The Matt Wells Era Officially Begins

Saturday morning at the United Supermarkets Arena Matt Wells was officially welcomed to Texas Tech in a public press conference/pep rally. President Lawrence Schovanec kicked things off, doubling down on Kirby’s comments of Texas Tech football being elite again and defined elite as “winning and winning the right way.” Schovanec said, “These standards are the characteristics of all of our athletics programs. They are the qualities that resonate with Texas Tech University, with our culture, and that of all Red Raiders out there.” We know that President Schovanec was intimately involved in the selection process and he seems pleased to have Wells here. Having seen the way previous administrators tried to be overinvolved across the Texas Tech System, it’s good to see President Schovanec have a positive working relationship¬†with Kirby Hocutt as they work together rather than against each other.

Below I’ve included the video of the event. I’ve broken down what I believed we learned about Wells as a man, a leader, and a coach. And because you know I can’t resist, I’ve editorialized a personal take as well.

Matt Wells is a Family Man

Wells referred to his family often throughout the event. His wife is Jen, who Kirby Hocutt referred to as “the quarterback of the family.” Early on in Wells’ remarks, he went off script explaining that his wife is a speech therapist and that she gets onto him about his slang language. “Well now I’m back to ain’t, y’all, and fixin’,” said Wells. The crowd cheered and applauded to this and it broke the ice to see immediately that Wells is a real guy. He recognized all of his family including his kids (Jaden, Ella, and Wyatt) mom, in-laws (who he joked may be “outlaws”), sister, and cousin who were all present. He also referenced another sister later who he said was watching. He grew emotional when thanking his kids and wife. “These guys are the inspiration. They’re the reason I get to go chase a dream.”

If Texas Tech and Lubbock pride themselves on anything – it’s the people. Matt Wells displayed quickly that he values relationships deeply, which was a theme throughout his remarks and his media answers. But beyond relationships with players and coaches, he was very clearly smitten with his family. In responding to the final question coming from the Lubbock Avalanche Journal’s Don Williams, Wells again grew somewhat emotional talking about his father and explaining how they came to live in Sallisaw, Oklahoma when he was 18 months old because his parents wanted to raise their family and his father grew up in a small town in Oklahoma. I’m going to make the assumption that his father has passed on since he wasn’t in attendance.

Matt Wells Knows Who He Is

In a previous position, I taught college students to interview for jobs in highly competitive industries. I always expressed to them that the most important aspect of a successful interview process is knowing who you are, what you believe, and how to demonstrate those things through articulating your experiences. Matt Wells demonstrated the ability to do that in spades today. He has a philosophy, not just in name only, but he lives by it. Plenty of coaches have a mantra of some kind, but Wells very clearly embodies his “we, us, and our” program. He believes in a team approach to everything and he’s demonstrated that by immediately announcing he’s bringing along his offensive and defensive coordinators and strength coach from Utah State. Reports are that more coaches will follow as well, especially a large part of the offensive staff. Wells is quick to share success with his team and especially his coaching staff rather than grab it himself. It’s not perfunctory either, it’s automatic, he truly believes in the role of a team dynamic in success.

Wells also spoke at length about “coach ’em hard, love ’em hard” reinforcing his focus on relationships. He explained a system in which coaches set a standard and then work with players teaching, coaching, challenging, and growing them to meet that standard. Educators are familiar with this. They operate under the belief that students rise to the level of expectation and that is powerful for Matt Wells to bring to Texas Tech football. Far too often in college sports, the conversation is about altering systems to overcome players’ inabilities, but Wells believes the opposite. He pledged to bring in recruits that want to be here (drawing applause) and also that the team in the locker room is always the priority over the recruits. But most importantly he talked continuously about investing in kids, growing and challenging them, and making decisions based on what’s best for the team and for the Double T, not just for the individual. He believes a rising tide raises all ships, and that by dying of self to serve the team individuals become better.

Wells brings a high level of confidence in his program and his process. It’s not cockiness or swagger, it’s the kind of confidence from someone that knows what they’re capable of, that knows themselves and trusts their abilities. Matt Wells strikes me as a guy that challenges himself but that also knows his weaknesses and he hires to counteract them. That’s the hallmark of a great leader. He is a proven coach that has found success, lost it, learned from failure, and climbed back up the mountain.

