Are former AAC coaches regretting their Power 5 decisions?
Sometimes, the grass just isn't greener on the other side. We've heard this phrase used many times before, and a lot in coaching circles. Guys bring Group of 5 teams to new heights in hopes that they can turn it into a Power 5 gig. The AAC has produced a number of head coaches to the Power 5 level, with various levels of success. Guys are finding that they had a good thing going at their previous jobs, and it makes you wonder what could have been had they stayed. With the success this conference continues seeing along with their #Power6 initiative, it makes you wonder if the struggles of some of these coaches will influence future decisions.
The AAC's been thriving over the last few years. A national championship in 2017, New Years Six bowl game appearances, Power 5 upsets, and now a potential playoff appearance have all come to this conference. Those things don't happen without good coaching. You'd like to think that level of success would keep coaches around for a while, but coaches are still leaving for the Power 5. Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell already bucked that trend last year, but we will see what happens in the next coaching carousel. Fickell's just the latest AAC coach to gain national attention thanks to his teams 8-0 start along with talks of a playoff appearance, and nearly everyone assumes he will leave for a Power 5 job. But should he? There's evidence to suggest he would be wise to stick with the Bearcats and build them into something special.
Geoff Collins took over a Temple program that just won 20 games in the previous two seasons under Matt Rhule. While Rhule found success outside of the AAC and eventually turned his next college job into an NFL gig, Collins hasn't found the same luck. While he didn't maintain Rhule's success, he went 15-10 with the Owls and took over the Georgia Tech program. It's been a struggle ever since as the Yellow Jackets are now 5-14 under Collins, including 2-5 this year. While it hasn't been great, moving on from a triple option offense isn't exactly the easiest thing to do, and it might be another year before Tech is a decent competitor in the ACC.
Let's stay in Collins' conference for the next two. Justin Fuente did wonders for the Memphis Tigers program. In fact, he produced the program's first 10-win season ever as well as the best two year stretch of wins (19) in Memphis history (a record that didn't stand long). One of the hottest coaches at the time, Virginia Tech made him Frank Beamer's successor in 2016. Fuente quickly rattled off 19 more wins in his first two seasons with the Hokies, but the success has died down a bit since that point. In the next three years, including this year, Virginia Tech's won 18 games and currently sits at 4-5 with losses Liberty, Wake Forest, and Pitt. Rumors are circulating that Fuente's lost valuable connections and there are talks about him being fired at the end of the year. With the success Memphis experienced after Fuente left, you could go either way with how you feel about his choice. His successor has a long way to go before anyone thinks he made the correct decision.
Mike Norvell took Memphis to a new level in his tenure. A first time head coach surprised many by finishing with a record of 38-16, including three AAC Championship Game appearances and one conference title. Norvell's offenses were some of the best in college football, producing talent like Anthony Miller, Darrell Henderson and many more. The most impressive part about that is he did it with multiple offensive coordinators. So when he took over for Florida State, it seemed like he'd continue that success. It's been a disaster from the start.
This was early in Norvell's tenure, which isn't what you want to see from your new head coach. There were other incidents with certain players upset about Norvell too, and now the play on the field continues to be lackluster. Wilson is out for the season, Tamorrion Terry is no longer with the program, and the Seminoles still don't have a reliable quarterback in a year where they're 2-6. Yes, it's the first year for Norvell, so time is need if he's going to point this program in the right direction. However, this is his first attempt at turning around a program and it hasn't started well.
Scott Frost seemed destined to coach at Nebraska, a program that needed plenty of help to get back to national relevancy. Coming off of a national championship at UCF, the writing was on the wall for Frost to lead the Cornhuskers. Fate turned quickly to frustration, and Frost's future with Nebraska seems up in the air. JD Spielman transferred, Adrian Martinez struggled his way to the bench, and the Cornhuskers lost to Illinois this past weekend. Nebraska fell to 10-18 under Frost, and it's looking like Frost might have left something special for something not quite the same.
Tom Herman's arguably the exception to this, however the frustrations and doubt about his future align with the four above. Herman currently sits at 30-17 at Texas, including three bowl wins and a conference championship game appearance. However, he's 1-4 against rival Oklahoma, yet to finish a season with less than four losses, zero conference championships and zero playoff appearances. Herman knew the expectations were high when he came to Austin, but he's yet to deliver. This one's the toughest to stomach, because he went 22-4 at Houston with just as many New Years Six bowl game wins. It really felt like he was going to bring Houston to a new level, and the Cougars also were in the running to make the College Football Playoff for most of the 2017 season.
Whether you like it or not, the AAC's closing the gap between themselves and the Power 5 conferences. The Big 12 just knocked itself out of playoff contention with Oklahoma handing Oklahoma State its second loss. The Pac-12 has been mostly underwhelming, leaving room for Cincinnati to be a legitimate contender. A playoff appearance skyrockets Fickell to the top of every team's list if he's not there already, putting him in position to make a decision like those above that went before him. We've seen examples of success, but the current trend isn't promising. With where the Bearcats and the AAC want to go, it makes more sense for Fickell to stay put and build Cincinnati into something great. That's a path less traveled, and would make him more memorable than being just another guy at a Power 5 school.