Advertisement
  1. Sports

Patience leads to poaching for current crop of coveted Group of Five coaches

New University of Oregon NCAA college football coach Willie Taggart jokes with the audience during an introductory press conference in Eugene, Ore., Thursday Dec. 8, 2016.  (Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via AP) OREUG103
New University of Oregon NCAA college football coach Willie Taggart jokes with the audience during an introductory press conference in Eugene, Ore., Thursday Dec. 8, 2016. (Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via AP) OREUG103
Published Dec. 9, 2016

TAMPA — He stood on the rooftop terrace of the Westin Tampa Bay on a cool, overcast afternoon. To his left, Chuck Martin could see Raymond James Stadium. A little farther right, the city skyline.

And somewhere way behind him, the lost — or losses — colony.

Only two months before, the third-year Miami (Ohio) coach seemed stranded there, with no relief in sight. The Redhawks were 0-6, and Martin's winning percentage had regressed from mediocre to microscopic. In 30 games at Miami, he had won five.

"At a lot of places," Martin said, "I would've been gone."

What ensued was an ascension more surreal than his elevator ride Thursday high above the Courtney Campbell Causeway. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Gus Ragland returned from an ACL injury and won his first start. That spawned confidence, followed by mojo.

Now the Redhawks will arrive at the Dec. 26 St. Petersburg Bowl as the only team in Division I-A history to win its last six games after losing its first six.

"I think our story is good for college football," Martin said. "I'm in Year 3 and I'm 0-6 and I had full support of my boss, I had full support of my board, and they knew we were better."

Because of the iconic names — from Ara Parseghian to Woody Hayes to Sean Payton — that have worn whistles on its campus, Miami is widely known as the "cradle of coaches." Maybe paragon of patience is more fitting.

Actually, the latter phrase befits many in Miami's stratosphere. Want to see one of the most glaring contrasts between the Group of Five and Power Five? It's patience, pure and simple.

Consider those who recently have risen from the ranks of the Group of Five: Virginia Tech's Justin Fuente, Baylor's Matt Rhule and Oregon's Willie Taggart all struggled through abysmal seasons at their previous schools — Memphis, Temple and USF, respectively — before resuscitating those programs.

"It's not like we took over Alabama," Taggart said at one point during his 7-21 start at USF.

Even Western Michigan's P.J. Fleck, who appears to be staying with the Broncos for now, went 1-11 three years ago in his first season before leading the program to a 13-0 mark and Cotton Bowl berth.

Yet neither Fuente, Taggart nor Rhule earned even $2 million a year at their previous schools. Fleck is earning slightly more than $820,000 this season, according to USA Today.

Will Taggart, whose contract at Oregon is set to pay $3.2 million annually, be afforded similar latitude in trying to rebuild the UO brand? Is patience inversely proportional to paycheck size at college football's highest level?

Consider Charlie Strong's plight at Texas. By most accounts, Strong greatly replenished the Longhorns talent pool in three years, but was fired after his third consecutive seven-loss season.

Had he existed in a different cradle of coaches — say, in the Group of Five — he might have been afforded a fourth year.

"Schools aren't in complete control anymore, because we like to get paid a lot, which I'm not arguing against that, trust me," said Martin, who is earning $472,300 this season according to USA Today.

"But a lot of time — not necessarily in our league (MAC) but it's gonna happen in our league — there's money coming from outside sources to pay our bills. We hate it when that guy wants me out of my job, but I don't hate it when I'm taking his money. To me, I totally get it."

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.