LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — Texas Tech never made the Top 25 in two-plus seasons under Matt Wells, and hasn’t been higher than 24th since predecessor Kliff Kingsbury’s splashy debut eight years ago.
Athletics director Kirby Hocutt, who hired and fired them both, again is looking for a coach to get the program where he thinks it should be.
Wells was fired Monday despite the chance to get his first winning record at Texas Tech. His dismissal came two days after the Red Raiders couldn’t hold a two-touchdown halftime lead in a loss to Kansas State that dropped them to 0-2 at home in the Big 12.
“We need somebody with that determination, knowledge and ability to get this program to that next level,” Hocutt said. “We haven’t been there in quite some time. We all know it. We get frustrated because we know what we’re capable of. We’re not going to back away. I get people that will talk to me about, ‘Hey, you use the word “elite.”’ You know what? Yeah, dang right we want to be elite.”
Texas Tech has a long way to go, and winning conference games would be a good place to start. Kingsbury didn’t do it enough, which was a big part of the reason Hocutt moved on from the popular former Texas Tech quarterback. Wells couldn’t do it either.
The Red Raiders (5-3, 2-3 Big 12) didn’t win consecutive league games under Wells, who came from Utah State, and went 13-17 overall and 7-16 in conference under Wells.
Kingsbury, who started 7-0 his first year in 2013 to get the Red Raiders to No. 10 in the poll before five consecutive losses to end that regular season, was 19-35 in league play in six seasons.
Offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie, another former Texas Tech quarterback, will make his debut as interim coach Saturday as Texas Tech visits No. 4 Oklahoma to start a season-ending stretch against four currently ranked teams.
“There’s really no ideal time to make a decision like this,” Hocutt said. “Just given where we were, looked at the full body of work, the program collectively, we felt it was inevitable and today was the day we wanted to move forward.”
Speculation about Wells’ replacement will include former Baylor coach Art Briles, who was fired from Baylor amid a sprawling sexual assault scandal five years ago that led to an NCAA fine and probation.
While the infractions committee spared Baylor the most serious penalties and said Briles didn’t violate any NCAA rules after a yearslong investigation, its report was scathing in assessing Briles’ conduct.
Briles had coached overseas in Italy before taking a job at a small high school not far from Dallas. Briles, who is out of coaching now, graduated from Texas Tech and was an assistant there for three years before his college head-coaching career started at Houston in 2003.
“I don’t want to speculate on candidates,” Hocutt said when asked if Briles were a viable candidate. “I don’t want to talk about individuals today. I think that would be very divisive and problematic. Not something that we would talk about at this time.”
Wells’ future was in question after a 4-6 finish in the pandemic-shortened season last year left the Red Raiders at 8-14 in his first two seasons. But Hocutt called a postseason news conference to say Wells would return.
The first sign of trouble for Wells this year was a 70-35 loss at rival Texas in the Big 12 opener, followed two weeks later by a 52-31 loss at home to TCU — the only win in the past five games for the Horned Frogs.
It also didn’t help that Texas Tech couldn’t put away FCS schools until the final moments of the past two home openers.
Hocutt made move after a 25-24 loss to his alma mater, Kansas State, when the Wildcats trailed 14-0 early and 24-10 at halftime before rallying.
“It was part of the entire evaluation. Again, it wasn’t one game,” Hocutt said. “These young men fought their tails off on Saturday. It hurt them as much as it hurt all of us. That was a game we shouldn’t have lost. But you are what your record says you are, too.”
Kingsbury was hired as offensive coordinator at Southern California after leaving Texas Tech. He never coached for the Trojans, instead going to the NFL as the Arizona Cardinals’ coach. In his third season, the Cardinals are 7-0 for the first time since 1974.
Wells was less than halfway through a six-year contract, and the focus now turns to Hocutt getting his highest-profile hire right on his third try.
“Nobody’s going to put more pressure on me than I put on myself,” Hocutt said. “I want to win. I want to be competitive. I love to see young men celebrate after success. It cuts me at the core when we don’t, and we’re not, at the level that we want to be at. It cuts these young men at the core. It cuts this coaching staff at the core.”