Jeff Traylor leading candidate to be new Red Raiders head coach?


It is becoming clear that Jeff Traylor, currently the head coach at UTSA, is one of, if not the, leading candidate to replace Matt Wells as Texas Tech football head coach. In fact, you can’t avoid all of the stories online and mentions on social media that are linking him to the Red Raiders.

Of course, he was asked about potential interest in the Texas Tech job at his media availability this week and as expected, he gave a rather non-committal answer.

“Those kids (his football team at UTSA) all understand with my Texas connections, any Texas job that ever comes open, my name is probably going to be involved in it,” he said  “We’re way in front of this deal.  My kids know I’m very committed to this place.  I’m very excited about the future of our place.” (Text from a Tweet by Greg Luca, who covers UTSA for the San Antonio Express-News.)

It is also being reported that current SMU head coach Sonny Dykes is also a strong candidate for the job.  But the buzz around his name is nowhere near as strong online as is the buzz surrounding Traylor.

In fact, according to Hunter Smith of KXII news in Sherman, Texas, Tech officials reached out to gauge Traylor’s interest even before Wells was fired.  Smith Tweeted that Tech contacted Traylor over the weekend and that the job is essentially Traylor’s to accept or refuse.

What’s more, it is widely believed that Texas Tech officials met with Traylor for an interview last week in San Antonio.

So let’s get to know the likely frontrunner for the Texas Tech head coach position.  And we will start by taking a look at his roots.

One intriguing aspect of Traylor’s career is that he paid his dues at the high school football level before jumping to the college ranks.  In fact, he was so successful at the prep level that he has a stadium named after him in Gilmer, Texas.

Head coach of the Gilmer Buckeyes for 15 years, Traylor amassed a remarkable 175-26 record and won three state titles.  Therefore, in 2014, Gilmer renamed their stadium Jeff Traylor Stadium.

Why is that important to his college coaching efforts?  Because it opens tons of doors for Traylor on the recruiting trail.

A four-time Texas High School Coach of the Year, Traylor has more than enough street cred with high school coaches around the state of Texas.  That should result in Traylor getting the benefit of the doubt from high school programs around the state and the head coaches of those programs will probably be more likely to steer their college prospects towards a coach they admire and trust.

One of the failings of the Matt Wells coaching staff is that almost none of them had strong ties to Texas high school football when they arrived.  Rather than focusing on hiring assistants with connections that could open doors in high schools across the state, Wells hired men with tons of assistant coaching experience at the collegiate level.

The theory was that those coaches would be better developers of talent and would be able to get the most out of the players Wells brought to Lubbock.  But the problem was that the caliber of player that Tech landed during the Wells era was usually not good enough.

Thus, Texas Tech is likely going to look for a coach who already has open doors waiting for him in high schools across the state.  Traylor certainly fits that bill as he was one of the most successful Texas high school coaches of the last two decades.

During Monday’s press conference to announce the dismissal of Wells, Texas Tech AD Kirby Hocutt emphasized that he wants his next coach to have strong Texas ties.  Well, Traylor certainly checks that box.

As we’ve already discussed, he’s a Texas high school football icon.  But his connection to the Lone Star State runs deeper than that.  In fact, almost every stop along his path has been in Texas.

A native of Gilmer, he attended Stephen F. Austin from 1986-89 where he was a walk-on with the football team.  After that, he began his coaching career as an assistant at Big Sandy High School in east Texas.  He would also spend seven seasons as an assistant at Jacksonville High in Jacksonville, Texas.  Then, he would jump to the job at Gilmer that would propel him to the top of the high school coaching ranks.

In 2015, Traylor would join the staff of the Texas Longhorns as the special teams coordinator and tight ends coach.  In 2017, he then coached at SMU as associate head coach and running backs coach.

Then, after just a year in Dallas, he would spend two years as the associate head coach and running backs coach at Arkansas.  Finally, in 2020 he was named UTSA head coach.

Thus, it is easy to see that he knows the state of Texas about as well as any coach can.  In fact, he’s a true Texas success story by working his way from the high school ranks to being one of the game’s fastest-rising coaching stars.

Meanwhile, Wells was the opposite as he had virtually no ties to Texas when he was hired by the Red Raiders and that was rightfully a concern to many Tech fans when Wells was hired.  Now, Hocutt seems to be determined to land a coach who is well-connected throughout the Lone Star State, and perhaps no coach on Tech’s radar meets that criteria better than Traylor.

However, some are quick to point out that he has no ties to Texas Tech or West Texas.  In fact, none of his coaching stops have come west of I-35.  Thus, his primary area of expertise is East Texas and that’s the area from where he’s mined most of the talent that he’s recruited.

