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A rough timeline for when being a Texas Tech football fan is going to be fun again

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For all who have already given up on this year’s possibility

NCAA Football - Insight Bowl - Texas Tech vs Minnesota - December 29, 2006 Photo by Gene Lower/WireImage

I like to think of Viva the Matadors as a blog of the people, for the people.

So when I’m scrolling through twitter aimlessly on a Monday night and see one of our own in need of answers, I do my best to provide them.

Here’s the deal, Erin. Being a Texas Tech football fan always has been and always will be as fun as you make it.

Now, I’m not naive and I’m certain Erin isn’t either. I think we all know what she’s really asking is, “when is Texas Tech football going to be successful again?” That’s a difficult question to answer because most fans actually have varying definitions of “success.” There’s:

Based on my overwhelming exposure to the Red Raider fan base, I’d say most people are aiming for the No. 2 bullet. As much as we’d all like to believe bullet No. 3 is in the realm of possibility, it’s just not in the cards with the way college football is set up right now. Now, if Urban Meyer comes out of retirement to coach the Red Raiders I’ll gladly change my stance on this. That’s about as likely to happen as me joining the Baker Mayfield fan club. Nope, nope, nope!

So let’s settle on bullet No. 2 for the rest of this analysis and the people that’ll inevitably call me out for “contributing to the culture of underachieving by not setting higher goals,” you can DM me at @ZachMasonSports. Spoiler alert, I’m going to respond.

Here are the two main factors that will determine the timeline for when Texas Tech football will be in the mix for a conference championship every single year:

The competition

If we know anything about college football, it’s that conference championships are won consistently by the teams with the best coaching staff. You need a great group of recruiters to sign players that can actually play. You need a competent strength and conditioning coach as well as coaches who can take three-star talent and turn them into four-and-a-half star players. Lastly, you need a good X’s and O’s guy who can make smart decisions on the field while also building a winning culture off the field. When you look around the Big 12, there are a few teams that have what I would consider competent coaching staffs:

  1. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma (This staff has it all)
  2. Tom Herman, Texas (Great recruiters, still questionable talent development and actual coaching competency)
  3. Gary Patterson, TCU (Legendary player developer, great X’s and O’s, struggles with recruiting elite players)
  4. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State (Slightly above average at everything)

The latter two have established themselves as B+ programs and I think they’re passable in the Big 12 rankings of the future. Patterson is getting up there in age, and Oklahoma State hasn’t really done anything spectacular with their greatest coach in school history.

The first two are the ones you need to worry about. In an ideal world, Lincoln Riley would take an NFL job and Texas would keep being the Texas of the 2010s. That would open the door for a new Big 12 power, but as it stands, you can pretty much guarantee two conference losses per season for Tech in the foreseeable future.

That’s good news. That means, with the right coach, the Red Raiders could conceivably go 10-2 for the next 15 years. Which leads us to our next factor:

The coach

I realize this header can be confusing because we just spent 300 words talking about coaches, but in this instance, I’m referring to the leader of Texas Tech football. If you live under a rock, we have a new one. His name is Matt Wells, and he was a divisive hire because for most Tech fans his name was completely unrecognizable. Red Raider fans generally want one of two things in a head coach for any sport:

  1. A big name
  2. A major connection to the university paired with a healthy infatuation with Lubbock

Matt Wells met neither of these requirements, but most fans trusted athletic director Kirby Hocutt’s decision making (and rightfully so) after two home-run hires in Tim Tadlock for baseball and Chris Beard for basketball. You get the benefit of the doubt and then some after what those two coaches have accomplished in their short time in Lubbock.

In any case, to contend for Big 12 championships year after year, you need a Lincoln Riley, Tom Herman or a Gary Patterson. Is Wells comparable to these elite coaches? If you look at his history, well, it’s actually hard to say. His body of work as a head coach is severely lacking in experience, so I tried to find coaches with a similar path to a Power-5 coaching job and compare their records:

Matt Wells: The next _____ ________

Name Pre-P5 HC job HC years before P5 job HC record at pre-P5 school First P5 job First year P5 record Total record at P5 school P5 conference championships
Name Pre-P5 HC job HC years before P5 job HC record at pre-P5 school First P5 job First year P5 record Total record at P5 school P5 conference championships
Matt Wells Utah State 6 44-34 (.564) Texas Tech ? ? N/A
Dave Clawson Bowling Green 14 32-31 (.508) Wake Forest 3-9 31-35 0
Justin Fuente Memphis 4 26-23 (.531) Virginia Tech 10-4 27-16 0
Matt Campbell Toledo 5 35-15 (.700) Iowa State 3-9 20-20 0
P.J. Fleck Western Michigan 4 30-22 (.577) Minnesota 5-7 15-13 0
Jeff Brohm Western Kentucky 3 30-10 (.750) Purdue 7-6 14-15 0
Bronco Mendenhall BYU 11 99-43 (.697) Virginia 2-10 19-22 0

OK, there’s a lot to unpack here. Let me start with who I think Matt Wells is most likely to resemble, and that’s current Wake Forest Deamon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson. While Clawson has a much longer head coaching background, he spent five years at his most recent school, Bowling Green, and was mostly average before leading them to a 10-win season, earning him his first Power-5 head coaching job. Sound familiar? It should, ‘cause that’s exactly what Wells did.

Clawson’s first two seasons in Winston-Salem were less than ideal, going 3-9 in each campaign. That would probably get Wells fired. But Wake Forest was patient, and that patience has paid off. After those rough couple of seasons to start off his tenure, Clawson has led the Deacs to three consecutive bowl victories and a 3-0 start to the 2019 season with wins over Utah State (lol) and North Carolina.

Now, is Wake Forest going to be the next Clemson? Certainly not. But they are VERY slowly becoming relevant in the ACC, and who’s to say they won’t continue this upward trajectory toward conference championship contention?

I like the Clawson comparison because Wake Forest is very similar to Texas Tech in regards to their standing in their respective conferences. Recruiting is tough for both schools, probably more so for Wake. Both schools are perceived as the third best in their state, and neither has one more than one conference championship in the last 40-odd years (yes, I’m including Tech’s 1994 Southwest Conference title).

But the takeaway from this table of coaches from similar backgrounds lies in that far right column. Zero conference championships for any of these guys, and a lot of them were much bigger-name hires than Wells. Of course, program rebuilds take time and maybe these coaches are just a few more seasons away from taking home some hardware, but as far as Texas Tech’s near future is concerned, it’s not looking very “fun” by our aforementioned definition.

Timeline

Here’s what we know:

  1. With the right coach, Texas Tech can go 10-2 every year for the next 15 years based on Big 12 competition (coaches) alone.
  2. If Matt Wells turns out to be similar to the other coaches in this analysis, we can pretty much guarantee we won’t win a conference championship for the first six or seven years of his tenure.
  3. That leaves a best-case scenario of the year 2026 being the first season Texas Tech football will be “fun” again, assuming Matt Wells is the right hire. If that’s the case, there will be two or three years of doubt, uncertainty and pain, followed by three years of mediocrity and weak bowl wins, culminating with an indefinite period of legitimate conference championship contention and our first modern Big 12 trophy.

That is, of course, assuming the Big 12 doesn’t dissolve during the next conference realignment phase in 2023, forcing Texas Tech into the Mountain West where we become the next Boise State, or the super Pac-16 conference where we become the next doormat.

Have a great week, everyone!