With the coaching carousel just about over as BYU and Georgia Southern are the only schools who have yet to announce a new head coach, I began to wonder what exactly is a breakthrough season for a Group of Five program.
With salaries reaching the millions for coaching staffs, fan bases want results, and want them fast. Therefore, a breakthrough season must be reached within the first four, if not three years in a head coach's tenure or they might fear getting the axe.
The Houston Cougars hit the jackpot this year as Tom Herman guided the Cougars to a 12-win season and won the G5 bid to play Florida State in the Peach Bowl in his first year on the job. Matt Rhule guided the Temple Owls to a 10-win season in his third season in Philadelphia.
After two less-than stellar seasons in East Carolina, Ruffin McNeil won ten games including a bowl win in his third season in 2013. After winning seven games in two years Justin Fuente won ten games in his third season at Memphis including a bowl win in 2014.
Obviously, a ten-win season is going to be considered a breakthrough year for every G5 program, bowl win or not. But what about the teams that end the season with seven wins or six?
Todd Monken went 1-11 and 3-9 before guiding Southern Miss to a C-USA West division title and a nine win season this year. Had he gone 6-6 would this year still have been considered a breakthrough. I would say yes considering the mess he inherited at Southern Miss.
For others however, I would be more skeptical in calling a six-win campaign a breakthrough for a program. FAU has finished the season 3-9 in each of Charlie Partridge's first two seasons as head coach. FIU has gone 1-11, 4-8, and 5-7 under Ron Turner. Would a six win season next year really be considered a breakthrough for either fan base?
I don't think so, but if you are looking for a purely numerical boost in wins then maybe the jump from 2-10 or 3-9 to 6-6 is good enough for you.
Every case is different but unless a coach inherits a complete mess such as Doug Martin at New Mexico State or Paul Petrino at Idaho, the bar for breakthrough seasons at G5 schools should be at least eight wins during a head coach’s tenure, especially if said coach achieves that total during the first three to four years of their tenure.
So all you fans of G5 schools with new coaches starting next season, a minimum of eight wins over the next four years is a must if you are looking for signs of breaking through and receiving the G5 bid to represent the underdogs against a P5 opponent in a prestigious bowl.