Success as a Group of Five school is a double-edged sword. While you’re hoisting a trophy to cap a great season, in the back of your mind you know that the guy who brought you here may soon leave for greener pastures. G5 athletic directors are aware that if they’ve made a good hire, it probably won’t be long before they’re tasked to make a better one.
Within the current power structure of college football G5 schools are largely seen as a stepping stone for Power Five schools. For fans of G5 schools this reality sucks. Your school finally found the guy who has established a winning culture and is taking them to unprecedented success and then within a year, or even months, he’s gone.
But maybe you shouldn’t be bothered by it so much. Perhaps it’s better this way. A few G5 schools have lucked into finding a head coach who wants to be at their school for a while, but are they better off than the schools who are constantly on the market looking for a head coach every three years?
Since 2000 there have been 15 head coaches who have stayed at a G5 school for at least seven years. This is how well they’ve fared.
I included Rocky Long’s tenure at San Diego State and Mark Hudspeth’s tenure at UL since they will be entering their seventh season this year.
Head coaches with 7+ years at G5 school in past 20 years
|Larry Blakeney (Retired)||Troy, Sun Belt||10 years (FBS only)||69-66||5|
|Chris Petersen (Hired Away)||Boise State, WAC/Mountain West||8 years||92-12||8|
|Doc Holliday (Present)||Marshall, C-USA||7 years||53-37||1|
|Rick Stockstill (Present)||Middle Tennessee, C-USA/Sun Belt||11 years||72-66||1|
|Rocky Long (Resigned)||New Mexico, WAC/Mountain West||11 years||65-69||0|
|Frank Solich (Present)||Ohio, MAC||12 years||88-67||0|
|George O'Leary (Retired)||UCF, C-USA/AAC||12 years||81-68||4|
|Howard Schnellenberger (Retired)||FAU, Sun Belt||7 years (FBS only)||58-74||1|
|David Bailiff (Present)||Rice, C-USA||10 years||56-69||1|
|Rocky Long (Present)||San Diego State, Mountain West||6 years||54-26||3|
|Chris Ault (Retired)||Nevada, WAC/Mountain West||9 years (FBS only)||63-40||2|
|Troy Calhoun (Present)||Air Force, Mountain West||10 years||77-53||0|
|Mark Hudspeth (Present)||Louisiana-Lafayette, Sun Belt||6 years||46-31*||2*|
|Ken Niumatalolo (Present)||Navy, Indy/AAC||10 years||77-42||0|
|Pat Hill (Fired)||Fresno State, WAC||15 years||112-80||1|
|Mike Price (Retired)||UTEP, C-USA||8 years||48-61||0|
*UL had to vacate two conference championships and 22 wins during the 2011-2014 season due to NCAA violations during Hudspeth’s tenure.
Many fans believe that if their G5 school can hang on to a coach that’s brought them success that they can become a national powerhouse but based on the data above that isn’t likely to happen as only Boise State has reached that status.
If we’re only factoring just wins and loses, based on the data above I’d say eight of those schools were extremely satisfied that they were able to have a coach who had a long tenure at their school (Air Force, Boise State, Navy, Nevada, Ohio, San Diego State, Troy and UCF).
While I’m sure Western Kentucky fans would have loved to keep Jeff Brohm in Bowling Green and pass on the process of hiring their fourth head coach since 2010, I don’t think they’re willing to trade places with Middle Tennessee fans either.
WKU had a choice to be right alongside their division rivals in hiring Tony Levine who would have been a nice candidate to be a G5 lifer and instead hired up-and-comer Mike Sanford Jr. Rather than get frustrated on being a stepping stone and “settle” WKU has decided to hinge their bets that their program infrastructure has made their previous head coaches successful and not the other way around.
Arkansas State is another example of a school winning big despite the lack of coaching stability as Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn and Bryan Harsin each brought home a Sun Belt title in their only year in Jonesboro.
However, there is something to say about finding a head coach who loves your G5 school enough to remain there for a long period of time. Success is always fleeting for G5 schools as a majority of them are a bad hire away from being at the bottom of the FBS.
Being that resources and talent is essentially the same across the board coaching matters more in the G5 compared to the P5. Getting a known commodity as a head coach who can consistently offer a solid product to fans and get you to bowl games is nothing to thumb your nose at. Not to mention for a lot of G5 schools, just building a consistent football program is enough to satisfy their fan base. Especially schools who are trying to erase years of futility on the gridiron.
For instance, Ohio may not have broken through and captured their first conference title since 1968 under Frank Solich, but they have been to eight bowl games during his tenure. Before he took over in 2005 their last bowl game was 1968.
We’ve seen in multiple cases that a coach and school can become stagnant if they’re together for too long (Ohio actually could be considered one of those schools now). But unlike the fan bases for P5 school who are far more championship driven, I think a majority of G5 fan bases would take a coach who can consistently get them in the postseason without breaking through to win a conference title.
Although there are G5 schools who seek head coaching stability and see themselves as a destination (Houston) rather than a stepping stone, it appears that your school is more likely to win big hiring the next up-and-comer who will leave in three years rather than a coach who’s willing to call your school his final stop in his coaching career.
Head coaching stability could be a good thing for G5 schools, but rarely does it ever end up being great.