Kirby Hocutt saves his own job


Sometimes, we all get to a point where our hand is forced. In those instances, you have no choice but to do what you have to do, regardless of how unpleasant it may be. That was the circumstance that AD Kirby Hocutt found himself in when it came to the untenable state of affairs surrounding the Texas Tech football program.

But by doing what had be done and firing head coach Matt Wells on Monday rather than kicking the can down the road to the end of the year (or…gulp…beyond), the leader of the Red Raider athletic department did what a good leader must do during a crisis.  He took action.  And in doing so, he might have gained quite a bit of equity with a fan base that has grown increasingly frustrated with his own job performance over the last handful of years.

There was no question that the football program under Wells had lost its fan base.  That was evident by the paltry attendance at Tech’s game against Kansas State on Saturday and by the way that the populace was virtually united in its cries for Wells’ head on a platter.

But what most feared was that Hocutt would be too cautious, or too stubborn, to act immediately.  After all, Wells was his hand-picked head coach – the man upon whom he staked his reputation when finding a successor to Kliff Kingsbury in December of 2018.  Thus, it was reasonable to believe that Hocutt would give Wells every last opportunity to prove capable of being a success in Lubbock, even if that meant that Hocutt would be the last sailor to jump off the sinking ship.

Fortunately, Hocutt surprised us all and acted decisively and in a timely manner.  After all, this season can still be salvaged to some degree.

Tech remains just one win shy of reaching its first bowl game since 2017 and perhaps the voice of interim head coach Sonny Cumbie will be the one that gets this team ready enough for battle to earn that win.  But whether or not that proves to be the case, it was more than evident that Wells wasn’t the leader that this program needed right now.

After all, he had repeatedly failed to guide the Texas Tech football program to any semblance of momentum during Big 12 play.  Blowout losses to Texas and TCU coupled with this past weekend’s second-half collapse against the Wildcats kept alive Wells’ unimaginable streak of never putting together back-to-back conference wins as the man at the helm.

What’s more, his program had grown more and more unhealthy as the year progressed.  Public perception of Red Raider football is at an all-time low and the current coaching staff was only making things worse.

For instance, just two weeks ago, on his weekly radio show, when asked by a fan what his favorite thing about Lubbock was, Wells couldn’t clearly articulate anything that he liked about the city he was tasked with recruiting too.  It was an awful look for any coach, but especially for one on the hottest of seats – one who was at the time in desperate need of more support from the community.

Then, just this week, graduate assistant coach Kirby Ennis fired off some harsh words on social media towards Texas Tech football fans who were complaining about the state of the program.  Ennis’ remarks were uncalled for and unprofessional given his status as a member of the coaching staff and given how tenuous that staff’s position was at the time, the Tweets came across as tone-deaf as well as classless.  Needless to say, that didn’t reflect well on the culture of Wells’ program either.

While neither of those two incidents ultimately led to Wells’ dismissal, they were a part of the continued disintegration of the foundation of Texas Tech football and they furthered widened the gap between the program and its lifeblood, the fans.

But by stepping in and making a change, Hocutt breathed some semblance of life back into a fan base that had given up on this season and on Wells before the calendar even reached Halloween.  And by putting former Red Raider QB Cumbie in charge, he gave the fans a popular figure to rally around for the remainder of the season.  He also restored some of our faith in his own abilities to lead this football program forward after his last two hires, Kliff Kingsbury and Wells, proved to be complete duds.

Hocutt’s actions also work as sort of an informal mea culpa.  He knew when he hired Wells that the move was wildly unpopular with the fan base but he did, as was is right as athletic director, what he wanted to anyway – what he thought was best at the time.

Hey, we all swing and miss in life.  And when we do, the best course of action is to step back and say, “I got it wrong but I’m going to do everything I can to fix it.”

That’s what Hocutt said on Monday and that’s a message his fan base desperately needed to hear from the man tasked with resurrecting the woeful state of Texas Tech football.  And by delivering that message now and not allowing the program to hemorrhage any more, he took the first and most important step towards rebuilding trust with Red Raider fans.

For well over a year, the fan base has been rather vocal in our discontent with the state of the program and yet, it felt as if our collective voice was being ignored, especially when Wells was retained after winning just four games a year ago.  But this time, Hocutt acknowledged that he heard the fans loud and clear and he did so by doing what everyone who bleeds scarlet and black knew needed to be done.  It’s a credit to Hocutt as a leader and perhaps it is a sign that he is finally starting down a winning path with this football program.

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