Emails show Texas Tech fans' unhappiness with Matt Wells, their divide over Art Briles
'At age 78, I’m tired of waiting…for big football success. I don’t have many more years to wait.'
It was shortly before 2 p.m. CT on Dec. 9, 2020, just four days after Texas Tech edged winless Kansas 16-13 thanks to a fourth-quarter field goal in the Red Raiders’s season finale, when Texas Tech University President Lawrence Schovanec and Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt received an email from a 1999 Texas Tech grad, who said, “As you are now both well aware, a massive email effort to persuade the two of you to fire any and everyone from our Athletic Director, our head football coach, our offensive coordinator, and others is well underway,” according to a copy of the email obtained by Out of Bounds.
Through a public records request, Out of Bounds obtained 29 pages of emails that provide a window into the aforementioned email campaign and the Texas Tech alum couldn’t have expressed the state of affairs more succinctly – almost anyone and everyone’s job was potentially on the line, at least according to the Red Raiders fans whose names and graduation years showed up in the inboxes of Schovanec and Hocutt in December.
Ten emails specifically called for current Texas Tech coach Matt Wells to be fired after his second season in Lubbock, as a 4-6 season in 2020 followed a 4-8 campaign in his first season. Going to Texas Tech from Utah State, Wells replaced Kliff Kingsbury, the current Arizona Cardinals head coach who was fired by Texas Tech in 2018 after six seasons at the university. In five of his six seasons at Texas Tech, Kingsbury won more games than Wells has won in each of his first two seasons. Kingsbury’s .467 winning percentage at Texas Tech was roughly 100 percentage points higher than that of Wells through his first two seasons (.364).
In the obtained emails, some emailers operated in a world where they believed Texas Tech’s head coaching position is, or would be, open, even if they didn’t explicitly write it. In addition to the 10 emails that called for the removal of Wells, there were even more that implied the firing, reassignment or replacement of him.
Thirteen emailers asked for former Baylor coach Art Briles to not be hired compared to seven that asked for Briles to replace Wells. In May 2016, Briles was suspended indefinitely with intent to terminate by Baylor, after the university’s Board of Regents hired Pepper Hamilton, LLP to conduct an independent review of the university’s response to Title IX and related compliance issues.
Later, in 2018, The Dallas Morning News reported:
Later, school regents said 17 women had reported sexual and domestic assaults involving 19 players - including four gang rapes - since 2011. One lawsuit, since settled, alleged 52 acts of rape by 31 players between 2011 and 2014.
In 2016, the university announced, “Key findings of the investigation reflect a fundamental failure by Baylor to implement Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA).” After his dismissal, Briles received a reported $15.1 million as part of a settlement with the university that had been subject to a non-disclosure agreement, according to The Dallas Morning News.
Briles resigned as the head coach of Mount Vernon (Tex.) High School on Dec. 14, 2020, just days after the emails obtained by Out of Bounds were sent.
Six fans asked for Texas Tech to hire Baylor Associate Head Coach Joey McGuire to replace Wells, including one email in which the sender suggested former Texas Tech quarterback and current USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell could join McGuire’s staff. Two emails called for Harrell to get Texas Tech’s head coaching job himself. Another made the case for UTSA head coach Jeff Traylor.
Two emails called for the job of Hocutt, the AD. “I am asking for you to take control of the department from Kirby Hocutt, whether that be through firing Mr. Hocutt or by some other means,” a 2003 Texas Tech grad, whose name was redacted, wrote to Schovanec.
And these emails were potentially just a fraction of the presumably much larger total that was sent to Schovanec and other administrators, as the public records request covered just a limited sample of Schovanec’s inbox over a four-day span from Dec. 7 through Dec. 10, 2020.
However, compared to when Briles was reportedly a one-time candidate for Southern Miss’s offensive coordinator position following the 2018 season, the majority of the emails from Texas Tech fans held an anti-Briles stance, to the degree of a little less than a two-to-one ratio. I previously reported at Stadium that the emails I obtained from Southern Miss included 31 fans who supported the hiring of Briles (28 men and three women), compared to 19 who were against the hire (11 men and eight women) – a similar ratio as the Texas Tech sample, except only in the pro-Briles direction.