Regardless, he still has enough sway with Texas high school programs to be able to open doors across the state.  And that could be one of the main reasons why he is likely Hocutt’s top choice.

Most Texas Tech fans have likely never watched a UTSA football game.  That’s because that program has been largely irrelevant for the duration of its existence.

What’s more, it hasn’t even been in existence for very long.  The Roadrunners first began playing football in 2006, the year that a sophomore named Graham Harrell was leading the Texas Tech football program at QB.

As a whole, UTSA was just 52-66 coming into 2021.  What’s more, they boast only two bowl games in their history.

In other words, this is a program that has little in the way of tradition to build upon.  Yet building is exactly what Traylor has been doing since the moment he arrived in the Alamo City.

So far, Traylor is 15-5 as head coach of the Roadrunners.  He’s already locked up his second consecutive winning season after going 7-5 last year and taking his team to the First Responder Bowl.

When you consider that in the six seasons prior to his arrival, UTSA had just one winning season and had never won more than six games in any year, it becomes clear just how great of a job Traylor has done.  After all, he currently has UTSA at 8-0 and ranked No. 23 in the nation.

For his excellent start this year, he was recently named to the Paul “Bear” Bryant Award Coach of the Year watchlist.  That’s almost unfathomable for a UTSA coach.

Now, he’s almost certain to parlay his excellent work with the Roadrunners into a hefty raise.  But the question that begs to be answered is whether he is a rising star or just a flash in the pan.

Two years.  That’s all the experience that Traylor has as a college head coach.  Is that enough to bank Texas Tech’s future on?  That’s a question only Kirby Hocutt can answer.

When you dive deeper into Traylor’s college resume, there is some room for interpretation.  In other words, some may read his success as a sign of future glory while others may be a bit more skeptical.

We’ve talked bout why many feel he is a future star in the coaching industry.  But let’s look at why some may be a bit more cynical about his success thus far.

Remember that UTSA plays in the extremely weak Conference USA, a league that is a far cry from the Big 12.  Thus, the caliber of opponent that Traylor has beaten hasn’t been all that impressive.

While he did open this season with a 37-30 win over Illinois of the Big 10, that win has lost some luster given that the Illini are just 3-6 on the year after Saturday’s home loss to mighty Rutgers.  In fact, all but two of the teams Traylor has beaten this year have had losing records at the time of facing the Roadrunners.  The only two exceptions are Illinois and Memphis, arguably the two biggest wins of Traylor’s career, especially given that the Memphis win came on the road.

Last year, the story was similar as the Roadrunners lost to the only two ranked teams on their schedule, BYU, and Louisiana.  And similar to this year, a season ago, UTSA beat only one team that had a winning record at the time they played them.

Thus, it is fair to be a bit skeptical about Taylor’s overall body of work.  And that’s why he is far from a guarantee as a candidate.

In the world of college football, almost every hire is a crapshoot.  Thus, for those wanting Texas Tech to make a slam dunk hire, you might be disappointed.

The simple fact is that there are so many factors that go into having a successful football program that even good coaches can struggle at a university.  For example, look at former Texas Tech head coach Jerry more who went 16-37-2 with the Red Raiders from 1981-85 but who rebounded to go 215-87 at Appalachian State while winning three Division 1-AA National Titles on his way to the College Football Hall of Fame.

The point is that we just never know which coach is going to be a success and which is going to be a failure.  And only time will tell with Traylor, regardless of where he is coaching next year.

The reality is that Texas Tech needs to fix more than just the head coaching position.  This is a program that must decide if it wants to spend the money necessary to hire top assistants and build the caliber of facilities that will allow it to compete at the top of the Big 12.

According to this article (behind a paywall), by Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, that’s the type of commitment Tech appears willing to make in its football program. And make no mistake, that financial investment is a huge reason why Texas Tech Board of Regents members Cody Campbell and Dusty Womble are on the search committee for the new football coach.  They are two of the biggest donors to the football program and their financial backing will be as important to the program’s success as their input in this process will be.

Few people like to admit it and even fewer want to hear it but the simple fact is that the last two coaches in Texas Tech football history, Kliff Kingsbury and Wells, were not set up to win by the program.  Sure, both had massive flaws as a head coach and both could have won more than they did on the South Plains but neither had the type of financial backing needed to get the Red Raiders over the hump.

Until this program puts the systems and financial backing in place to compete with its peers, every coach Tech hires could be facing an uphill battle.  That’s no different for Traylor who is by all accounts a winner and a strong coach but who is no sure thing because…outside of Nick Saban, there are no sure things in college football.

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