Over the past five years I have witnessed the Florida Atlantic football program transform from a laughing stock, to an even bigger joke, to now a program on the rise.
After bursting onto the scene as a member of the Sun Belt Conference by becoming the youngest program to win back-to-back bowl games in 2007 and 2008, the team flatlined in 2011 as the architect of the football program, Howard Schnellenberger, saw the game pass him by in his final season with an 1-11 record.
Week after week they appeared in ESPN's bottom 10.
That was my freshman year. At the time I thought I had seen the lowest point in the program's history. Then Carl Pelini was fired - or resigned, depending on who you want to believe - two years later for alleged drug use during the 2013 season.
In between those years former Athletic Director Craig Angelos was clashing with then FAU President Mary Jane Saunders behind the scenes. In 2012 FAU was in search of a new AD as Angelos was fired.
Oh, FAU also flirted with the idea of having controversial for-profit prison operator GEO Group sponsor the stadium.
FAU was a mess. Despite having a brand new stadium, nobody wanted to go to the games. Despite being in the best state for high school talent, FAU was consistently fielding one of the worst football teams in the FBS.
But with the help of current AD Pat Chun giving stability to the athletic department, the FAU football program has taken on a new image around campus.
FAU President John Kelly has been outspoken about the desire of wanting FAU to become a football school and the excitement surrounding FAU football is eons ahead of where it was during Carl Pelini's brief tenure thanks to how accessible the team has been under Charlie Partridge. Championships start with the front office and FAU finally has a winning mentality in the administration department to become a Conference USA power.
- FAU is located in south Florida in Boca Raton, a prime recruiting location.
- After playing home games in Fort Lauderdale at Lockhart Stadium, FAU has greatly benefited from an on campus stadium. FAU Stadium was built in 2011 and is a state-of-the-art facility for a G5 program. By the way, its 1.8 miles away from the beach.
- FAU will soon have a new athletic facility after landing a $16 million dollar donation from the Schmidt family, the highest donation ever for FAU athletics. The facility will feature an indoor football practice field as well as other amenities.
- Year after year FAU has gotten bigger and bigger. Eventually there will be enough graduates to build a strong fan base.
- Did I mention FAU is 1.8 miles away from the beach.
- Boca Raton is old and expensive. Its not a college town and will probably never become one.
- If you're looking for a place that has a solid foundation of traditions in place FAU isn't the job for you.
- South Florida sports teams have a reputation of a having a fickle fan base and FAU fits the stereotype. With so many things to do in the area if you don't have an exciting product on the field no one will go to the games.
Making the case for why FAU should be higher: Ryan Lynch, FAU beat writer
For all of its problems as a young program without tradition or a significantly large fan base, Florida Atlantic seems like one of the top jobs in C-USA with all the potential there is surrounding the team.
Besides the aforementioned benefits of having location aid in making your recruiting process easy and new facilities on the way, any coach looking to make a name for himself has the added benefit of a blank easel situation with the team. This job gives any coach the keys to really develop a program in a situation where it wouldn't be a long term project like similar programs within the conference.
Yes, the area is so old and gray that some of the residents in Boca Raton are older than FAU is as a university. Yes, a majority of students commute from the nearby area and don't always share a huge tie to the university. Those factors make it a hard sell to a fan base in its infancy, something that poses the biggest long-term problem to attack if the program wants to expand.
If it wasn't for programs like Marshall, Western Kentucky, Louisiana Tech and Southern Mississippi being way more established and primed to win right now, FAU would be at the top of the conference without a reasonable doubt.
If you were playing NCAA Football in an online dynasty...
You choose FAU because recruiting Florida gives you the ability to maximize FAU's potential to the fullest. Within five years your fielding the best team not just in CUSA, but the best in the state. You schedule Miami, Florida and Florida State on a regular basis and run up the score whenever you get a chance.
If you choose this job in real life...
You definitely have ties to the south Florida football scene. You can handle the wine and cheese boosters who will wish to be pleased knowing that after you can take your wife and kids straight to the beach. You eventually want to parlay this job into some of the bigger jobs in the state but your eyes are probably set on only one: Miami.
FAU should be number one on this list. Unfortunately the blunders under the old regimes have caused the profile for this job to dip in CUSA ranks. Marshall has been of the biggest benefactors of FAU and FIU struggling on the field as they have built a steady pipeline of kids leaving south Florida to go to Huntington.
But unlike FIU, who continues to let the athletic department undermine their football program, FAU has begun the steps of transitioning out of the abyss and unveil their full potential, making the school a major player on the recruiting trail.
With a 100 percent commitment to football the question isn't will FAU football ever be a player for CUSA Championships but when.
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