranteed to miss the NCAA Tournament but in which it had also shown just enough signs of life in February to potentially justify retaining Adams, especially if Hocutt were able to determine that the nucleus of his roster would return for another season.

That was in many ways similar to the no-win situations Hocutt faced during the back end of the Kliff Kingsbury era of the football program when the team would sputter around .500 or just below but would give Hocutt just enough signs of hope to justify giving Kingsbury a stay of execution and put off paying Kingsbury’s buyout for another 12 months.

Eventually, Hocutt had to bite down hard and fire Kingsbury, a man who Hocutt clearly had affection for.  Kingsbury was blameless when it came to off-the-field controversies though.  His dedication to his job was tough to question. With him, it was all about the results on the field.

Adams, on the other hand, was already on shaky ground due to the way he approached his job this season.  Misses in the transfer portal, the inability to retain key players from last season’s team, a misguided decision to lean heavily on true freshmen, and an unwillingness to play nice with his biggest donors all put him on the edge of the cliff prior to Sunday.  Now, it is hard to see how the suspension he’s been handed ends in any way other than his dismissal.  In other words, Kirby Hocutt’s decision might have just become far easier to make.