SALT LAKE CITY — News last week that Matt Wells had been named coach at Texas Tech was met by a stifled yawn in Logan. That’s not because he was unwanted or unloved. He was there six years. The only Aggie coaches to stay longer were Bruce Snyder, Clayton T. Teetzel (seven years each) and Dick Romney (30 years), who had a stadium named after him.
Wells went from a school that rated 85th nationally in athletic revenue to one that rates 43rd, according to USA Today. A Forbes comparison of football-only revenue ranks Texas Tech 25th nationally.
So the Aggies are again conducting a coaching search, not because Wells couldn’t coach, but because he could. And because the Aggie football program is in such good standing, a big wealthy school lured him away.
Unlike the 1970s, when the program was beginning its slow slide into oblivion, USU is now a place where people genuinely want to coach. The Aggies reached as high as No. 14 in the Associated Press poll on strength of their best start in history (10-1). They were one of the Group of Five’s premier programs this season, with a 10-2 record. They have a renovated stadium and among the best overall athletic facilities in the conference. Fundraising is spiking. With two weeks left in the season, USU even had a shot at the Fiesta Bowl.
“It’s been a busy last 36 hours, and you never know how many new best friends you have, and how many channels people reach out to you, until you have a head coaching job available,” athletic director John Hartwell said Friday.
Because Wells coached the Aggies to one of their finest seasons, he’s leaving the program on a high note. This makes two consecutive coaches who have done so. Gary Andersen took awhile to get going, but by the time he moved on, his team was coming off an 11-2 year and consecutive bowl seasons.
When Wells replaced Andersen, he won a division championship his first year, followed by a 10-4 season. He reached bowl games in five of six seasons. After nearly upsetting No. 11 Michigan State this year, the Aggies reeled off 10 straight wins, putting up numbers faster than the national debt. His team is in third place nationally in scoring offense and 11th in total offense.
USU ranks first in interceptions (18) and eighth in turnover margin (plus-11).
Coaching the Aggies has always been a balancing act. Bad coaches got fired, good ones got hired elsewhere. USU’s winning days ended about the time Snyder left. He, Chris Pella, Chuck Shelton, Charlie Weatherbie, John L. Smith, Dave Arslanian, Mick Dennehy and Brent Guy came one after another. None had an overall winning record. Pella, Arslanian, Dennehy and Guy were fired, while Snyder, Shelton and Smith left on their own.
But Andersen took the reins in 2009 and turned things around before leaving. Now he is among the considerations again at USU.
As with other Aggie coaches, Wells produced mixed results. His teams went 9-5,10-4, 6-7, 3-9, 6-7 and now 10-2. What once seemed impossible became reality when he won three of six against rival BYU. Two or three good years are enough at Utah State to get hired at a power conference. Andersen left for Wisconsin, Smith for Louisville and Snyder, after a stopover with the Los Angeles Rams, for Cal.
Shelton took a job at Pacific when USU wouldn’t give him a contract extension.
This season has boosted Wells’ career mark to 44-34 (.564), the best winning percentage since Phil Krueger in the 1970s. The new coach will find a better situation than ever, even though he’ll be missing such starters as linemen Quin Ficklin and Roman Andrus and safety Jontrell Rocquemore. Returning will be quarterback Jordan Love, running back Darwin Thompson, place-kicker Dominik Eberle and linebacker David Woodward.
The facilities rate among the top in the conference. Maverik Stadium now has an impressive new press box/premium seating structure. The campus features the Laub Athletics-Academics Complex, the ICON Sports Performance Center, sparkling sports medicine facilities and an indoor practice field. It’s paying off. Eight former Aggies were on NFL active rosters for opening week, tied for 66th nationally.
Although local coaches Andersen (assistant, Utah) and Jay Hill (head coach, Weber State) are considerations for the coaching vacancy, Hartwell is conducting a nationwide search. A source tells the Deseret News a decision should be made by Sunday, with an announcement early next week.
From near and far, this should be the deepest group of candidates in school history, thanks to Andersen and Wells. Wells didn’t leave the program wanting, he left people wanting the program. That’s not a bad way for the Aggies to regroup.