Digital Headbutt

A sports blog about stuff…stuff that involves things.

You Must be This Tall To Ride The Coaching Carousel: FCS (Division I-AA)

Posted by Mike on February 25, 2008

Welcome to Digital Headbutt’s 4-part-its-way-too-early-to-think-about-college-football-again series, You Must be This Tall to Ride the Coaching Carousel.

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After the 2007 season, a total of 18 Division I FBS head coaching vacancies opened and closed. We can expect just as many, if not more, next season. Of those 18 vacancies, 9 were filled by coaches who had never led an FBS program before. Usually, these newbies come from one of four sources: the FCS, FBS assistants, NFL assistants, and (somewhat) unsuccessful NFL head coaches trying their luck the next level down. We will briefly summarize each sector, and look at the next possible hires. In essence, we look at who is currently waiting in line to ride the coaching carousel.

Let’s start with a survey of FCS head coaches who could have FBS jobs next year.

Advantages of an FCS Hire: Proven Winner as Head Coach of a Division I Program, albeit on a smaller scale. Much less expensive than wooing an FBS head coach, NFL assistant, or high profile coordinator. Can introduce a system that FBS opponents have never seen before.

Disadvantages of an FCS Hire: Much smaller scale; may not be prepared for the environment at a big-time football program, either in terms of athletics or academics. Coaching techniques may not translate to FBS. May be more difficult to earn the respect of his team.

Recent FCS Hires: Jim Harbaugh (San Diego to Stanford), David Bailiff (Texas State to Rice), Jerry Kill (Southern Illinois to Northern Illinois), Paul Wulff (Eastern Washington to Washington State).. In addition, big schools tend to hire them as assistants (such as Tennessee hiring Richmond’s Dave Clawson).

Leading by Example: Jim Tressel (from Youngstown State), Paul Johnson (from Georgia Southern).

Cautionary Tales: Joe Glenn (from Montana), Kirk Ferentz (from Maine).

On to the candidates…

Candidate #1: Bobby Hauck, Montana.

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Credentials: Holds a 52-14 record as head coach of the Montana Grizzles, and has made the 1-AA/FCS playoffs every year of his tenure. He hasn’t lost a game in the Big Sky Conference since 2005. Hauck has held a number of assistant jobs in the FBS prior to becoming Montana’s head coach. He was a positional defensive and special teams coach at Colorado and Washington, and a graduate assistant at UCLA.

There were rumors surrounding him for quite a few job openings in 2007. He chose to sign a one year extension with Montana instead of the 3-year deal the Grizzlies wanted. That can mean only one thing: he’s expecting a call from an FBS program.

Lastly, look at this picture and tell me he isn’t gonna get you to run through a wall.

What needs to be addressed: How much of his head coaching success can be attributed to him, and how much can be attributed to Joe Glenn, his predecessor? How do we know that he isn’t going to just flip somebody off on the sidelines? And can he explain how he plowed through your 2007 regular season schedule and then bowed out in the first round of the FCS playoffs…at home? Granted, it was against Southern Conference co-champion Wofford, who beat 3-time champ Appalachian State earlier in the year. But still…

Where he might land: Washington, Utah State, Wyoming, Arizona, UNLV.

Candidate #2: K.C. Keeler, Delaware.

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Credentials: Took over the Blue Hens program after the legendary Tubby Raymond retired. He immediately substituted the Delaware Wing T, an offensive staple for middle school teams everywhere, in favor of a modified West Coast offense. In 2003, he provided the Blue Hens what Raymond could not: their first National Championship. The Blue Hens also made the finals this year before losing to App. State. When the Michigan coaching search got really desperate, his name was thrown about.

What needs to be addressed: Like Hauck, he needs to prove how much of his success is his own and not Tubby Raymond’s. His change in the offense helps that perception.

Where he might land: Syracuse, Marshall, Pitt, Kent State.

Candidate #3: Jon Heacock, Youngstown State.

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Credentials: 43-27 record in seven seasons as Penguins head coach. Defensive coordinator for Tressel’s YSU teams in the 90s. His brother, Jim, is the current Buckeyes assistant coach.

What needs to be addressed: Does continuing what Tressel started at the FCS level really require much input?

Where he might land: Kent State, Pitt, UL-Lafayette, Louisville.

Candidate #4: Mark Farley, Northern Iowa.

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Credentials: 63-25 in seven seasons as UNI head coach. Spent four years and a linebackers coach at Kansas (1997-2000). Has made the FCS playoffs in four of his seven years, including one semifinals and one finals appearance. Arguably the best head coach in the state of Iowa right now.

What needs to be addressed: Like the other teams with coaches on this list, the Panthers enjoyed great success under Terry Allen in the early and mid-1990s. Unlike the other coaches, Farley had to return this team to prominence after the somewhat failed tenure of Mike Dunbar.

Where he might land: Iowa, Iowa State, Minnesota, Toledo.

Candidate #5: Mike Ayers, Wofford.

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Credentials: Turned previously unheralded programs at East Tennessee State (now w/o football) and Wofford (with less than 1,500 undergrads) into FCS powers. Very successful at doing more with less, even when compared to other FCS programs. Among the coaches in the powerful Southern Conference, Ayers seems to be the most qualified (barring App State’s Jerry Moore, who almost certainly isn’t going to move from Boone at his age).

What needs to be addressed: Would BCS conference programs be scared off because of his age (59)? Probably. Combine that with most BCS programs being a bit skittish about hiring for head coaches from the FCS in the first place, and it might kill any chances he has at a major program. However, his accomplishments at Wofford may be difficult to ignore.

Where he might land: Marshall, Louisiana Tech, Florida International, Memphis. Perhaps he could bring a program to the big time…like Howard Schnellenberger has with just about every college team he’s coached.

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5 Responses to “You Must be This Tall To Ride The Coaching Carousel: FCS (Division I-AA)”

  1. [...] Making the Leap: I-AA football coaches who could find themselves in I-A soon. [Digital Headbutt] [...]

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    Soccer / Football greats you should write about next!

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