Matt Wells a solid hire, potentially a great coach for Red Raiders

Matt Wells is Texas Tech’s new head coach. That’s not a surprising move, as it’d been clear he and Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt were closing in on the job. But this is a move that’s producing some consternation within Tech’s fan base.

However, Wells was a sought-after name in this coaching cycle, and when the dust settles, TTU might end up with the most solid hire of the 2018 carousel.

1. He’s certainly not a sexy name. But this isn’t a sexy coaching cycle.

The most proven name on the usual lists is Jeff Brohm, who has showed lots of promise but is 13-12 as coach at Purdue. The highest-touted coordinator is Ohio State’s Ryan Day, but a lot can change when you go from OC to HC.

Mike Leach and Dana Holgorsen were non-starters as far as Tech was concerned. Wells is a solid coach, but I wouldn’t fault any Texas Tech fans who had never heard of him.

2. Yes, Wells’ overall win/loss record leaves a bit to be desired. But look closer.

44-34 isn’t the stuff they build a statue over at any school. But when you look at how that record’s built, it’s pretty impressive. This is Utah State’s best run since the 1970s, and it comes despite having to play Boise State and other tough teams every year since 2013.

2012: 11-2 with Wells as OC.

2013: 9-5 with a division title and a No. 32 S&P+ ranking.

2014: 10-4.

2015: 6-7, an injury-marred slog as USU lost its star quarterback three games in. Regardless, the Aggies still rank in the upper half of the country in S&P+.

2016: 3-9. Just a bad season! However, over this season.

 2017’s 6-7 slate, Utah State went 0-7 in single score games. The Aggies were still winning comfortably, they just weren’t getting the close ones. A bounce or two can really swing an overall record. This had Bill Connelly describing 2018 as a make-or-break year for the Aggies.

How long can a team be good, but fail to have it show in the win column?

The answer was a 10-2 2018. The Aggies nearly beat Michigan State, won a couple close games, and blew out everyone else until the division title game against Boise State. They rank No. 22 in S&P+.
Not only did Wells take over for his former boss, Gary Andersen, and keep the program at the same level in his immediate absence, he rebounded after a bad year to get back to the same level it was at before. One key to the bounce back: he seems to have made a great OC hire in David Yost, who’s expected to follow Wells to Logan.

As the season began, Steven Godfrey reported hearing from other coaches around the Mountain West who still believed in Wells’ Utah State. So based on either the numbers or the scuttlebutt, it’s clear the 3-9 year was the mirage, not the 10-win years.

3. Texas Tech is leaving the air raid tree, but you’re still going to get some pretty good offense from the Wells/Yost Red Raiders.

For decades now, Tech has been on the air raid train. It became a core identity thanks to Mike Leach and Kliff Kingsbury. But it’s a decent time to try something new.

Baylor’s an example of a Big 12 team that moved away from a high-octane attack during a rebuild, which turned out to be a pretty smart move when nearly the entire conference runs versions of high-flying schemes.

Still, Wells isn’t gonna run the Maryland-I formation. Texas Tech isn’t going to become a triple option team. They’re going to run what it takes to win.

The Utah State that won 30 games in three years did so with a pretty run-heavy attack. The Aggies’ leading rusher had at least 1,200 yards each year from 2011-13, while Aggie quarterbacks like Chuckie Keeton and Kent Myers proved awfully nimble themselves.

OC David Yost struck an interesting balance in 2017. USU threw the ball just a hair more than the national average but combined heavy tempo (18th in Adj. Pace) with a physicality we don’t always see from spread teams (106th in percent of solo tackles forced).

To most observers, Tech’s offense might end up looking pretty much the same, at least for a few years. It’s still got air raid personnel, after all. For what it’s worth, USU’s pretty balanced again this season.

4. The reason TTU’s going away from the air raid is pretty obvious. And Utah State defenses were always pretty solid.

Kingsbury’s teams annually squandered elite offense by being unable to stop anybody.

Well, Utah State had an S&P+ top-50 defense for every year of Wells’ time as head coach, despite his background on offense, including 2013’s No. 5 overall unit. That’s an unbelievable combo of consistency and high ceilings for a non-power that isn’t very close to lots of top high school talent. And it suggests he’s the kind of offense-minded coach who doesn’t forget about the other side of the ball.

If Yost can oversee a top-25 offense as the rest of Wells staff drags Tech’s defense toward at least mediocrity on defense, this could work nicely.

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