As Florida Atlantic lost their fourth game in a row this past weekend against Middle Tennessee, I started to go through all the steps of the sports fan in denial. What are the strengths of this team? Who will lead them? Why do I still follow this? When will it get better? Who are we?
It hurt my soul to see MTSU come back from two scores down and pull out this Senior Night victory. It hurt me even more to think about how there was still one more game left on the schedule. What could soothe my hurting in this troublesome time? I looked to Coach Partridge's words during his media availability to see if he could steer me back on the path to righteousness:
On the seniors going through four head coaches in four years
"It really has been tough for them. One part I think is every coach has their slogans, their sayings and their core beliefs. They have been through four sets of core beliefs. I'm fortunate or unfortunate (laugh) that I walked into a similar situation at Arkansas - in that [Bobby] Petrino, followed by John L. [Smith], followed by [Bret Bielema]. The parallels in the culture of the state of the locker room really are fascinating. I have talked about it before. Their 30 to nothing win over Ole Miss was no surprise to me - that they are having success, nothing to do with Ole Miss/Arkansas match-up. I know what Brett is building. I know the culture of stability. I feel those parallels here and it is challenging for those kids."
Ahh, good ol' Charlie. Your parables provide our youthful #OwlNation with such comfort and promise.
While Coach Partridge went through his weekly coach-speak jargon, the quote above stuck out to me the most. I actually watched this game between Arkansas and Ole Miss and said to my girlfriend's dog, "Wow. The Razorbacks actually look like they belong in the SEC." He didn't really respond, but his silence allowed me to stretch my curiosity into some research.
Like Charlie says above, Bret Bielema took over this Arkansas team after the Hogs were left in a Smith/Petrino messy state. After going winless in conference play last year, he has already won two SEC games this season, en route to a 6-5 record. Now, I am not sure if being compared to Bret Bielema is a good thing -- the guy seems to add to an endless collection of memes every month -- but he does have a nice track record when it comes to building winning programs.
Taking over from Barry Alvarez, Bielema inherited an established winner in Wisconsin. He took Alvarez's recruits and proceeded to finish his first season as head coach with a 12-1 record and a Capital One Bowl victory. After that season, the Badgers would flounder and eventually hit 7-6 in 2008. Alvarez, who had remained Wisconsin's athletic director, decided to stick with Bielema and see if he could right the ship. He reinvigorated the program and went on to win 40 games in the next four seasons -- taking the Badgers to three straight Rose Bowls.
Bielema eventually left Wisconsin for Arkansas and here we are. The coach of the Hogs took what was a 106th ranked defense last season and turned them into the top 25 mean-faced marauders that just blanked #8 team in the country. Now, this is an SEC school and they have an insane amount of resources that FAU will never even sniff in C-USA. But, if Bielema can implement such a drastic turnover, who's to say that one of his pupils can't do the same in his second year?
Looking even deeper into the Partridge coaching tree (excuse me for not making the obvious 'partridge in a pear tree' joke there), we find another South Florida friend; Dave Wannstedt. The Wann-stache was not great with the Dolphins, but no one really has been in a long time and that's just a whole mess of words best saved for another day. When The Stache took over at Pittsburgh though, he brought along Partridge to coach linebackers, defensive line and special teams. Wannstedt was supplied with a talent-laden team, but still needed time to bring in "his guys" and in year four, the Panthers won nine games and made it the Sun Bowl.
These are just two examples of coaches that have directly influenced the way Coach Partridge manages our little ol' Owls. The Bielema tree branches out from under living legend Bill Snyder and also includes current head coaches Dave Doeren and Paul Chryst. Charlie Partridge is already on his way to establishing his own identity. While he is no grease-bellied Bielema and definitely no Wann-stache, if Coach P can recruit like they have and receive enough time to implement his teachings, we might just be looking at another successful coach in the making.
Just, stay away from the afros.