2012 C-USA West Coaches
The Hot Seat Factor
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East Coaching Analysis & Hot Seat Status
Picture this. You’re a beleaguered athletic director with an opening at the top of the football organizational chart. Your checkbook is open, and your fan base is glaring at you with unwavering anticipation. Which of the
Conference USA's current head coaches would you put in charge of the program for the next five or so years? Knowing that your own job hangs in the balance, to which man would you entrust your future?
This is NOT necessarily a ranking of how good the head coaches are. This is a ranking based on who would be best to take over a program and build it up, so age is a major factor. A coach might be legendary, but he might not have another five years of greatness left. So with that in mind, who are the top candidates to run your program?
6. Mike Price, UTEP
Oh, how the once-mighty have fallen. When he was hired back in 2004, Price was to UTEP what June Jones is to SMU these days. Heck, he’d led teams to the Rose Bowl, and was briefly given the reigns at Alabama before squandering that opportunity. After a fast start in El Paso, the curtain has been pulled back on the coach, who has somehow survived despite stringing together six straight losing seasons. More of a showman than an actual producer these days, Price has lost a lot off his fastball. And at the age of 66, the Miners are likely to be the final stop of a rollercoaster career that’s been steadily going south for far too long.
Hot Seat Status: Price has been fortunate to be cashing UTEP paychecks for the past couple of miserable seasons. If he can’t turn things around in 2012, and have the Miners in the West Division hunt, he’ll be mercifully put out to pasture.
5. Curtis Johnson, Tulane
Johnson is quintessential Big Easy, a New Orleans native and former Saints assistant, so he was a natural fit for the struggling Green Wave. His appeal outside of the region, though, might not be nearly as high, especially since he’s never even held a coordinator’s job, let alone a head coach’s position. The upshot of Johnson is that he’ll bring youthful energy to a campus, even at the age of 50, and has a history of excelling at recruiting from his days with the Miami Hurricanes. At a failing school, such as Tulane, he might be just one winning season away from a promotion. Breathing life into a squad that hasn’t been over .500 since 2002 would be like catnip for ADs.
Hot Seat Status: The administration understands the unique challenges facing Johnson, and will be patient with its head coach. If Bob Toledo made it into his fifth season, Johnson shouldn’t have to look over his shoulder for some time.
4. David Bailiff, Rice
Bailiff has twice hit the high note in his career, but was unable to sustain it. In 2005, his Texas State squad went 11-3, only to slip below .500 the following year. And since guiding the Owls to 10 wins and an improbable Texas Bowl victory in 2008, the team has been unable to cobble together a winning season since then. In fact, they’ve gone 10-26 over the past three years, laboring badly on both sides of the ball. The coach now stands at 23-38 overall while at Rice, still searching for the Chase Clement-led magic that once spearheaded the program to unprecedented heights. Yeah, he’s definitely been weighed down by the limitations of the Owls, but excuses are beginning to fall on deaf ears in Houston.
Hot Seat Status: Change is in the air at Rice. It may be a very difficult place to win at, but a fourth losing season in a row is likely to entice the administration to move in a new direction at the top of the org chart.
3. Bill Blankenship, Tulsa
Blankenship got off to a solid start in his debut as a college head coach, leading the Golden Hurricane to eight wins in 2011, including seven in league play. A well-respected veteran in the state of Oklahoma from his days as a championship high school coach, he’s made a smooth transition to a new level by helping light a fuse under the Tulsa offense. While Blankenship’s offenses can be loose and unpredictable, his approach to the job demands that his players are disciplined, accountable and fundamentally sound. At the age of 55, he still has at least a decade left in the tank to chase after titles and new job opportunities.
Hot Seat Status: Expectations in Tulsa have been high for the past few years, meaning Blankenship doesn’t have the room for error that others in the league do. The foundation laid last season, he’s hoping to build upon it this fall.
2. Tony Levine, Houston
While the Cougars were sad to see Kevin Sumlin go to Texas A&M in December, the silver lining was Levine, a 35-year-old coach that the university believes will be a household name in a few years. Although his experience is limited, current and former players rave about his ability to lead with character, maximize his players’ potential and connect with future recruits. He’s well-liked, but also well-respected, gaining the trust and buy-in from those around him. Ahead of Levine will be a huge responsibility. Houston has not only won at least eight games in five of the past six seasons, but it’s set to join the Big East in 2013, a move that’ll bring much more publicity and opportunity to the school.
Hot Seat Status: If both parties are to be believed, Levine could be in Houston for a very long time. The coach has labeled the gig as a destination job, while the school is ecstatic with its answer to Sumlin. Levine will have more pressure on him to win immediately than any of his past few predecessors.
1. June Jones, SMU
Jones is one of the ultimate program builders in the game. Armed with his time-tested run-and-shoot offense, he transformed Hawaii before leaving the islands in 2007, and is at it again with the Mustangs. He’s almost singlehandedly infused life into SMU over the past four years, taking the program to an improbable three consecutive bowl games. Beyond the bells and whistles on offense, he has such a magnetic personality and passion for winning that it’s hard for the players and the fans not to get swept up in the movement. At 59, he may be on the back nine of his coaching career, but that didn’t stop Arizona State from making a hard run at him last December. If he chooses to do so, Jones still has one more major move left in him.
Hot Seat Status: SMU is going to keep Jones on the Hilltop for as long as he’s willing to stay. Barring some kind of disaster, he’ll have an opportunity to finish his career with the Mustangs if he wants to. The program hit the jackpot with this hire, and it knows it.
East Coaching Analysis & Hot Seat Status