The race between death and a Big 12 championship
One Dallas-based Texas Tech fan weighed the football program’s current status compared to his own mortality. To him, Art Briles represents the potential bridge to seeing Texas Tech turn into a high-level program before his death.
“At age 78, I’m tired of waiting…for big football success,” wrote the fan, whose named was redacted. “I don’t have many more years to wait.”
The fan rattled off his qualifications at the top of his email to Schovanec, Hocutt and Chancellor Tedd Mitchell: he’s a long-time season ticket holder and financial supporter of the business school; a current member of the Ranching Heritage Board; a former member of the Foundation Board, National Alumni Board and Endowment Investment Committee, plus “various other committees and boards.” He claimed to have suggested the idea of the original Endowment Investment Committee to former Texas Tech Chancellor John Montford.
“I have a lot of suggestions for you on endowment investing,” the booster wrote, before getting down to business with his thoughts on the football program. “I have been very unhappy with our football coaches since Mike Leach left, but ONLY after many poor seasons. Long term financially rewarding raises for unproven college coaches are unwise.
“I strongly suggest we hire Art Briles, a long time acquaintance, who I trust. Please step up. He has integrity and is the kind of man I would want to coach my grandchildren. I wish you knew him like I do and like some of my friends do. Even if you have to take ‘some heat,’ after a winning season, that ‘heat’ should disappear.”
That euphemism of the last line says the quiet part out loud and gets to the crux of Briles and his candidacy as a Division I coach, or really as a coach in any capacity at any level. The allure for those who have campaigned for him at Southern Miss or Texas Tech or the next program that will be connected to Briles is his .637 winning percentage and four top-15 finishes in the AP poll at Baylor, which was essentially a three-win-a-year program in the decade before he was hired. In as many words, multiple fans argued that if Briles’s winning percentage was high enough and early enough in his hypothetical next tenure, this – all of it – would just go away; “disappear”; “no one will remember.”
On the other side of the fence, as a 2004 graduate of Texas Tech wrote to Schovanec to express disapproval of Briles, “The cost is not worth the win.” A two-time Texas Tech grad, with degrees earned in 1979 and 1983, wrote, “I desperately want to win but not at that cost.”
“I urge you to stop letting the political ‘Me Too’ movement dictate who you can hire and fire,” wrote a different Texas Tech fan, one who described himself as “not a big donor…..just a loyal fan who loves Texas Tech University.”
“Remember, no matter what decision you make, you will not be able to please everyone. But if you hire Briles and start a positive and winning program…no one will remember.”
Like the 78-year-old Texas Tech fan who has served on multiple university boards and committees, the second pro-Briles fan who’s described above views the school’s football program and its future relative to his own lifespan. “I want to win a Football Conference Championship before I die,” he wrote.
Texas Tech hasn’t won a share of a conference championship since 1994, when a 4-3 conference record in the Southwest Conference was good for a five-way split of the conference title in the eight-team conference. Texas A&M went 6-0-1 in the conference that year – 2.5 wins better than the five co-champions – but the Aggies were on probation and ineligible to win the conference title. The co-champion Red Raiders finished the season ranked No. 34 nationally in the Simple Rating System (SRS), which is far from what you’d expect of a typical conference champion that now competes at the Power 5 level.
Texas Tech’s last share of a conference championship that wasn’t enabled by a conference rival being on probation was in 1976, when the Red Raiders shared the Southwest Conference crown with Houston. Their last outright conference title was in 1955 in the Border Intercollegiate Athletic Association – a seven-team conference that was rated by the SRS as the 7th-best conference nationally out of 11, and it was a conference that included Hardin-Simmons, New Mexico State and UTEP. Texas Tech went 3-0-1 in conference play in 1955 and it didn’t even play second-place Arizona State, which went 4-1 and had the second-highest scoring offense in the country.
All of this historical college football minutiae is arguably important context when analyzing Texas Tech fans who dream of one conference championship, let alone a string of them, and who believe Briles is their golden ticket to bring one to Lubbock. Texas Tech hasn’t won an outright conference championship in 66 years and it was one aided by an imbalanced conference schedule in a conference that in no way resembles one of the 10 FBS conferences currently operating.
“We must not set our sights on competing just with the likes of Baylor, Kansas and West Virginia,” wrote a fan named Baron Bartels. “We must set our sights on the top of the conference. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Iowa State. We cannot continue to fall further behind.”
