Ever since 2019 in his first year, Texas Tech fans have been calling for head coach Matt Wells’ head.
Yesterday, they finally got it as Wells only lasted two-and-a-half years with a dismal 13–17 record, including just 7–16 in conference play. The coaching change comes two days after a loss to Kansas State in which they blew a 14-point that they held three times. Offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie will take over as interim head coach with four regular season games left for a program that is trying to get one more win to gain bowl eligibility for the first time in four years.
Coming in, the need was for a more experienced head coach as Kliff Kingsbury had none at the age of 33. They got that with Wells being 45 and having six years of head coaching experience. But that was at Utah State, a non-Power 5 school where his real success came in just two seasons in 2014 and 2018 at 10–4 and 10–2, respectively. It also helped that Jordan Love, a future first-round pick, was his quarterback in 2018.
Wells was a better recruiter than Kingsbury, overall, particularly on defense, bringing in so many transfers with college experience. He helped establish a running game, bringing more balance but not more points. It was more of the in-game coaching that hurt Tech.
In 2019, he was 0–4 in one possession games, losing one to Big 12 doormat, Kansas, who only had two conference wins in the 2010s. The next year he improved to 4–1, but one of them came against FCS opponent, Houston Baptist, and the one he lost was against Texas in overtime, blowing a 15-point lead with three minutes left. This year, he was 2–1, holding off another FCS opponent, SFA, for the second year in a row, and losing on Saturday by a point. He also made some dumb decisions along the way, like kicking a field goal on 2nd-and-4 in a nine-point deficit with under three minutes left in the TCU red zone last year, and executing a short kickoff with that lead against Texas.
Wells didn’t make a lot of adjustments. There was never a killer drive to win a game. Instead, he looked like he wanted to win in the simplest way like in last year’s finale against one of the worst Kansas teams I’ve ever seen (and trust me, that’s pretty bad). Tech sleep-walked to a 16–13 victory on Senior Day with hardly any passing game, almost making their top receiver want to transfer after tweeting his frustration before firing their offensive coordinator, David Yost.
Donors threatened to stop giving if they kept Wells after last year. Maybe Kirby Hocutt, Tech’s athletic director, was seeing the toll it was taking that he couldn’t wait until the end of the season. (There was also a “Fire Wells” post on Facebook every other time I was online.) It’s also a chance for Cumbie, who was the starting quarterback at Tech in 2004 and an assistant coach from 2009–13, to show what he’s got. Although, I doubt he gets it as the offense hasn’t looked as great as anticipated while being too conservative.
Hocutt already tried bringing in one of Tech’s own in Kingsbury and it didn’t work out although he’s now undefeated this season in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals. Recruiting may have had something to do with why he wasn’t great in college compared to having a more even playing field in the pros.
The leading candidates will most likely be SMU head coach Sonny Dykes and UTSA’s Jeff Traylor. The name Dykes might sound familiar to Tech fans as his father, Spike, was the head coach from 1986–1999 and was well-liked. After a successful stint at Lousiana Tech took him to Cal where he didn’t so well, he seems to have found his footing back in Texas, leading the Mustangs to a №19 rank nationally into late October.
Traylor knows Texas really well, too. After being one of the better high school coaches in the state, he’s moved up the college ranks and has the Roadrunners to a №23 ranking. (And no, Art Briles is way too much of a PR nightmare after handling all those rape allegations at Baylor.)
After three coaches in 12 seasons, Tech is still looking for the ultimate Mike Leach replacement, who last had the Red Raiders on the map in the 2000s. (And no, he’s not coming back from Mississippi State. They should still pay him what he’s due though.) Who knows how long it will take? Those don’t come around every year.
I will say Tech SHOULD win more once Oklahoma and Texas move to the SEC in four years, but the replacements of Cincinnati, Houston, Central Florida and BYU may not help much if ones like the former who is №2 right now keep winning and moving their program forward.
For now, let’s try to support the program and finish the season strong. Maybe Cumbie will do some good things with Wells out of the way. Maybe he’ll get NFL prospect receiver Erik Ezukanma more involved (or at least we hope). Tyler Shough, the starting quarterback and Oregon transfer, should play soon after suffering a broken collarbone to his throwing arm against Texas. Henri Colombi has been alright in his absence although Shough wasn’t doing as well as anticipated.
The 2021 Red Raiders still aren’t great as evidenced by the 70–35 massacre down in Austin and the retro run defense we saw in the 52–31 beatdown by TCU on homecoming. But they’re still 5–3 and maybe they’ll get that long-needed bowl eligibility, which used to be an automatic before I came to Tech in 2011.
As I was telling some friends recently, all schools have their bad years. Tech is just having a phase right now. It’s just a matter of when and how good they’ll be when they finally come back. Red Raider Nation is groaning some more.