College Sports: What Matt Wells is instilling at Texas Tech more closely resembles Chris Beard’s philosophy than Kliff Kingsbury’s

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FRISCO — A coaching change always comes down hardest on the people who had no say in it. Players don’t just see changes, they feel them. New plays, new rules, new faces. What makes it personal is if you happened to like the coach going out the door. Kliff Kingsbury didn’t win much at Texas Tech, but, like the Arizona Cardinals, his Red Raiders didn’t hold it against him.

Matt Wells isn’t as cool as Kliff. The new guy is louder. Tougher. A stickler for details.

But if spring practice wasn’t as much fun this year, the Raiders have made their peace with it.

“In order to be a great football team,” senior defensive back Douglas Coleman III said, “some things you gotta buy into.”

Why, you might ask, would the Raiders think they could be great? Kingsbury had only two winning season in six. Tech has won as many as 10 games exactly once in the last 40 years.

Of course, the basketball team had never sniffed a Final Four, either.

History doesn’t have to repeat itself, does it?

Or as Alan Bowman put it: “Why not us?”

The football team took inspiration this spring from the glorious example set by the basketballers. Bowman, the Raiders’ sophomore quarterback, watched a bunch of tough, gritty, underrated guys led by a hard-nosed coach go all the way from Lubbock to the national championship game.

What sold it was that they all come from the same place.

“They’re eating the same food we do,” Bowman said, “they’re going to the same classes, they’re getting on the same buses we do. And they’re at the national championship.

“They just love each other, love the game and they’re selfless. That gives me chills right now just talking about it.”

No one loves the basketball analogy more than Wells, who practically kissed a reporter for bringing it up at a news conference after Tech’s spring game Saturday at The Star. He’d previously been asked what kind of team he wanted at Tech. Tough guys, mentally and physically, he said. Players who are unfazed by adversity. Football junkies. Guys who embrace training and lifting and practice. Players who expect greatness and to compete for a championship.

Sound familiar?

“I probably did just describe our basketball team,” Wells said.

Wells said he’d admired Chris Beard’s work even before he left Utah State for Tech. He’s an even bigger fan now. You could say what he’s trying to instill in the football program more closely resembles Beard’s philosophy than Kingsbury’s.

For instance, the Raiders will still throw the ball a lot. Only now they’ll have a tight end, as he put it, “to give you a physical mindset on offense.” They’ll also run the ball more often than Kingsbury did. Or run it more effectively, they hope. Tech was next to last in the Big 12 in rushing last year at 132.6 yards per game.

“You’d better be able to run the football,” Wells said, “and you better be able to stop it.”

Also, the best players will play on special teams.

“This program is gonna be a lot more than just offense,” Wells said, a shot, of sorts, at the program’s previous reputation.

“It has to be to win games at a high level.”

Before he even fired Kingsbury, Kirby Hocutt was on record that he wanted more discipline, a better-balanced offense and a tougher team in general. Wells delivered that message to his players all spring. He wasn’t gentle about it.

“He coaches really hard and he wants us to be great,” said redshirt freshman receiver Erik Ezukanma, “so he’s hard on us all the time. Any little thing that we do wrong in practice — not having the ball on the right side in our hand — he tells us.”

Anything else different?

“I think everything’s more disciplined,” Bowman said. “We worry about the little things. Everything is so structured. I think our culture and accountability within the team is huge, too.

“We’re holding each other accountable.”

Bowman has a unique perspective on everything that’s transpired at Tech in his freshman year. The 6-3, 210-pounder from Grapevine made quite an impression last fall. Kingsbury said he’d never seen a true freshman quarterback play as well. Then Bowman suffered a collapsed lung. Twice. Not your usual injury report. Bowman says he’s fully recovered but, just in case, Riddell is working on a protective device to wear under his normal pads.

Bowman’s place in Tech’s offense seems safe, but new faces will no doubt pop up this fall. Wells said it’s only natural. The staff watched “very little tape from last year.” Players start with a clean slate. The only history that matters is what the basketball team made this spring.

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