We’ve finally reached the opening Saturday of the 2021 Texas Tech football season. And make no mistake, this year is all about one man, head coach Matt Wells.
Sure, you could say that every season is a referendum on any head coach. But 2021 is more than that for Wells and for this football program.
It is a make-or-break season, one that will determine if Wells has a future in Lubbock or if a change is needed. And what makes this season different from the other two that Wels has coached in Lubbock is the fact that there are no more built-in excuses for the third-year head coach and his staff.
Of course, his first season was considered a transition year, one in which he had the excuse that he was trying to instill his culture and install his systems with a roster comprised largely of players from the Kliff Kingsbury era.
Then, just three games into that season, he would lose his starting QB, Alan Bowman, for the remainder of the year thus providing yet another excuse for that year’s eventual 4-8 record. Thus, Wells essentially got a pass that year from most Texas Tech fans.
That was mainly because we believed that 2020 was going to be a bounceback year for Wells and the Red Raiders. After all, the second season of a coaching staff’s tenure is when most expect tangible progress.
But before the 2020 offseason program even hit full stride, Covid-19 shut down the majority of spring football and forced teams to conduct their offseason programs virtually, rather than in person. What’s more, just prior to the start of the season, a massive Covid-19 outbreak swept through the Texas Tech football program, and while we will never know just how much of an impact that had on the season, it is safe to assume that it didn’t help matters at all.
Today though, we turn the page to a fresh season and it is time for Wells to finally deliver some positive results. After all, his fingerprints are all over this program now.
In year three, Wells has churned the roster to the point that almost every key player that will take the field for him tonight is one that he brought to Lubbock. Thus, the excuse that Kingsbury left the program devoid of talent and depth no longer applies like it did the past two years.
Wells has constructed the roster that he wants. Over the past three recruiting classes, he’s stocked his team with 17 transfers who will play a significant role in 2021. It’s a new way of constructing a roster on the fly and that strategy had better start to pay dividends this season.
Included in that group of transfers is QB Tyler Shough. He gives Wells the most talented QB that Tech has had since Pat Mahomes and he arrives fresh off of leading Oregon to the 2020 PAC-12 championship. Therefore, Wells no longer has the excuse that his QB is sub-standard as has been the case in his previous two campaigns.
But what if Shough is lost to an injury for a significant amount of time? That’s a legitimate concern given that Tech has seen its share of injuries at that position in recent years.
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That unfortunate scenario should not be an excuse for Wells this season either, should it come to fruition. That’s because Wells has built his QB room the way he wants. He’s brought in the savvy Henry Colombi to be his hand-picked backup and he’s got two talented freshmen, both of whom he recruited, waiting in the wings.
In 2019, when Bowman went down, Wells had to rely on a backup QB in Jett Duffey who was recruited by Kliff Kingsbury and who couldn’t even crack Kingsbury’s two-deep. But this year, every QB on the roster is a Wells disciple, and should someone other than Shough be forced into action, there will be no reason to give Wells a pass being as he’s the man who is responsible for the construction of that position group.
Wells simply has to produce a winning season this year or else, he should be shown the door. This roster is his roster from head to toe. This program has been under his guidance for three years now and that’s plenty of time for a head coach to show signs of life.
For example, in Mike Leach’s third year, he led Tech to a nine-win season. Tommy Tuberville won eight games in his third year. Even Kliff Kingsbury had a winning season in the third year of his tenure going 7-6.
Wells needs to at least get to the seven-win mark this season. That’s not all that lofty of a goal but it would be a sign of significant progress for a program that has gone five years without a winning season.
But let’s quit making excuses for Matt Wells. It’s time for him to put up the type of results that Kirby Hocutt promised in Wells’ introductory press conference back in 2018 and if he doesn’t, it’s time that he is held accountable.
The great thing about sports is that there is a definitive outcome at the end of each game and the end of each season. There’s little left up to interpretation.
That has to be the case this year. There can be no more spin should Wells falter yet again. Instead, Wells has to finally prove that he’s capable of being the man to turn this ship around or Tech has to let someone else try. But whatever happens in 2021, the era of excuses for Matt Wells has to be over.