In our last two installments of ranking the head coaching jobs in the Sun Belt Conference, we took a look at two schools that seemingly have nowhere to go but financially nerve-wracking independence or a fanbase-obliterating drop down to the FCS.
Unlike those counterparts, the ULM Warhawks are a valued member of the Sun Belt and will have a conference home to go to as long as it exists. That's a start.
The Warhawks are the underdog's underdog. Despite seemingly gale force headwinds constantly blowing against the little guys from Monroe, they have had their moments. They captured the imagination of the country during the #Funroe season, and are responsible for one of the most hilarious google image searches you can have if you type in Tide Rolled ULM:
That said, things have been bleak since the magical 2012 season. Once Kolton Browning got injured, ULM crash landed into a forgettable 6-6 season. Things only got worse going forward, and the Warhawks ultimately crashed out with a nightmarish 2-11 campaign last year that saw their only coach who had ever earned a winning season in FBS get unceremoniously escorted from the premises.
New head coach and former McNeese State boss man Matt Viator might have what it takes to put ULM back on the road to respectability, but the headwinds facing the program have never blown stronger.
- A realistic, veteran fanbase that's open to new ideas means expectations are fairly low and few will get upset when a head coach tries to install a wacky, out of the box offense. So long as it produces wins (RIP #Funroe).
- Louisiana produces a ridiculous amount of FBS talent per capita, and the southeast recruiting heartland is nearby, so there's always a chance for some solid players to trickle down to ULM.
- ULM had a very respectable 1-AA history, with plenty of playoff appearances in the 1980's and a national title to their name in 1987.
- Brian Wickstrom is one of the best ADs in the Sun Belt, and is all about supporting football.
- Everyone will always remember Alabama and Arkansas.
- A team that's had to take consistent payday beatings at the hands of SEC giants to stay financially competitive is facing even more dire fiscal straits. The Louisiana budget crisis probably won't take down ULM football with it (right now, the FCS teams should be sweating the most), but the fact that we're even discussing it as a possibility is a very bad sign.
- Although ULM's been hanging around the FBS block since 1994, it hasn't been kind to them. The Warhawks have had exactly one winning season (the infamous 2012 Funroe season that contained the Arkansas upset) and their only conference title was a shared Sun Belt crown in 2005. When they finished 5-6 overall and didn't go bowling because rival Arkansas State got the New Orleans Bowl bid by tiebreaker. OUCH.
- It does have its moments, but the phrase "Monroe is a tough place to recruit to" exists for a reason. It doesn't help that Louisiana Tech's 40 minutes down the road and will more often than not poach most of the recruits both schools covet.
- ULM's president has had plenty of thinly veiled shots taken at him over his perceived ambivalence over the long term health of Warhawk football. That's never a good thing at this level.
- The next five years could be a massive rebuilding job.
Making the case for why ULM should be lower than 10th: Nic Lewis, Managing Editor
Not only does ULM face more financial struggles due to Louisiana legislators being deathly allergic to taxes, they are about to get hit even harder whenever the Sun Belt shifts to 10 teams and they lose one payout game a year. Maybe. Perhaps they're smart and just drop their lone guaranteed win (aka FCS) game per year. Neither is appealing for potential new coaches or recruits.
Also, there are numerous bouts of half-compliment here. Suggesting they have a more recent pulse than other bottom-feeder SBC members is misleading, because having an eight-win season that accounts for 30% of your wins over the past six seasons is not appreciably different than actually winning four games every year to me.
And "a veteran, realistic fanbase"? That's what I've experienced as a Pirates fan during their 20 years of sucking that ended recently. That isn't a positive that anyone actually counts for anything.
If you were playing NCAA football in an online dynasty...
You chose ULM because you wanted to slay giants with one of the biggest FBS underdogs, but chose the team that's had a pulse recently (sorry NMSU and Idaho). You loved the Funroe offense and you want to see what it would be like to line up 3 linemen and 57284 receivers every play.
You're fascinated by comically asymmetrical stadiums blessed with a "where the hell did you get that kind of money?" jumbotron, or perhaps you've somehow figured out a way to make NCAA a scratch-and-sniff experience and really have a thing for the smell of paper mills.
If you choose this job in real life...
You probably were an FCS head coach in Louisiana or were an assistant with recruiting ties in Louisiana, and you badly wanted an FBS job. You embrace the underdog status and relish the chance to ruin the seasons of SEC heavyweights.
You're a creative offensive mind looking for a place that will give you a few years to experiment with your system without pulling the plug early because of boosters upset by a perceived affront to "tradition."
In the immediate term, ULM might actually be a tougher job than NMSU or Idaho. Things may become more stable in the long term, but a comprehensive rebuild will require facing head on a bevy of tough questions that would scare away many potential coaching candidates. ULM's always had a low ceiling and has been right on that margin of FBS viability, and the state's financial crisis will only make things tougher.
Matt Viator's got his work cut out for him.
Best jobs in Sun Belt countdown: