Multiple problems led to the firing of Matt Wells


The end of the Matt Wells era Texas Tech football arrived rather unexpectedly on Monday. It wasn’t a surprise that Wells was let go, but the timing of the announcement, on the first day of a game week and with a bye on tap next week caught many unaware.

To say that the Wells experiment was a disaster might be a bit of a stretch but the numbers show that he will go down as one of the worst head coaches in the history of the program.  In fact, his .433 winning percentage is third-worst of any man to ever lead the Red Raiders.  What’s more, it’s second-worst among coaches who have been on the job in Lubbock for more than one season.

Only Jerry Moore, who coached the Red Raiders from 1981-85, had a worse winning percentage over multiple seasons at .309.  And thus, it is natural to compare Wells to Moore because there are some similarities between the two failed former Red Raider coaches.

Both came to Tech after being head coaches at a lower-level program.  Moore was head coach for two seasons at North Texas while Wells, of course, came to town after six years at Utah State.

And what’s interesting is that when each man was hired by Texas Tech, neither had an overwhelming record as a head coach.  Moore was 11-11 at UNT while Wells was just 44-34 at USU and had put forth three losing seasons in his previous four campaigns.

Off the field, there were similarities as well as by all accounts, both men were held in high regard when it came to their character and the way they treated people.  However, that’s not enough to warrant keeping your job as a high-profile head coach in a major conference.

Now, Texas Tech fans are left to wonder just what went wrong during Wells’ tenure.  So let’s take a look at five reasons why Wells was unable to become a success in West Texas.

We have to be brutally honest when assessing Matt Wells.  He simply isn’t that great of a coach.

Coaches need to be elite at some aspect of the game.  They need to be tactical geniuses on one side of the ball like Mike Leach was on offense, they need to be stellar recruiters, or they need to be excellent at managing and motivating people.  Which of those categories would you say Wells was especially adept at?  Exactly.

The reality is that Wells is a below-average college head coach.  His career record is just 57-51.  And when you take away the first two years of his time at Utah State, two years when it was fair to suggest that his success was due to being set up to succeed by his predecessor Gary Andersen, who is credited as the man who turned around one of the worst football programs in the nation, Wells is just 38-42 with only one winning season between 2015 and 2020.

What’s more, Wells has proven incapable of getting his team ready to play on a consistent basis.  Time and again his team came out of the locker room flat and unmotivated.  That was the case three times this year (against Houston, Texas, and TCU) and on six occasions in his brief time in Lubbock, his team fell into a first-quarter hole of 14 points or more.  That’s 20% of the games that he coached with the Texas Tech football program.

Simply put, Wells is not a great head coach.  He’s had only one set of back-to-back winning seasons in his career and he’s never proven capable of actually building a program into a winner.  That’s not the type of coach that Texas Tech needs because life in the Big 12 is daunting for a school like Texas Tech that doesn’t make a living off of top-25 recruiting classes each year.  Dare I say it, Texas Tech needed an “elite” coach to replace Kliff Kingsbury but instead, we got Matt Wells, who is a below-average head coach and who didn’t have what it takes to win at the big boy level of football.

One of the promises that Wells made when he was hired was that wearing the Double T on his shirt would open tons of doors in recruiting.  That proved not to be the case as Wells repeatedly produced some of the lowest-rated recruiting classes this program has had in the era of class rankings.

The 2019 class, was just No. 62 nationally and 8th in the Big 12 according to 247Sports.com.  Of course, it’s hard to hold that class against him given that it was his first on the job and he had just weeks as Tech’s head coach before the early signing period in December.  Still that class proved to be a dud as only four of the 19 signees from the high school or JUCO ranks are currently starters on this year’s team.

The 2020 class was a bit stronger but still ranked just 48th nationally and 7th in the Big 12.  And of that group of 22 signees, only six are playing meaningful roles for Tech this season.

Some might give Wells a break for the 2021 class given that it was put together during the COVID-19 pandemic when the NCAA disallowed in-person recruiting for a 15-month period.  But still, the impact of another poor class is going to be felt by this program for years to come.

That group was ranked just 74th nationally and dead last in the conference.  And though it is early, only one of the 12 players that were signed from the high school or JUCO ranks, tight end Mason Tharpe, is playing a role for this year’s team.

And if a 12-player class seems strange, well, remember that Wells made the risky decision to rely more heavily on the transfer portal than the traditional talent acquisition methods and that could handcuff this program moving forward.

Sure, players such as LB Colin Schooler, DB Zech McPhearson, DB Eric Monroe, and others have proven to be solid starters for the Red Raiders over the past three seasons.  But to rely so heavily on players with only one or two years of eligibility remaining rather than trying to identify, recruit, and develop high school talent is likely going to leave Tech with some holes in upcoming seasons.

They say that coaching is mostly about the players you have on your roster.  In other words, you can’t turn a bunch of mules into thoroughbreds.  And Matt Wells did a terrible job of bringing the type of talent to Lubbock that he said he would when he got the job.  That’s one reason why he’s no longer employed.

A good head coach is supposed to manage the game to put his team in the best position to win.  That’s especially true of a coach who does not call plays on either side of the football, as was the case with Wells.

