The past couple of days have been a whirlwind for Utah State athletic director John Hartwell, who is now tasked with finding a new head football coach.
Hartwell found out Thursday that former Aggie head coach Matt Wells would be taking the same job at Big 12 Conference program Texas Tech. Wells, who helped lead USU to a 10-2 regular season record, was announced as the Red Raiders’ new head coach Thursday night and has signed a six-year contract.
Hartwell, who has been at USU for three-and-a-half years, addressed the media in a conference call Friday morning.
“It’s been a busy last 36 hours, and you never know how many new best friends you have and how many channels people reach out to you, until you have a head coaching job available,” Hartwell said in his opening remarks.
The former Troy athletic director made a point to thank Wells for his contributions to the Aggie football program. The native of Sallisaw, Oklahoma, went 44-34 during his six seasons at the helm and was selected as the Mountain West Coach of the Year twice.
“I want to thank Matt, first and foremost, for what he and his family have meant to Utah State football, throughout the athletic department, for the university and for Cache Valley,” Hartwell said. “It has been nothing but class and doing things the right way, and we certainly appreciate his contributions here and the level he has elevated our program to. … With that being said, Utah State football is bigger than any one person. When Matt made the decision to move onto Texas Tech, we immediately began the process of finding the right coach to be his successor.”
Until a successor is selected, current USU defensive line coach and co-defensive coordinator Frank Maile will be the interim head coach. Maile, a former Aggie player and graduate, has coached eight seasons in two separate stints at Utah State.
“(Maile) will be in charge through the bowl game,” Hartwell said. “He’ll be the bridge through our program right now, from a recruiting standpoint, from an operations standpoint and for bowl preparation, as well, and from an overview perspective of the search process.”
Hartwell said Maile has been in contact with USU’s recruits, “both the commits to our program and to those that are considering our program.” The early signing day is Dec. 19, and Hartwell is determined to keep what is projected to be Utah State’s best-ever recruiting class intact.
“It’s really important to eliminate the uncertainty of who will lead our program going forward as soon as possible and not to lose sight at all of our early signing day,” Hartwell said.
With that in mind, Hartwell’s objective is to hire a new head coach in the next 10 days to two weeks, “if not before then.” He plans on conducting the first round of interviews next week, as well as the second round “for those who make their way through” the first round.
Hartwell is utilizing DHR International, the same search firm he used in the selection of USU head basketball coach Craig Smith back in March. Hartwell praised the “professionalism” of DHR International and Glenn Sugiyama, a managing partner at the film. Hartwell said he planned on traveling to Salt Lake City and meeting with Sugiyama following the conference call.
Hartwell stressed the importance of hiring somebody who will be the right “fit in Cache Valley.” Hartwell plans on talking to people who worked with head coaching candidates at other schools, such as trainers and equipment room employees, “because those are the people who see him behind the scenes.”
The new head coach won’t necessarily have ties to the Beehive State.
“The Utah connection is not an absolute prerequisite for the head coach, but it certainly has to somebody, just like with Craig Smith, that has to understand the culture and nature,” Hartwell said. “We have had huge success with our Polynesian student-athletes, with our returned missionary kids, and that will continue to be vital in the success of Utah State football.”
Hartwell also said he plans on including the football players “somewhat in our selection process.”
When asked if Wells would be part of the bowl game preparations — the Aggies will find out where they will go bowling Sunday — Hartwell said, “We’re still working through this.” However, Hartwell did say Wells asked “me to allow him to be on the sideline as an Aggie alum and former football player and allow his family to be in the stands. I told him I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Wells met with Maile early Friday morning before flying out to Lubbock, Texas, with his family. Hartwell said Wells “is going to be heavily involved in the practice planning” for the Aggies leading up to their bowl game, although “he won’t be calling the plays.”
“This is not Matt Wells leaving ABC program, where he doesn’t have a vested interest,” asserted Hartwell, who went on to say Wells visited one-on-one with each of his Aggie players following Thursday night’s team meeting.
During Friday’s conference call, Hartwell also said Dave Scholz, USU’s head strength and conditioning coach for the past six seasons, will be joining Wells at Texas Tech. Hartwell is anticipating Wells will be taking the bulk of his Aggie coaching staff to the Lone Star State, plus possibly “another strength and conditioning guy or two, as well as some of our quality control guys.”
It was announced Thursday by Texas Tech that both coordinators, David Yost (offensive) and Keith Patterson (defensive), will follow Wells to Lubbock. Patterson and Yost have experience as coordinators in the Big 12 Conference.
“I think Matt’s intention is (bringing) everybody on the offensive side of the ball for sure, with opportunities for most on the defensive side of the ball,” Hartwell said.
Wells was finishing the fourth year of his five-year contract with the Aggies when he made the decision to accept the TTU job. Hartwell approached Wells a few weeks ago and offered the former USU quarterback and his staff “significant raises across the board.”
“It was about $500,000 of salary increases in total between Matt, the assistants and the strength staff,” Hartwell said. “At the end of the day, we knew that was going to be significant as it relates to the Mountain West, knowing in the back of our mind that if one of these Power 5 opportunities came available, we were not going to be able to get in a bidding war, if you will, dollar for dollar.”
Hartwell said he received a phone call from TTU athletic director Kirby Hocutt on Tuesday morning about contacting Wells in regards to the Texas Tech coaching vacancy.