But some Texas Tech fans’ hope for Briles remains, as he has reportedly told those close to him that Texas Tech, where he transferred to finish college after starting at Houston, is a place where he would like to coach someday.
“Art graduated from Tech and he said to me one time, ‘You know where my heart is,’” wrote the 78-year-old Texas Tech fan who has served on numerous university boards and committees.
The emailer claimed “there are quite a few ‘big time’ Tech supporters” that were also in the camp of hiring Briles, and another email referenced “mega donors.” The former was one of several emails that made no mention of Wells or Texas Tech’s current coaching staff, but instead just offered a pro or anti-Briles stance in a vacuum of assumptions.
It also wasn’t the only email where the sender cited his personal relationship with Briles as part of the sales pitch. “I have known Art & his family for over 20 years and find them to be an outstanding family,” wrote a man named Randy Stevenson. “His winning ways & financial situation fits TT’s current situation to a T(T).”
One emailer, whose named was redacted, described the state of this faction of Texas Tech’s fan base by writing, “the donors and regents pushing Mr. Briles may live in a boomer-generation West Texas echo chamber.”
Whether or not this segment of Texas Tech’s fan base can be categorized by the era in which the fans were born or by the part of the state in which they reside, several fans made the case that not only was it time for the university to hire Briles, but that the decision to do so was overdue.
Among the emails, there was one case made that Briles should’ve been hired after the 2018 season. Another emailer argued, in hindsight, about the benefits of the potential hiring of Briles before the 2000 season.
“It’s what should have been done 2 years ago,” wrote a 2006 graduate of Texas Tech.
A man named Jim Mason wrote to Schovanec, Hocutt and Mitchell that Briles should’ve been hired when there was an opening after the 1999 season, arguing it “has cost Tech 20 years of Heismans and championships.”
Texas Tech has never had a player finish better than fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting, but current Mississippi State coach Mike Leach, who was hired by Texas Tech before the 2000 season, coached four of Texas Tech’s seven top-10 finishers in the Heisman Trophy voting.
“Please note that many of your predecessors have sat in your seats, hoping for and wanting Briles, but were pressured into going another direction,” Mason wrote. “They were all mistakes – massive mistakes. And your predecessors say as much. It’s time to rectify that and allow Tech, for the first time ever, to truly compete for championships. Please hire Art Briles.
The cases made against Briles
Many Texas Tech fans didn’t mince words when expressing their feelings on Briles’s potential candidacy as Texas Tech’s next head coach. As mentioned earlier, two of the comments were, “The cost is not worth the win” and “I desperately want to win but not at that cost.”
There were comments about fans detaching from the university if Briles was hired:
“While I do not enjoy the current level of football, I will not be affiliated with a university that picks Briles to be the face of it,” wrote a 2010 graduate of Texas Tech, who said he or she chose not to renew his or her season tickets three years ago.
“I ask for you to get on board with bringing in a new football coaching staff,” wrote a 2003 Texas Tech grad. “I don’t have any recommendations other than I don’t want Art Briles associated with my university.”
“Art Briles should never be associated with this university,” wrote a man named Hunter Kilborn.
“I understand a handful of influential donors are campaigning for Art Briles to assume the Football Team’s Head Coaching position at Texas Tech,” wrote a 2004 Texas Tech graduate. “I cannot, will not, and do not support such a hiring, in any capacity. I am not an influential donor. However, I am a proud Texas Tech graduate, and the father of a 6-year-old girl.”
“Under no circumstance should Briles be hired,” one fan wrote to Schovanec. “If he is hired I cannot in good faith continue to support the athletic department.”
“I don’t want to be embarrassed of my school,” wrote one Texas Tech alum. “I don’t want my kids to be embarrassed of the Double T flag outside our house.”
“Please do not hire Briles,” wrote a man named Russell Stanphill. “I have a daughter and want my kids to go to TT.”
Other emails described the “nightmare” and disappointment they believe would follow if Briles was hired, or the good that would come from not hiring him:
“I’m only writing because I am hearing Art Briles name…a lot,” a man named Randy Watson wrote to Schovanec and Hocutt. “Please NO. Lots of folks will be greatly disappointed (to say the least) if we go that route.”