But time and again, the now-former Red Raider head coach put his team in awful situations due to some unfathomable decisions.  And those in-game gaffes likely cost Wells his job.

Wells’ most infamous decision was the call to kick a field goal on second down in the 4th quarter of the 2020 TCU game.  Trailing by nine points late in the game, Tech did need two scores to win so the analytics might have said that kicking the FG at that moment of the game was the wise play.

But common sense said otherwise.  It was foolish to ask a kicker in Trey Wolff who had made just one FG on the year to that point, to hit a 37-yard FG under pressure.  What’s more, on that drive, Tech was rolling offensively as the Red Raiders had picked up 63 yards in eight plays and appeared destined for the endzone against a tired TCU defense.  But of course, we all know how Wells’ decision turned out as Wolff was off the mark and the game was lost because of an ill-fated gamble on Wells’ part.

However, there are so many more stupid decisions that Wells made.  There was the “sky kick” against Texas in 2020 which set the Longhorns up with fantastic field position and jumpstarted their comeback win from 15 points down in the final three minutes.

Don’t forget about the surprise onside kick that he called for last season against Oklahoma State, a kick that came with Tech in the lead.  You might remember that it was returned for a TD by the Cowboys thus completely killing all of Tech’s momentum in that contest.

We could go on, there are so many more examples of Wells’ game mismanagement that we could write a book on them.  But the point is that he repeatedly put his team behind the eight-ball by making terrible decisions over the course of a game and those decisions almost always led to losses.  And those losses led to his demise on the South Plains.

Many people who know Wells say that he is loyal to a fault.  That trait proved to be problematic in the way he handled the two coordinators he brought to Lubbock with him from Utah State.

It turns out that neither defensive coordinator Keith Patterson, nor former offensive coordinator David Yost were the right men to help Wells win in the Big 12.  Yet he stuck with Patterson to the bitter end and gave Yost two years, during which time Wells lost the fan base due in large part because the Texas Tech football team lost its high-scoring identity.

Let’s begin with Patterson.  Since arriving in Lubbock, he has coordinated defenses that have ranked 127th, 99th, and currently 70th in total defense.  That’s not good enough to survive in the Big 12.  (And don’t forget that this year’s defense will almost certainly fall way below No. 70 given the upcoming schedule which features four ranked teams.)

Meanwhile, Yost’s two offenses ranked 11th and 38th respectively in 2019 and 2020.  While that’s not atrocious, it isn’t up to the standard that the Texas Tech football program is accustomed to on that side of the ball.

Both Patterson and Yost run (or ran) bland schemes that were far too predictable and which gave the team no schematic advantage.  And when you have marginal talent as Tech has had over the last two-plus seasons, you need a tactical edge from your coaching staff.

Yet Tech never had that with Patterson and Yost (the book is still out on current OC Sonny Cumbie).  But still, Wells stuck with each for at least two years (and he only fired Yost because he was essentially forced to by AD Kirby Hocutt as a condition of being retained last offseason).

Remember, as we stated earlier, Wells is not elite at coordinating an offense or defense.  Thus he needed elite play-callers to have his back and that didn’t happen which ultimately helped doom his time in Lubbock.

Murphy’s Law says that “If it can go wrong, it will go wrong.”  Such was the case for the Matt Wells era of Texas Tech football.

Even if you were of the popular opinion that Wells was out of his league in the Big 12 and was an incompetent slug as a head coach, you do have to admit that the man was absolutely snake-bitten as well.  And that bad luck played a huge role in his demise.

First, let’s start with the fact that in all three seasons he was on the job, he lost his starting QB to injury.  While in 2020, Alan Bowman was only down for three quarters of the game against Kansas State, in both 2019 and 2021 Bowman and Tyler Shough suffered broken collar bones that cost them the majority of the season.

Thus, Wells spent the bulk of his games at Tech going to battle with a backup QB.  In fact, he had his starting QB from week one start and complete just ten of his 30 games has head coach.

Wells also had terrible luck during games.  Of course, the 2019 loss to Baylor rings the loudest in that regard.  That was the game when the officials blew a fumble call in OT that would have essentially handed Tech the win.

There was also the loss at Kansas that year that saw Wells victimized by one of the dumbest plays a Red Raider has ever made.  After Tech blocked KU’s game-winning FG attempt at the end of regulation, safety Douglas Coleman tried to lateral the ball to a teammate rather than just go down and live to fight on in OT.

Of course, KU would recover and make good on their second attempt at winning the game.  That play can’t be held against Wells as no coach in his right mind would instruct his players to take such a risk at such a critical juncture of the game.

Then, that same season, there was the McLane Mannix fumble on Tech’s final drive against TCU.  Trailing just 33-31 and with plenty of time left to go down and take the lead, the inside receiver fumbled on the first play of the drive allowing the Frogs to recover and seal the win.  Again, there was nothing Wells could have done differently in that situation as his players once again let him down.

So while we could point to a number of things Wells did poorly that justified his dismissal, we also have to acknowledge that the man had awful luck while in Lubbock.  But in the end, it wasn’t just bad luck that did him in.  Rather, it was a collection of mistakes and missteps that proved to be too much for him to overcome.

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