Texas Tech’s coaching search is over and Tech fans, at least a vocal social media contingent, aren’t happy with the result. Kirby Hocutt went out and pulled Matt Wells from the grips of Utah State to be the Red Raiders next head football coach. National pundits are more excited about the hire, caping for Wells and even calling him the first “home-run” hire of the current carousel. Place us somewhere in between the sky if falling and the messiah is here. That’s the kind of hard hitting, non-committal drivel you’re used to on the Roundup.
When names like Mike Leach and Dana Holgorsen started to surface as replacements for Kliff Kingsbury, the search got a lot more exciting but a lot less realistic. Leach is, after all, suing Texas Tech. Hiring the guy who’s suing you is a unique proposition. Holgorsen is an interesting name, if you believe the rumors, he’s been itching to get out of West Virginia and wanted the Tech gig.
The Godfather of West Texas sports, the Lubbock Avalanche Journal’s Don Williams, confirmed Holgorsen’s interest but reported that Hocutt refused to interview him. If that’s the case, then Hocutt exposes himself to criticism for leaving a qualified candidate on the table. Holgorsen’s bravado reminds me of Leach, who elevated Tech to a status not seen since the Steve Sloan teams in the 1970s. Holgorsen would’ve been a great foil to Tom Herman in Austin and would’ve been fun to cover week in and week out. But enough about the guys that didn’t get the job.
Let’s meet Matt Wells.
Well took over at Utah State after Gary Anderson made a couple of odd career choices, taking the Wisconsin job, leaving Wisconsin and Barry Alvarez’ shadow for the hotbed that is Oregon State, then leaving Oregon State after a series of all-caps text messages. While Anderson went on a walk-about, Wells went to work. Anderson left Utah State in a decent spot for Wells. He’s been steady at Utah State, winning the Mountain Division twice and compiling a 44-34 record. This year’s Aggies are 10-2 and tied for the Mountain Division title with Boise.
Wells has remade himself in recent years with the addition of David Yost as his offensive coordinator. Yost came into the spotlight as the OC for Gary Pinkel's Missouri teams. Hiring Yost proved to be a seed change for Wells’ program. In his first two seasons, Wells turned to defensive coordinator Todd Orlando and the Aggie defense which finished in the top 35 in total defense both seasons. When Orlando left, the defense fell off and the offense stayed average.
In 2016 the offense regressed and the defense, as a result, did as well. The Aggies limped in with a 3-9 finish. Yost arrived, and the offense improved, moving to a pace and space system. Yost is presumed to be part of Wells’ coaching staff in Lubbock. We’ll see where Wells evolves next, but he’ll probably skew more in that direction.
Utah State defensive coordinator Keith Patterson is part of the coaching staff package as well. He coached under Todd Graham at Arizona State when the Sun Devils were as blitz happy as any team in the country. The Aggies finished in the middle of the Mountain West pack in total defense this season, Patterson’s only year running the Aggie unit.
Wells doesn’t have many Texas ties, but neither did Matt Rhule or Mike Bloomgren. Rhule and Bloomgren augmented their staffs with Texas high school coaches, Joey McGuire and Shawn Bell at Baylor while Bloomgren hired Drew Svoboda from Klein Collins. Texas ties are often overplayed by us Texans; high school athletes tend to gravitate to run and gun offenses and alternate uniforms. I weep for America.
Hocutt’s approach during this search was different. He focused on Brett Venables to start then ignored names like, Holgorsen, Neal Brown, and Seth Littrell who have ties to the school and Tech’s Air Raid system. Hocutt wants to break the Tech formula of the past 20 years and attempt to take a slightly different route to elevate the program beyond the middle of the Big 12.
It’s a risk, but Hocutt’s hiring history has been pretty, bringing in Tim Tadlock to run the baseball program and Chris Beard to lead the basketball team. Tadlock’s led Tech the three College World Series appearances and Beard took Tech to the Elite Eight last season.
Hocutt said he got the same warm fuzzy feeling with Wells that he sensed when he interviewed Tadlock and Beard. Tech fans are hoping he’s right.