Thursday, March 10, 2016

Larry Coker Settles With UTSA

Larry Coker, who resigned after a 3-9 season in 2015, has settled on his buyout with UTSA for $650,000 according to an AP report tonight. Coker could have received as much as $1.56 million as severance for his last three seasons remaining on his deal.
Coker finished 26-32 at UTSA after starting the program from scratch, but fell from popularity with a loud but small group in the fan base during a season that many felt fell under expectations, despite a largely popular opinion before and during the season that this was largely a rebuilding year after the Roadrunners lost more than 30 seniors from the 2014 season. Coker, rather than divide the university and fan base decided to resign under pressure instead.
Coker coaching career is likely over considering his age and experience at this point.
The original report was issued by the San Antonio Express-News after having received the information under the Freedom of Information Act.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Illinois Firing of Bill Cubit: Right Move, Wrong Time

Josh Whitman had a busy day during his first day on the job as the new Athletic Director at Illinois. He fired Bill Cubit, who had just completed his first season as Illinois head coach as an interim after Tim Beckman was fired for a variety of issues. The fact that Bill Cubit was fired at Illinois isn't all too troubling, but the timing of it is.
Cubit had been given a two year deal to coach Illinois moving forward, a reward for stepping onto a sinking ship and guiding not into the rocks, but gently bumping them during a season of change and transition. Cubit is a good guy, and a decent coach, but was never a popular choice to run an irrelevant program in a Power 5 conference. Detractors were right about that, but he was the best choice that a dysfunctional university could have made during a period that was so absolutely out of control with its dysfunction that it made Donald Trump look like a sane, truth telling, non Nazi, non carnival barker by comparison.
Illinois as a university has been a mess. There is no cohesion in the presidency, the academic councils, or the athletic department, and the AD search has largely been a disaster until Whitman was hired, and he was hired, it should be noted, from as far outside of Power 5 country as you can find. That should go well. Nobody wanted the AD job, and the thought of hiring a football coach within that environment should have scared the hell out of anyone with a vested interest. Most sane people want nothing to do with the University of Illinois. That comes as a shock to nobody.
Bill Cubit stood in as a leader during amazingly turbulent times. He stood in as a calm in a tempest and did a credible job of leading a lost group through those hellish times and showed a good deal of growth among these young men in the process. Of course, he never should have had the job, but who else wanted it?
Josh Whitman is already making a mess before he has even unloaded a house plant into his office. Cubit deserved his reward to at least transition this program over the next two years until calmer times come to the university. At that point, Illinois would be a much more popular destination, if the new group of leaders can show some direction, it could be a much sought after position. That time is not now, as this group of leaders has hardly had a moment to move the needle.
Whitman has hired Lovie Smith, a move that will be made official once he clears all of the internal HR hurdles and paperwork. Lovie Smith has not coached in the NCAA since 1995 as the Ohio State DB coach. His overall record as an NFL coach is 89-87. He is freshly fired from his most recent disaster as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If Whitman thinks that this choice will move the needle in the direction of football success, I am guessing that he will be completely disappointed.
Lovie Smith is not a great football coach. He won three divisional titles with the Bears, but in a weak NFC North, and that success was hardly extended.
This hire smells of desperation for Whitman to make a splashy, big name hire. It was splashy alright, but only in the way that toilet water splashes when human waste drops into it. It was a big name alright, but only big in terms that any name in the NFL is big, even the failures.
It is certain that Cubit probably was not the right guy, but there were plenty of good coaches that could have done well at Illinois, and were available, even today. PJ Fleck, Brock Spack, Al Golden, and several others, and they all would have been interested enough to give Whitman a few moments of their time on a phone call. In the end, Whitman goes with Lovie Smith. Probably the worst option of those available, including keeping Cubit, was hiring an NFL burnout with a mediocre record whose glory days in the state are a thing of distant memory. This is what you get when your new AD is a hire out of a D3 program with little history of football success in an arena where football success is the only real success that anyone gives a damn about. Bill Cubit was always going to be a short timer, but he deserved at least one more year as a reward for being a glutton for punishment.
In the end, the train wreck that is the Illinois athletic department seems alive and well.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Idaho and New Mexico State Removed From Sun Belt

After making pitches for long term membership in the Sun Belt Conference, the league has officially ended the relationships with both Idaho and New Mexico State effective at the end of the 2017 season. For Idaho, this is their second departure from the conference, as they were a founding football member.
Both teams are left with an unappetizing look at beings independents, something both have toyed with in the past, or awaiting another invitation from an FBS conference, which seems unlikely to happen.
The only palatable move at this point for both schools is to lose 22 scholarships each and join the ranks of FCS football. Of course, there is a nuclear option to drop football altogether at this point, but that also seems unlikely. The Mountain West, which makes sense geographically, is not walking through that door, nor are they blowing up any phones. NMSU has some sway there, as they have a long standing rivalry with New Mexico, but that doesn't seem to be a draw. NMSU could also look into Conference USA, where they could find a fit in the West with arch rival UTEP, but that also seems a long shot at best, as the Aggie basketball program is the real draw, not the football program.
Idaho AD Rob Spear, who recently received a contract extension through 2020, has stated that his long term goal is to keep Idaho in FBS football. We all want things we can't have, Rob. FBS football no longer looks viable for either program, short term or long. In the 1980's independence was a thing. In 2016, unless your name is Notre Dame, not so much.
In short, the Big Sky Conference has made a major push towards getting Idaho back in the fold, as they compete in all other sports in that conference, and they also dominated the league in football in the 1980's and 90's before leaving for the not so green pastures of FBS football. The Big Sky would love to have the Vandals back, and have been very up front about that. It's best to go where you are wanted, not where you are not.
New Mexico State would also be attractive to a couple of FCS leagues. First, they fit wonderfully well in the footprint of the Southland Conference, where a majority of members play in neighboring Texas. Cost of travel would be very inexpensive, and there are several potential long term rivals available. NMSU could still keep non conference dates with rivals New Mexico and UTEP annually, and still play in what is becoming a power league in FCS football.
Another option for NMSU would be to join Idaho in the Big Sky. There are several schools, however not as many as the SLC, that NMSU geographically fits with including Northern Arizona, Southern Utah, Weber State, and Northern Colorado. There has been no official public push or comment about NMSU from the Big Sky brass, but one has to think that an option may exist there that could be mutually beneficial, as NMSU does have a 30,000 seat stadium to bring forth.
Whatever happens moving forward, both schools have some healing to do. These programs have been abysmal for far too long now, and, especially in the case of NMSU, they have to show they are ready to go all in on football, even on the FCS level, to be have a strong impact. NMSU played for years in the Missouri Valley Conference, a 1-AA league that hosted 1-A programs, and rarely found success even on that level, so there is some serious work to do, especially on the coaching front, where Doug Martin is hardly the guy to resurrect this program from the dead. Paul Petrino was a good hire by Idaho, and the team has some solid young talent, and therefore looks like a better bet short term for immediate success.
These two programs have some time to figure out their next steps, but not as much time as they would like. The clock is ticking, and the longer they wait, the less likely they are to land deals that make sense and are healthy for these programs moving forward.