“I trust you know Art Briles would be a nightmare,” wrote a man named Mark Wegener.
“Please do not consider Art Briles for any position within our great university,” wrote one woman.
“Please, for the good of Texas Tech University, do not hire Art Briles,” wrote a 2017 graduate of Texas Tech.
“If you do make a change PLEASE use a search firm to give you a recommendation so we cannot simply hire Art Briles,” wrote a two-time Texas Tech graduate.
“I’ve just read the Art Briles exoneration paper,” wrote a 1999 alum of Texas Tech. “As a Texas Tech music and theatre major and graduate, it reads like a movie script set in a deep South courtroom. Please, whatever we do, do not hire Art Briles.”
What does all of this mean for Matt Wells?
What arguably gets lost in the battle waged in the inboxes of Texas Tech administrators over university alumnus Art Briles and the hypothetical conference championships and Heisman Trophy finalists he’d be responsible for (both in the past and future) in Lubbock, is the fact that while the fan base was divided over the potential hiring of the former Baylor head coach, most fans seemed to agree that they had given up on the Wells era and were ready to move on.
“This past season was the most boring, uninspired football I’ve watched take the field since ‘06 when I was a freshman,” a 2010 Texas Tech alum wrote to Schovanec. “The Jones no longer rocks with energy, fans are disgruntled and there is no white light at the end of the tunnel. Some of Wells decision defies [sic] all traditional coaching logic and his recruiting is even worse, it’s time to move on.”
Texas Tech’s 2021 recruiting class currently ranks No. 77 nationally, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, just ahead of Coastal Carolina, Houston, North Texas, UTSA and Miami (OH).
Two emailers suggested retaining Wells but reassigning him to avoid paying him a buyout. “Don’t fire Coach Wells,” wrote the Texas Tech grad who told university administrators to “stop letting the political ‘Me Too’ movement dictate who you can hire and fire” and who said he wants to see the Red Raiders win a conference championship before he dies.
“Just reassign him somewhere in the Tech system…and just pay him per your contract, the 70% salary or until he finds another job,” he wrote.
A man named Mark Wegener wrote that not firing Wells would set the program back “many, many years” and a fan named Hunter Kilborn wrote that avoiding paying Wells a buyout could cost the department even more than the cost of the buyout due to potential decreases in ticket sales and donations. The Dallas Morning News reported Wells’s buyout would be about $9 million and that despite the losses in revenue related to the pandemic, Hocutt said the university was financially “prepared to make a change.” Wells’s original contract was for six years and $18.8 million, with a buyout that is 70 percent of the remaining value left on the contract, which is subject to a potential offset by Wells’s salary at another school.
If a coaching change wasn’t made, another Texas Tech alum predicted a potential mass exodus of players, who could take advantage of the ability to transfer without having to sit out with a redshirt year.
“Choosing this path will be a self-imposed death blow to Texas Tech Football that we may never recover from,” he wrote.
Former offensive coordinator David Yost was fired after the 2020 season, when Texas Tech ranked 57th nationally in scoring offense at 29.1 points per game and 38th in total offense, and the university has since hired former Texas Tech quarterback Sonny Cumbie for the same role. Cumbie previously worked as TCU’s offensive coordinator.
The Red Raiders are scheduled to open the 2021 season against Houston, then they’ll play a Big 12 slate that includes road games at Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia, all of whom finished ahead of Texas Tech in the Big 12 standings in 2020.
The Texas Tech fans who made pro or anti-Briles arguments in December weren’t just putting the cart before the horse, they were arguing over what should go on the cart, with one side clamoring for potential wins and championships, the other citing values and reputation, and the horse itself struggling to live up to expectations.
This will be the first of two newsletters published today. I usually try to spread out my newsletters but I had previously teased a different newsletter scheduled for today on Twitter and on a podcast, before Texas Tech responded Thursday night to my FOIA request.
Recap of the last newsletter
(Click the image below to read)
“In the moment, we may not have known or realized the potential impact of a series of digital pats on the back and cyber handshakes, after the pandemic had made real ones impossible, and it might take years, if not decades, to begin to quantify their final legacy, whether positive or negative.”
Thank you for reading this edition of Out of Bounds with Andy Wittry. If you enjoyed it, please consider sharing it on social media or sending it to a friend or colleague. Questions, comments and feedback are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.