clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A look at how coaching hires changed the trajectory of the AAC

Having the right head coach matters no matter what conference you play in, but especially so in the AAC.

NCAA FOOTBALL: OCT 04 SMU at East Carolina Photo by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I found myself watching Temple at ECU. That’s not unusual. I certainly wasn’t going to be watching the NFL over any college game. The strange thing is that I found myself rooting for ECU.

I don’t like ECU. I have no connection to ECU. I didn’t have money on ECU. I don’t dislike Temple. So, why did I want the Pirates to win?

The truth is that I felt bad for ECU.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 21 William & Mary at East Carolina Photo by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium had a good sized crowd, especially considering this was a Thursday night game and ECU hasn’t won more than 3 games in a season since 2015. The AAC has shifted out from under ECU’s feet in that time. As they stumbled, others have emerged leaving them behind.

Still, getting left behind was their own fault. ECU had a solid program under Ruffin McNeill. After a slight stumble in 2015, down to 5 wins, the Pirates moved on from McNeill. They want to try and take the next step forward.

They fell about a dozen steps backwards, when they made an awful coaching hire in Scottie Montgomery, who never figured out how to win in Greenville.

East Carolina v Cincinnati

The shame of the situation? If ECU had decided to move on a year earlier, their offensive coordinator was a nobody named Lincoln Riley. He’d been the offensive coordinator for 5 seasons. They could have just promoted him. Now, he’s off in some flyover state doing something, I’m told. You probably haven’t heard much about him.

ECU could have an explosive offense, and be recruiting at the top of the AAC. Instead, they’re towards the bottom. It’s a brief example of how fickle being a G5 program can be. The right coach, the right recruiter and talent developer, can turn a program from 0-12 to 13-0 in two seasons.

That’s life in the AAC. You’re only as good as your next hire, because someone is trying to poach your coach.

Look at the two Florida schools in the AAC. Former USF coach Willie Taggart was poached by Oregon following the 2016 season. USF replaced him with Charlie Strong. It seemed like a good idea. Strong had success in the conference, at Louisville and was touted as a strong recruiter in Florida.

South Florida v Cincinnati

Check-in with your local Bulls fan, they’re likely in a padded room, shouting about how Strong should be gone.

Charlie Strong inherited a 10 win team. Now, in his third season, things are so bad that I wouldn’t be surprised if he leaves USF as a 10 loss team. That’s how quickly the wrong coach can sink a program.

On the other hand, UCF needed to bring in a new coach in 2016. They figured, go for a young and energetic, offensive mind. You probably heard about how well it worked. It worked so well, that after just two seasons, Scott Frost had been hired away by Nebraska.

UCF did their best to hire a replica of Frost, in Josh Heupel. Both were former national championship quarterbacks. Both had never been head coaches, rather they ran explosive offenses, as offensive coordinators.

AAC Championship - Memphis v Central Florida Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

So far, it’s worked again for UCF. Heupel is currently 16-3 as a head coach, and continues to have the Knights trending upwards. Still, if he ever moves on, UCF will need another good hire to maintain their current success.

Other programs know this reality too.

Tulane chose Willie Fritz as their head coach. Fritz is a winner, and always has been. He’s also a slow builder, rather than a quick burning fuse of a coach. Memphis has done everything possible to keep Mike Norvell in Southwest Tennessee. Houston saw chinks in the armor during Major Applewhite’s tenure, so they went out and paid big time dollars for their ideal head coach in Dana Holgorsen.

Yes, Lincoln Riley would likely have a new job by now, had the Pirates offered him the job in 2015. ECU would have needed to make a strong hire to replace him, but they didn’t ever hire him in the first place. Now, they’ve been left behind by other AAC teams.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 21 William & Mary at East Carolina Photo by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Mike Houston was the best AAC coaching hire entering the 2019 season. He’ll bring ECU back to relevance. Unfortunately, he’ll also probably move onto greener pastures, for more money and prestige. When that happens, ECU will need to make another strong hire, or they’ll have to hit the reset button on their program, again.