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Why South Alabama gets a vote of no confidence from me

The Jaguars have had a modicum of success at the FBS level, but there are no signs to indicate sustainability.

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

You probably saw recently where we ran a series ranking the Sun Belt Conference coaching positions in terms of desirability for a coach who is seeking a job, and then soon we'll run another showing how our individual Sun Belt writers ranked those teams. PARTIAL SPOILER: the Jaguars were ranked as the eighth best job in the conference in the initial article series, and our individual staff ranked them anywhere from 7th to 10th.

I was one of the two people who ranked them 10th, and that's after I was talked into raising their ranking. See, this team is a bit of a mirage.

South Alabama posted yet another average-ish season last year (5-7, after consecutive 6-6 seasons), though that was due in large part to luck; a 4-1 record in one-possession games and a talent transfusion from temporarily defunct UAB to offset the graduation of a substantial number of starters.

I'm unconvinced, unlike my fellow writers, that what the Jaguars have accomplished thus far is truly sustainable in any way, and I wanted to share a bit about why I was so harsh in my ranking.

Support for the team is even less existent than you think

It makes sense that pretty much everyone in the state of Alabama - not literally, but a sizeable majority - are black-and-white Alabama or Auburn fans. It's only been 20 years since UAB arrived as the first option for native Alabamians to watch FBS football that wasn't the Tide or the Tigers. That said, traction has been minimal for Jaguar football here in Mobile.

It's one thing to slowly build a following. It's another thing to be entering your eighth season of football and still have essentially zero following. Last year the Jaguars best-attended game saw a little over 21,000 tickets sold when NC State came to town. That is a good-but-not-great sized crowd for Ladd-Peebles Stadium; it also represents the fourth-largest announced attendance in the team's history, and just the second time attendance reached 19,000 or more since the Jaguars moved to FBS before the 2012 season.

In three seasons at the FCS level, the Jaguars averaged 18,000 fans and cleared 20,000 in attendance seven times in 20 home games; even with the random sellout when Mississippi State came to town, the Jaguars average attendance has gone down since the move to FBS, averaging about 16,000 fans over 24 home games.

Some of that can be related to USA being so new as a team - to the point that there's not even a generation of kids whose parents are Jags fans and who are old enough to root themselves - but not all of it. The apathy is still palpable.

I still vividly remember attempting to attend a game last season where I knew I would arrive late. As I was walking up to the stadium, I saw people who were sitting in the parking lot tailgating, grilling, and watching the Auburn game - in the second quarter of the Jaguars game going on inside the stadium!

How rough must your gameday experience be that people are willing to pay the money for a parking lease so they can tailgate, but would rather keep tailgating and watch other games than come into the stadium to watch yours?

Ladd-Peebles Stadium is a sloppy mess that isn't going away anytime soon.

You really cannot truly appreciate just how bad the Jaguars' current home stadium is until you have attended a game there. This stadium has some obvious drawbacks, considering that it will be 70 years old soon and has only seen $10 million worth of renovations, only $2.2 million of which has occurred in the last 20 years. (I know it was 1997, I'm rounding, shut up).

It looks, feels, and sounds like you are at a high school football stadium. Lots of concrete and metal, concession stands that sell food you could get in a high school cafeteria. I have told numerous people that L-P Stadium would be the worst stadium I've ever been in were it not for a visit to Legion Field in Birmingham. I'm fairly sure that the only difference between them is that Legion is 20 years older and twice as big.

This all should not be surprising given the stadium's history. Here's the list of tenants other than an annual round-robin of high school football prior to the formation of USA's program:

  • Alabama once per year (1948-1968)
  • Auburn once per year (1948-1955)
  • Southern Miss not quite once per year (1950-1974)
  • Senior Bowl (1951 - now)
  • GoDaddy Bowl (1999 - now)
  • Gulf Coast Classic (1974-2008)
  • Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic (HS showcase game) (1988-2010)
So L-P Stadium started as basically a high school showcase stadium that served as an excuse to get Alabama, Auburn, and Southern Miss to visit town once a year. In the interim, they added a couple other general showcase games that came and went, and bowl games that have stayed. Yet almost 70 years later, it's still serving that same purpose just with fewer Power Five visits. Four high schools play 17 games a year there, plus playoff games, South Alabama games, and those two bowls.

It's hard to really establish a presence in a stadium when not only are you not the primary tenant, but you play in a stadium that has never really had one. Not only that, the Jaguars were given a built-in handicap., considering that when it was announced that the newly-formed South Alabama football team would play in Ladd-Peebles, it was also announced that they would do so for at least seven years.

The good news is, that seven years is up. The bad news is that any kind of on-campus stadium to replace Ladd is in no better than the pre-pubescent stages. The school is just now hiring firms to discuss potential designs and their feasibility, and they have stated in the past that they want to assemble as much of the funding as possible prior to construction no matter what they decide on; that process is essentially nowhere right now as well.

Layers of lack of identity

The Jaguars are a team with no successfully established identity. This is part newness, and part playing in a stadium that has no identity either. Go a layer deeper, and all of those are just a symptom of an entire city with no sure identity to call its own. Sure everyone knows Mobile is the port city, but there's nothing cohesive beyond that - the city is too big and the wealth keeps too much to itself to be anything unified.

Because of that, even if and when this on-campus stadium does occur, the only thing it will do for certain is piss off all of the low-income families who live around Ladd-Peebles and use event parking on their lawns as their most reliable ancillary income. It's more likely to change who attends than boost attendance, especially since a new stadium likely means increased prices.

The Jaguar football team and the stadium they play in are average at best, and they have a genuine lack of support from the surrounding city that will likely keep them that way for a while. Doesn't sound like a desirable job to me.