Well, that didn’t pan out.
Like so many others before him, Matt Wells, the head football coach, used Utah State as a springboard for higher pay and a more prestigious address. After six successful seasons in Logan he took the head coaching job at Texas Tech in 2019, signing a six-year contract worth a reported $18.8 million. Texas Tech, which paid another $800,000 to buy out his contract, was all in.
Wells lasted 2 ¾ seasons.
He was fired eight games into the current season. Now Texas Tech will have to pay a reported $7.4 million to buy out his contract, plus whatever the school pays the next guy. That’s an expensive divorce.
Whatever formula Wells used to win 10 games in his final season at USU did not work at Texas Tech, and it’s easy to second-guess his decision to leave the Aggies. It’s easier to second-guess Texas Tech’s decisions for both the hiring and the firing.
The Red Raiders threw all that money at a relatively unproven coach and then changed their minds after just 30 games. There’s something to say for a little patience and knowing who you are in life.
The school has played football for nearly 100 years and has finished in the top 25 of the national rankings only 12 times — five of them under one coach (Mike Leach) and none since 2009. Tech has finished in the top 15 only six times, once since 1977, and has had only three winning seasons in the last decade.
Even Patrick Mahomes, the prodigious Super Bowl champion quarterback, had just one winning season, barely, in three years at the school (7-6).
The Red Raiders were 5-3 when they let Wells go — one win from bowl eligibility — albeit with the roughest part of their schedule still ahead. They don’t even want to wait to see if he actually loses those games; call it a preemptive strike. Now they are looking for their fourth head coach in 12 years.
Wells’ predecessor was Kliff Kingsbury, who was fired after the 2018 season. Kingsbury, who had a record of 35 wins, 40 losses, is now the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, who are tied for the best record in the NFL. He was 5-10-1 in his first season with the Cardinals, 8-8 in his second. Texas Tech would have fired him at that point; now his Cardinals are 7-1 and Super Bowl contenders.
As for Wells, maybe he should have remained at USU, where he had a solid win-loss record of 44-34 in six seasons, two conference championships and was twice honored as Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year. USU was his alma mater; he had been both a player and an assistant coach there. He was familiar with recruiting at the school and had seen firsthand how to succeed in Logan. That was hardly the case when he moved to Texas.
He made more money by signing with Texas Tech, but it’s not as if he was underpaid and unappreciated by USU, which originally signed him to a five-year, $4.45 million deal and then offered him contract extensions in each of the next two seasons. The school also reportedly planned to offer him a 20% raise after his sixth season at USU in 2018, but then he took the Texas Tech offer.
If coaches were viewed as a stock, the Red Raiders bought Wells when the price was high and overvalued and then sold low. Wells was 9-5 and 10-4 in his first two seasons at USU, but those were really carryover teams from his predecessor, Gary Andersen.
Under Wells, the next three seasons resulted in records 6-7, 3-9 and 6-7. Then the Aggies got hot in the coach’s sixth season, winning 10 of 12 games. The Red Raiders swooped in and hired him to lead their team in the Big 12 Conference, but was he really as good as that one big season? They thought so in Lubbock and made him the 50th-highest paid coach in the country.
Wells won four games in each of his first two seasons in Lubbock. Now he’ll be paid not to coach the team.
Country singer Mac Davis once sang, “I thought happiness was Lubbock, Texas, in my rearview mirror.” Wells probably doesn’t share that view.