At least Mark Adams didn’t quote any Old Testament verses dealing with child sacrifice. That could have made things really awkward for the Texas Tech men’s basketball coach—especially with his son, Luke, on his staff. Then again, it might not be possible for the Red Raiders’ imploding season to reach a more bizarre and disappointing low than its current position.
On Sunday, in an announcement that was as blunt as it was stunning, Texas Tech athletics director Kirby Hocutt suspended Adams after learning of the coach’s unforgivable comments during an interaction with a player last week. Adams, the release said, had attempted to motivate the player by quoting scriptures that referenced “workers, teachers, parents, and slaves serving their masters.”
Those words, the release said, were “inappropriate, unacceptable, and racially insensitive.” No kidding. Hocutt became aware of Adams’s comment when a staff member reported it to the athletic department, according to Stadium.
Seldom has a university delivered such a public rebuke of one of its coaches. But Hocutt did not fire Adams, although that appears inevitable. Hocutt also did not name an interim coach to lead Texas Tech against West Virginia Wednesday in the opening round of the Big 12 tournament.
Hocutt originally only reprimanded Adams in writing, then added the suspension while he conducted a “more thorough inquiry of Adams’ interactions with his players and staff,” according to the release. Hocutt met with players on Sunday to gauge the coach’s status inside the locker room. While it’s nearly impossible to imagine a coach keeping his job after using slavery metaphors to motivate a player, Hocutt wanted to hear from the athletes. How could Texas Tech ever again land a coveted recruit with this guy in charge?
Coaches in Division I basketball perform a delicate dance with players in an era when the transfer portal gives athletes an instant option to seek greener pastures. Great coaches create a bond with players. Players do not mind demanding coaches if they believe the coaches care for them and want the best for them. Baylor’s Scott Drew and Houston’s Kelvin Sampson are successful examples of this approach.
Hocutt also learned of an incident earlier this season when Adams was alleged to have spit on the same player. Adams told Stadium he had gone to the doctor, had a bad cough, and may have accidentally slobbered on the player. However, Adams is said to have told the player, according to Stadium: “I can spit on you whenever I want to.”
Adams denied the quote, telling Stadium, “I don’t remember ever saying that.”
Trouble has been brewing on the South Plains for a while. Whispers around the basketball program suggest that Adams has a strained relationship with at least one prominent Texas Tech booster, and even before the suspension, coaches from other schools were predicting a significant player exodus. Until Sunday, those rumors could have been characterized as the standard fallout from a disappointing season.
For his part, Adams told Stadium he was merely quoting a Bible verse when he told one of his players there is “always a master and a servant.” (He should have considered “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”)
“I was quoting the scripture,” Adams said. “It was a private conversation about coaching and when you have a job, and being coachable.”
“I said that in the Bible that Jesus talks about how we all have bosses, and we all are servants,” he added. “I was quoting the Bible about that.” He said he attempted to clarify his remarks to the team the following day, after being told the player was upset. “I explained to them,” Adams told Stadium. “I didn’t apologize.”
However, the school’s press release said otherwise: “Adams immediately addressed this with the team and apologized.”
All of this is a dramatic fall for a coach who (and a program that) was one of college basketball’s feel-good stories last season, when Texas Tech made an improbable NCAA tournament run to the Sweet Sixteen before losing to Duke. Adams’s background sounded like something from an underdog-coaching fairy tale. He was the 65-year-old former Tech assistant whose route to becoming the Red Raiders head coach included a stint as the owner of a minor league hockey team and basketball coaching stops at places like Wayland Baptist, Howard College, and Clarendon College.
In 2021, when Texas Tech’s head coach at the time, Chris Beard, bolted from Lubbock to take over the Texas Longhorns, Adams endeared himself to Red Raiders fans by declining to join Beard at the rival school. Adams remained at his alma mater and threw his hat into the ring for the head-coaching gig. Hocutt chose him, in part, because the players and boosters were insistent that Adams’s time had come.
Last season, as the Longhorns stumbled and the Red Raiders soared, Adams was portrayed by some in Lubbock as the true brains behind Beard’s previous success at Texas Tech. With his gentle persona and attention to detail, he gave off the vibe of a favorite high school biology teacher. Hocutt tore up Adams’s contract last spring and rewarded him with a five-year, $15.5 million deal that was worth more money than Adams probably ever dreamed of making.
Did Mark Adams fool all of us when we raced to outdo one another with glowing portrayals of Texas Tech’s new coach? He reminded me so much of the career coaches that toil in high school gyms and junior colleges in every corner of Texas, the men and women who’ve coached thousands of games and love the sport and their players.
Until last year, Adams’s high-water mark as a head coach had been leading Big Spring’s Howard College to the 2010 national junior college championship. Adams’s career break came in 2015, when Beard asked him to join his staff at Little Rock. Texas Tech hired Beard a year later, and Adams joined him in Lubbock. Beard was wildly successful at Tech, steering the Red Raiders all the way to the national championship game in 2019.
Texas Tech replicated some of that magic last spring, in Adams’s first season, and the narrative felt irresistible: a Texas hoops lifer finally getting a shot to coach on one of the sport’s biggest stages. But his second year as head coach hasn’t gone nearly as smooth, with roster turnover leading to rumors of player unhappiness during a 2–10 start in Big 12 play.
Some near the program have speculated for weeks that Adams, now 66, might retire. But that talk cooled when Texas Tech pieced together a four-game winning streak that included a 74–67 victory over Texas in Lubbock. Of Tech’s thirteen Big 12 losses, five have been by 3 points or less.
Adams’s old boss, Beard, had been fired by the time the Longhorns played in Lubbock, in the wake of a December arrest for felony domestic violence charges. The charges were ultimately dropped by the Travis County district attorney, but University of Texas officials had already dismissed Beard, believing they had enough evidence to sever their relationship with the coach.
Now Adams’s career also hangs in the balance. Texas Tech’s 2022 tournament run suddenly seems like very old news, the Red Raiders basketball program faces long-term damage to its reputation, and the man who became the feel-good coaching story of last season might be leaving Lubbock in disgrace.