After a couple of seasons of relative coaching stability, the Big 12 was upended this offseason when almost half the schools in the conference went through the hiring process.
Turnover amongst those coaching staffs resulted in a slate of new hires that we will be able to dissect and discuss before the season begins in a little less than 200 days.
One coaching hire that hasn’t received as much attention has been that of Matt Wells at Texas Tech.
There’s been plenty of discussion about how things will change schematically in Lubbock under a new head coach, but a look at how both sides of the ball performed during his tenure in Logan might actually give us some insights into what he brings to West Texas.
If we look at Wells’ performance in terms of Football Outsiders’ S&P+ rankings throughout his tenure, it reveals a remarkable amount of consistency from year to year on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
Wells took over at Utah State in 2013, and from 2014-2017, his teams were consistently ranked from 57th to 70th. As a relatively young head coach, he was able to get those kinds of results with recruiting classes that were in the bottom quarter of FBS year-in and year-out.
Of course, one thing that jumps out when we begin to get into the year-to-year numbers is the contrast between the offensive and defensive performances.
Those differences remained more or less the same, in spite of all the assistant turnover Wells experienced. Group of Five schools regularly have talented coordinators poached from other programs, and Utah State was no exception in that regard.
It’s probably best to first acknowledge the trend that Texas Tech fans won’t find too enticing – Utah State squads had lower-ranked offenses, consistently holding serve at right around 80th in S&P+ from 2013 to 2017.
To be fair, Wells never had an offensive coordinator for more than two years in that span. OC David Yost, who started with the Aggies in 2017, will be the longest-tenured coordinator Wells has hired.
There were also some quarterback injuries during much of his time in Logan, and that led to some shuffling. Still, having a proven, quality coordinator in Yost – and any funky haircut he brings with him – will probably be the key to the Red Raiders’ offensive success in 2019 and beyond.
There might be skepticism of his offensive acumen, but there’s no denying that Utah State got some things done on defense while he was there.
For a guy with an offensive pedigree, Wells was able to maintain a high level of defensive production – the defense his first year was downright elite at 5th in the nation, and the dropoff after wasn’t really that drastic.
Despite any turnover in personnel – and there were a couple years where he had to replace key pieces on his defense – Wells’ units never dropped below 46th. The expectation for his defenses, in other words, was that they’d be around the top third in the country.
Part of that, again, might be attributed to his hires, one of which includes current Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando.
If that’s true, though, it speaks to his ability to find high quality staff for his defense, and is an indicator of the kind of culture that he preaches in his program. There were apparently some Red Raider fans who were not excited about his hiring of coordinator Keith Patterson, who has not had the best defenses at previous stops.
Still, there seem to be more reasons to believe that Wells can develop defensive talent, and if you’re basing your projections on his past numbers, the smart money is betting on defensive improvement in Lubbock.
That would definitely be a change for the Red Raiders, but it might be a move in the right direction.
Looking at what he’s done previously, one thing these numbers tell us about the former Utah State coach is that he learned on the job – Wells struggled to figure things out for a time in Logan, with 2016 being a particularly rough year.
Once he solved the offense – which became a Top 25 unit in S&P+ – things were really beginning to take off. Were he still in Utah in 2019, Matt Wells would likely be looking at another 9-10 win season.
Luckily for Texas Tech, he’s not in Utah anymore.