A while ago I was walking around FAU Stadium thinking about how quickly the school has embraced the football program since Charlie Partridge has become the head coach and it made me wonder what this place would look like if Carl Pelini was still the man in charge.
Before Partridge there was no reminder on the sidelines that told you how far away you currently were from the beach, no signs for players to touch that said "WinToday" or "OwlIn" signs plastered on walls for visitors to see.
As beautiful as FAU Stadium is, it was extremely hollow and forgettable during Pelini's tenure as it lacked any tangible aura that let visitors know that this was in fact a home game for FAU and not a neutral venue.
When Pelini roamed the sidelines FAU was still in a transitional phase as far as figuring out how to market a brand new on-campus stadium to the students and Boca Raton community. The football team was also in a state of transition as Pelini wanted to transition to a spread-offense and get rid of Howard Schnellenberger's outdated pro-style offense. What that ultimately meant was that a team that went 1-11 with star running back Alfred Morris was going to go through even more growing pains.
To make matters worse, the FAU athletic department was a mess during his tenure. The man who hired him, Athletic Director Craig Angelos, was fired months after Pelini accepted the job. The person who fired him, Mary Jane Saunders, resigned a year later.
With administration in constant turnover not much attention was paid to the football program. It didn't help that Pelini never embraced the South Florida community or lifestyle.
To many he was an outsider and from the way he approached the local media and student population, he appeared to prefer it that way. He was easily irritable and rarely made any public appearances on campus that didn't involve showing up to practice and gamedays.
Its easy to see now why FAU Stadium was never built in his image.
To Partridge's credit he has been more approachable since the beginning of his tenure. Of course, it helps that he's a South Florida guy but from the beginning he has been more endearing, making it easy for the student population and South Florida community to rally around him and root for the team.
As a result, the anticipation for football games and the expectations surrounding upcoming seasons have reached new levels year after year. But as great as Partridge has been with getting people to care about FAU football, the stability and support from AD Pat Chun and President John Kelly have been just as crucial.
Its easy to see that FAU has increased its marketability with Partridge as the head coach, but FAU has still been unable to make their mark where it matters most. In two years they are 6-18 with Partridge as the head coach.
In each year under Partridge many fans expected to see FAU in a bowl game only to be given a disappointing 3-9 season. Some believe had Pelini remained the head coach in 2014 FAU would have reached a bowl game that year.
There is no doubting the major talent influx Partridge has brought in since being named the head coach but now that many of Pelini's players have moved on this will be the first year much of the roster will be in Partridge's image. And the first year where people may show some impatience if there isn't tangible evidence of improvement in the win column.
With a lot of production lost on last year's team due to graduation, expectations for this season have been tampered. No longer are folks talking about going to a bowl game. Now they just want to see improvement. But with the way Partridge has been recruiting many believe its only a matter of time before FAU has their breakthrough season.
Four years ago Pelini was given the same task: show improvement. Four years later and FAU is asking another head coach to do the same. As of now all signs point to Partridge being able to build FAU into a CUSA contender.
But would Pelini have been able to do the same? The two years FAU was expected to reach a bowl game would have been with Pelini's players so you could say yes.
But being that he was never able to get along with the South Florida high school coaches recruiting may still have been difficult even with a winning record. Would a winning season be enough to win over the high school coaches? Its hard to say. If not for the shenanigans off the field would he still be the head coach? What do you think?