Of all the coaches under pressure in the Big 12, Matt Wells might be on the hottest seat. After his second season at Texas Tech, the Red Raiders are in no better position than they were under Kliff Kingsbury.
November football usually decides which teams are bowl bound and which are sitting at home. Last October, the Red Raiders held a 2-5 record. They won twice in close matchups with Baylor and Kansas, both of which were still rebuilding.
Against Oklahoma State, Texas Tech allowed the Cowboys to rally from a large deficit. Against Texas in the Big 12 opener, it went to two overtimes.
In both games, the Red Raiders failed to finish. That's goal No. 1 for Wells: Win late in a must-win year.
"You need to win a couple, especially early, to give your guys confidence and momentum as the season lingers on," Wells said Thursday at Big 12 media days. "Because you're going to be in those games every Saturday in this league."
Texas Tech is starting fresh all around. It added former TCU offensive coordinator Sonnie Cumbie to the same role. Tech also lost quarterback Allan Bowman, who transferred to Michigan.
Maybe that's a good thing. Bowman struggled to play consistently in his two years as a starter. Now, the team is banking on Oregon transfer Tyler Shough to be the next gunslinger in a long line of record-setting passers.
During Spring practice Wells said that the quarterback battle was open and Shough would have to earn it. That's a coach's answer to protect his targeted quarterback. In the end, veteran leadership can't be beaten, and it's something backups Donovan Smith and Behren Morton don't posses.
"He really just jumped in with both feet," Wells said of the former Duck. "Came in early, stayed late. He's been very good in the quarterback room."
It's clearly Shough's job to lose after three successful years in Eugene. During his final season, he threw 13 touchdowns and led the Ducks to a Pac 12 title and a Fiesta Bowl appearance against Iowa State.
When electing to leave Oregon, Shough told a Lubbock radio station that he had more than 20 schools offering him a chance. He settled on Tech because "I feel like all the coaches and players are in it to win it and they're going to work their butts off to do that."
Wells hasn't been let down so far by the transfer. Neither has center Dawson Deaton.
"He's been a good leader so far," Dawson said. "He's been a big presence in the locker room. He's gotten to know everyone really well.
"Whenever you get on the field and see him, he has a really good arm. He has really good accuracy. He can throw a deep, short, and I'm really excited to play for him this year."
Shough could solve the problem under center and be the next great Red Raiders' quarterback for years to come. He still has three years of eligibility left and could set records for the program while potentially saving Wells and the coaching staff.
In the long list of stellar pocket-passers found at Jones Stadium, Shough has the tools to be great. Of course, no one can talk about Tech quarterbacks without mentioning Patrick Mahomes, who currently is the highest-paid quarterback in NFL.
Mahomes made magic during his two year run as a starter, but he's not the only name. Graham Harrell put Lubbock on the map with his connection to Michael Crabtree. Kingsbury lit up Big 12 in three years as a starter, throwing for over 12,000 yards.
Then there's Cumbie, who returns to Lubbock for the first time since 2013. Another Red Raiders' gunslinger, his success with the quarterbacks in Fort Worth made him a name to watch for as a head coach in 2017.
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He now heads back to west Texas with a chance to help Shough bring a winning culture back the program.
"In terms of him and the quarterbacks, that's part of the reason I do believe I chose him is just his ability to coach and connect with those quarterbacks," Wells said. "He's a detailed teacher. He's a technique teacher. He's done a nice job with those guys in the spring."
Wells said that part of the plan since arriving was to get older, making the program a hot name for transfers. Shough is the biggest find, but not the only one. Tech also added Oregon tackle T.J. Storment and Troy receiver Kaylon Geiger.
Both players are projected to start right away. Wells said that brining in transfers to sit on the bench does little good for anyone.
Said Wells "I think we do transfers as good as anybody. They've come in. They've played well and they've been really good leaders and 100 percent of them, all 18 of them, have come in with the right heart and added to the culture we've tried to change at Texas Tech."
With the Trojans, Geiger tallied 70 catches for 812 yards and four touchdowns during two years. At 5-foot-10, most would view him as a slot receiver. Wells says otherwise, believing his experience will better suit him on the edge.
Stormant, who played both tackles spots at Oregon, will have a similar role in Lubbock. Wells is working him at both sides to better adjust him to the offensive formation.
Defensively, the Red Raiders hope to benefit from transfers as well. Former Wisconsin safety Reggie Pearson has been medically cleared to play after missing last year. Marquis Waters from Duke will also join the secondary as a compliment to the former Badger.
Cornerbacks Rayshad Williams from UCLA and Malik Dunlap from North Carolina State add depth, and one of them should earn first-team reps to replace the departed Zech McPhearson.
"We're older there. We've got returning guys," Wells said. "We need to play well. They know it. But the strength of that will be those guys in the middle, those linebackers and their veteran leadership."
One of those players up the middle is Riko Jeffers, who spoke Thursday on what he believes could be different this season. Last year, Tech ranked ninth in total defense in the Big 12, ninth in run defense and eighth against the pass.
Jeffers admits to COVID-19 cutting out the Spring into part of the problem last season, but it's also on them to grow. An art major, the linebacker mentions how important details are in creating his work.
That same detail is needed every down and every play.
"You have to make sure that you're doing everything precisely right in that defense," Jeffers said. "You got to be aligned correctly and that's the same thing with drawing. I mean, but it all takes practice and if we're going to get down to it, the more you practice it, the more repetitive you get with it, it gets better."
Tech is looking for its first bowl appearance since 2017 and first winning season since 2015. The talent is there, but is the coaching?
Wells is in for a big year, and the staff might be complete. He has a quarterback adjusted to his system he cultivated at Utah State. The prodigal son now returns home as offensive coordinator. After wanting to add veteran talent, transfers keep piling in to the program before Week 1.
Is it enough to win in Lubbock? It has to be in 2021 or it could be too late for this staff.
"As we head into this third season looking to build on that and to become bowl eligible to get to the month of November and compete for a championship will be the goal of this program always," Wells said.