Young athletes growing up in Texas usually dream of playing in front of huge crowds and passionate fan bases at the state’s two major colleges: the University of Texas and Texas A&M. Through the years, both schools’ athletics departments have fared well on and off the court. Recently, they have been more successful from a business perspective than from a championships standpoint.
Consider: Texas’s athletics program led the nation with $214.8 million of revenue during the 2016-17 school year, according to USA Today, the most recent data available. Texas A&M was second with $212 million.
Still, when it comes to winning between the lines, neither school can match the spring that their smaller neighbor, Texas Tech, has put together. Texas Tech’s $88.8 million of revenue is 43rd in the nation and sixth in the 10-team Big 12 conference. But that hasn’t been a hindrance.
In April, Texas Tech advanced to the championship game of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The Red Raiders lost, 85-77, in overtime to Virginia, but it was by far the best season in program history. Their previous top performance occurred a year earlier when they made it to the first regional final in school history.
Earlier this month, Texas Tech won the men’s track and field national title, only the second time the school has won an NCAA championship. Its other championship happened in 1993 when the women’s basketball team defeated Ohio State, 84-82, behind 47 points from Sheryl Swoopes, which is still the most points a player (man or woman) has scored in a national title game.
And now, Texas Tech has another chance for a championship, this time in baseball. The Red Raiders lost their opener in the College World Series on Saturday, falling, 5-3, to Michigan. But they rebounded on Monday afternoon, coming back from an early three-run deficit to knock off Arkansas, 5-4, thanks to sophomore outfielder Cody Masters’ RBI triple in the bottom of the eighth inning. Texas Tech returns to action on Wednesday night when it faces Florida State. The loser will be eliminated from the tournament, while the winner will keep their title hopes alive.
For Texas Tech, to even be playing in the College World Series was unfathomable just a short while ago. Until head coach Tim Tadlock arrived in June 2012, the Red Raiders had never played in the event. But during Tadlock’s seven-year tenure, they have advanced to the eight-team College World Series four times and won three Big 12 titles. Texas Tech’s fans have shown their support, with this being the fifth consecutive season the school has sold out its season ticket allotment.
Tadlock’s impact on the baseball program is similar to Chris Beard’s effect on the men’s basketball team. Beard was hired in 2016 despite only having one year of Division 1 head coaching experience. But he had been an assistant at Texas Tech for 10 years under Bob Knight and Pat Knight and had strong ties to the area.
Still, Beard has greatly surpassed anyone’s expectations, likely even those of Texas Tech athletics director Kirby Hocutt, who hired Tadlock and Beard. During Beard’s first season, the Red Raiders went 18-14. They improved to 27-10 in the 2017-18 season, their best record in 22 years. And this past season, they won the first Big 12 regular season title and a school-record 31 games despite losing five of their top six scorers from the previous year.
Texas Tech has rewarded Tadlock and Beard with lucrative contracts. Tadlock signed a seven-year deal last summer worth $1 million annually, making him among the top 10 highest-paid coaches in the sport. And in April, Beard inked a six-year contract that will pay him $4.575 million annually. His salary is the fourth highest in the sport, according to USA Today, only trailing Kentucky’s John Calipari, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Tennessee’s Rick Barnes.
Perhaps Hocutt’s lone blemish since arriving from the University of Miami in March 2011 has been with Texas Tech’s football program. Hocutt hired former Texas Tech quarterback Kliff Kingsbury as coach in 2013, and the Red Raiders started that season with seven consecutive victories. But Kingsbury never got Texas Tech back to that perch again. He was fired last November after going 35-40 in six seasons, including 19-35 in the Big 12.
Shortly after dismissing Kingsbury, Hocutt hired Matt Wells, who went 78-44 in six years at Utah State, including 10-2 last season. Texas Tech is surely hoping Wells can help the school contend for Big 12 titles and spots in the College Football Playoff, but that’s still a few months away.
For now, the school is basking in the glow of a remarkable spring. The Red Raiders may not have the historical success, name recognition or financial backing of Texas or Texas A&M, but that hasn’t stopped Texas Tech from emerging as an unlikely sports powerhouse.