Matt Wells Learns From His Mistakes

When Kirby Hocutt talked to the media on Thursday night he expressed that he felt like Wells had learned from mistakes through three losing seasons, particularly that of a 3-9 season. As I wrote in the Back & Forth piece with BrianDC, if there’s anything fans can agree on about Kliff Kingsbury, it’s that he never seemed to learn enough from mistakes to improve the following season. Coach Wells’ season records were:

2013: 9-5
2014: 10-4
2015: 6-7
2016: 3-9
2017: 6-7
2018: 10-2

Don Williams asked him about those three losing seasons and how he learned from that adversity to improve, referencing Kirby Hocutt’s Thursday evening remarks. Wells talked about December of 2016 being the worst month of his life. He described a lot of heart-to-heart conversations with those he trusted and that he dissected every aspect of his program, his philosophy, his staff, and his team to ascertain where improvement was needed. He said two major changes he made was to hire offensive coordinator David Yost “to go faster and be more dynamic on offense.” The second was to change the way he interacted with players. He said he’d lost the face-to-face interaction that’s important to him and building relationships and the team suffered as a result of that. It’s important for leaders to own failure, but it’s also important to respond to failure effectively. Wells didn’t work himself to the bone trying to fix it himself, he hired a great offensive mind to do what he couldn’t do. Then he found what he could specifically fix on his own and he did it.

None of what Wells described is easy. Dissecting failure is uncomfortable and difficult, and more importantly, so is admitting personal failure. Wells was incredibly straightforward and made himself vulnerable, which is another exceptional way to win trust. Despite what we see from the internet outrage factories, people appreciate vulnerability, because we all feel vulnerable in one way or another. We gain respect for those who are strong enough to admit mistakes and correct them, especially publicly. Wells said this was a time he was humbled, we’ve all had them, but only the best of us are willing to grow from those times, and the exceptional are willing to talk about it later.

Matt Wells Leads People to Passionate Devotion

In my experience, people respond to dedicated leaders that are passionate about what they do and why they do it. Once they gain the trust of their team, the passionate devotion they engender is unbreakable, it carries that team through hard times, and the leader’s sincerity is not questioned. But it’s not just based on charisma, it has to be true passion, true belief in what you’re supporting or doing. Most people can sniff out a fake, but Matt Wells wasn’t selling us on an idea, he was showing us who he is.

I know we haven’t yet seen any evidence of passionate devotion to Matt Wells yet form players, but what we have seen is his passion. Wells was visibly emotional more than once today. In particular, he was emotional when talking about and thanking the administration and his team at Utah State University. That was more than just lip service, in fact, I’m sure 95% of coaches in this setting go out of their way to act as if they’ve never worked anywhere other than the university they’re standing in. I appreciated Wells’ honesty, and his determination to recognize the work of his players, the work of the administration, and the people who had poured into him and made him successful throughout his career.

If you’ve read other things I’ve written you know I’m a pretty emotional guy. I believe in the intangibles, the will to win, determination, grit, and mental toughness. Those are things borne of something deeper than talent and I believe they matter in sports. I also believe in the ability of a fan base and atmosphere to affect not only the outcome of a single game but the overall success of a program. All of those things happen because of a deep relationship with someone, whether it’s a position coach, coordinator, and/or the head coach. People don’t go to the end of the earth for a distant leader, they go through hell for the men beside them and because they trust the people leading them. Wells appears to be a no-nonsense guy that likes to throw good-hearted jabs, is passionately devoted to the people he believes in, and values the things I mentioned above. This is a guy we’re going to see some tears from, and I’m all about it. We’ve seen a glimpse of what Kirby was talking about here:

Matt Wells Will Fit in Here

Lubbock and Texas Tech are unique places. They’re proud but have battled through slights (real and perceived) and feelings of inferiority since their respective foundings. The pioneering spirit of the original settlers still lives in the people of this region, wanting to do things ourselves, prove we can do it better than the rest, and not wanting the outside meddling in our affairs. We believe in hard work and carry a blue-collar mentality into a lot of aspects of work, life, and faith. But it’s more than that, it’s about service, leadership, respect, and carrying yourself with a level of class. Coach Wells touched on all of these things in his remarks Saturday morning.

