Matt Wells’ first year could not have gone much worse. Injuries, bad coaching decisions, and a metric ton of bad luck led to the worst season since 2014. I stated multiple times in the preseason and the season that the team was well positioned to win at least 8 games, but I believe most fans would have accepted 6 as good enough. Neither camp was satisfied, as a year in which the conference had never been weaker ended in failure. After yet another miserable season what does success look like in Year Two of Matt Wells?
A couple factors weigh into this discussion. First and foremost, Wells is carrying a lot of baggage that he is not responsible for. Kingsbury’s tenure never found any sustained success and included managing to squander away the greatest quarterback Texas Tech will ever have with defenses so bad a good high school could have drooped 60 on them. Tuberville was both a loser and all around hated by Texas Tech fans so the negative feelings reach back all the way to Leach’s controversial firing.
Right after the fanbase tasted glory, it was snatched away and what followed has been an unending sense of futility on the grid iron. That feeling permeated into the Wells era, as most Tech fans I talked to predicted a sub .500 season.
Now that the super early returns on Wells seemingly confirmed that he will continue this streak of disappointment he is not only already feeling his seat warm up, but he is also having to deal with general apathy. This apathy lowers the bar for his team, but it puts additional pressure on Wells to punch through and bring some magic back.
Another factor is how much Tech struggles to recruit. After a bad season, the only bright spot for a program can be the hope of talent coming in. While Wells’ class was not bad by any means, it was mediocre. This further dampens hope and excitement heading into next year. Wells has to win to recruit, and he needs to recruit to rebuild the program to win, and he needs to win to give the fans hope again.
So to answer my original question, with all this tied around Wells’ neck after his 4-8 campaign and no major coaching moves made with Orlando out the door, what would be a record that can be considered success?
For this writer, 8 wins is the only way I could call 2020 a success. That isn’t a prediction, or any statement of if I think the team can get to 8 but that bar has to be the measure of success.
Fans might say they are happy with 6 wins a bowl game, but has everyone already forgotten that Kingsbury flirted with 6 wins basically every year? Was anyone happy with a bowl every other year? 6 wins is a turn around point for some programs, but Tech has made it their home so for serious changes Tech has to hurdle it.
For Wells to actually get the fans back into his corner, to get any sort of momentum, and to get recruiting moving he has to win 8. 8 wins has you relevant nationally, in a decent bowl game, and frankly is not a tall order with a soft non-conference schedule and Big 12 still breaking in new coaches.
6 or 7 seven wins would not be the end of the world, but neither mark inspires the confidence of 8 wins. 6 or 7 wins would have Year Three as being a make-or-break season, and no one should want to see Wells already coaching for his job so early in his tenure. * wins calms the fears of the fans, and buys Wells at least two more years to build up the program in his image. Reaching 8 wins is also the gatekeeper to actually competing for a conference title. Once you reach 8 wins, it gets easier to take that next step to 10 or 11 wins.
Besides just the record, what other metrics can be indicators of success? A top 65 defense would be a dream come true. While the defense at times looked improved, a lot of that was cancelled by how bad the secondary was. Once teams started throwing away from Coleman, they found success challenging everywhere. If Wells is going to get to 8 wins he needs his defense to take a step forward despite losing some serious talent.
My last metric of success is the penalty margin, particularly false starts/offsides. Both of those penalties aren’t effort penalties, they are discipline penalties and they killed the team last year. Kingsbury coached a very undisciplined program, if Wells wants to prove he is different I want to see a drastic reduction in penalties and penalty yards.
I won’t say I believe Wells can get all of this done. I don’t have a feel for the team yet, and until I do I won’t be able to evaluate what I think Wells should be able to do in Year Two. But for the good of the program, we all need to hope Wells can get to that magic mark of 8 with some serious improvement in key categories. If he doesn’t Tech will continue to be stuck in the mud.