I know the cynics out there want to think that he was coached about what to say, but if that were the case he also wouldn’t have talked about his previous university and we’d have heard more buzzwords and cliches. No, I think we saw the real Matt Wells today and I think we saw in this particular instance why Kirby Hocutt said he thinks Wells will fit in well in Lubbock and West Texas. Wells talked about building a “blue-collar mentality” and straining every day to maximize on talent. He also talked about giving back to the community and having players that conduct themselves in the classroom, on the field, and in life in ways that all Red Raiders can be proud of. I think Matt Wells has his priorities straight and those priorities are things that Lubbock and Red Raider Nation have been hoping to see happen.

Wells has a streak of no-nonsense in him, but you can also tell he has a mischevious sense of humor, and today we saw it come out when it came to the media. He threw a couple of little zingers their way during his remarks. He razzed Jon Sokoloff from FOX 34 for taking a follow-up question and he gave David Collier no new information at all about his incoming assistant coaches or his timeline for getting them here. It was all good-natured ribbing and I look forward to a head coach with a much-improved relationship with the media. Kliff Kingsbury came in highly distrustful of the media and while he warmed he never got fully comfortable with them or really even with public speaking in general. It also dawned on me during this press conference how much different it will be having a head coach with a family again. Texas Tech has a “First Lady of Red Raider Football” and Wells was very clear that his family and the families of his coaches are all welcome in the program and are part of the football family.

Finally, Matt Wells is a man of faith. There’s an article about the role of God in Wells’ life written by him and I think that speaks to his character and what is informing his approach as a coach. There were themes in his remarks that pointed to his faith, like dying to self, service, and the power of building relationships. Wells also said that he and his family feel that the Lord has led them here, and in a community whose identity is rooted in faith, I feel like Wells will find himself in good company in Lubbock.

Finishing What You Started – By Matt Wells

Final Thoughts

I snapped the featured image on this post on my way into the USA Saturday morning and it made me think about the fan reaction to the hiring of this coach. As I sat in the arena with a couple of former athletic department administrators it dawned on all of us that Coach Wells was winning over Texas Tech with every word. He really did do a great job expressing his beliefs, coaching philosophy, and showing Red Raider Nation who he really is. But I’ve outlined all of that above, what I haven’t mentioned is the role the Texas Tech fan base has played in this process, and the role we should play in this team’s, and this university’s, future.

The price of greatness is responsibility.

This is not just a random quote, it’s from a speech Winston Churchill gave at Harvard in 1943. It’s not about the greatness of athletes, coaches, or any other individual. It’s about an entire country, how we rose up as a superpower, and our responsibility in the world once that happened.

“The price of greatness is responsibility. If the people of the United States had continued in a mediocre station, struggling with the wilderness, absorbed in their own affairs, and a factor of no consequence in the movement of the world, they might have remained forgotten and undisturbed beyond their protecting oceans: but one cannot rise to be in many ways the leading community in the civilized world without being involved in its problems, without being convulsed by its agonies and inspired by its causes.”

Are you inspired by the causes of Texas Tech or Tech Athletics? When you are “convulsed by its agonies” are you a positive force in support of whatever reality in which we find ourselves, or are you not?

I ask because Texas Tech finds itself at a crossroads. We have the opportunity to rise up and become greater than we’ve ever been. But that rise doesn’t depend on President Schovanec, Kirby Hocutt, any coach, player, or student – it depends on us, the people of Texas Tech. We’re the 250,000+ alumni across the country and world and we are the difference-maker in determining the greatness of Texas Tech, or the sameness of Texas Tech. Our responsibility is to support this university, not with blind faith, but with reasonable trust. Accountability is important, but uninformed public outcry is destructive. I’m choosing to support Texas Tech, to withhold judgment and assess performance, to trust the qualified leaders until they give me a reason to question, and I choose always to support.

Will you choose to take up the responsibility of support, or will you tear down what you purport to hold dear?

Wreck ‘Em!

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