McGrane: Continuity Makes a Comeback
Jan. 15, 2016
Past Mick McGrane Features
McGrane: Continuity Makes a Comeback
By Mick McGrane, @GoAztecs Senior Writer (@MickOnTheMesa)
Rocky Long didn’t attend college football’s biggest poaching party this week, the one where stealing is not only legal but largely the focal point of the proceedings.
“In this day and age, when you lose a coach, you’re the last one to find out,” Long said of the American Football Coaches Association convention, the annual meet ‘n’ greet where assistant coaches conceivably stumble upon greener grass with promises of brighter futures. “The days of calling the other head coach to let you know that they’re thinking about hiring one of your assistants went away about 10 years ago.”
Something else that went away about 15 years ago: The ability of a single San Diego State head football coach to hold the position more than five years.
As Long turns his attention toward next month’s spring drills after putting together the program’s first 11-win season in 46 years, he does so --- mercifully --- as the first Aztec head coach since Ted Tollner to remain with the program beyond five seasons.
It’s been 15 years and a month since Tollner, who spent eight years (1994-2001) as head coach, was reassigned in the wake of the hiring of Tom Craft. Since then, Aztec head coaches have lasted four (Craft), three (Chuck Long), two (Brady Hoke) and five (Long) years, respectively.
And assuming none of Long’s assistants seek employment elsewhere, 2016 also will mark only the third time since SDSU joined the Mountain West in 1999 that January didn’t bring at least one new addition to the coaching staff.
“I don’t anticipate losing any (coaches); no one seems like they want to leave,” Long said. “But I also know the business. Any coach that has a chance to move up and have more responsibility, I think that’s great for them. Anybody that can move from our situation to a Power 5 team, the difference in salaries is ridiculous. There are coordinators with Power 5 teams that are making over $1 million a year now. If they can triple their salary, I don’t have any problem with them moving up in the world.
“It obviously helps a lot if you have continuity with your coaching staff. I thought our coaches did a nice job with the team this year and it would obviously help if they stayed…But when you win 11 games you’re probably going to lose a coach or two. And I was really thinking we were going to lose two or three of our juniors to the NFL draft. That doesn’t help next year’s team, but that’s part of the business. If you have a good football program, people move up and people move on. Now, if you’re lousy, nobody wants your coaches. If you’re lousy, nobody wants your players.”
Alas, the Aztecs were far from lousy and, ultimately, awfully close to inclusion in the Top 25 (No. 29). And if you don’t think the program’s best season since 1969 didn’t have at least a bit to do with the assistants Long hired prior to last season, consider:
Blane Morgan, who replaced Brian Sipe as the team’s quarterbacks coach, inherited a question mark and turned it into a position of prosperity. Graduate transfer Maxwell Smith, who may petition the NCAA for an injury waiver and return next season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, threw for 1,529 yards and 13 touchdowns. More impressive, however, was that Smith did not throw an interception after Sept. 12, a span of 164 attempts. Meanwhile, redshirt freshman Christian Chapman, starting in place of Smith in the MW Championship game against Air Force, merely finished the contest with a pass efficiency rating of 209.66, the second-best mark in SDSU history among quarterbacks making their first start. He then proceeded to lead the Aztecs to a 42-7 win over Cincinnati in the Hawai’i Bowl to cap the team’s first 10-game win streak since 1976-77.
Bobby Hauck, who reprised his role as a special teams coordinator after serving as head coach at Montana and UNLV, respectively, the previous 12 seasons, was masterful. Hauck, who has coached special teams 22 of the last 23 seasons, guided SDSU to a finish of No. 23 nationally in the ESPN Special Teams Efficiency rankings. Sophomore running back Rashaad Penny, the MW Special Teams Player of the Year, set a school record with three kickoff returns for touchdowns, the third coming on the opening kickoff of the Hawai’i Bowl.
Hunkie Cooper, who replaced longtime wide receivers coach LeCharls McDaniel and quickly became known for his passion and drive, figured prominently in the Aztecs’ run-heavy offense by making downfield blocking as much a priority as pass catching. Junior Eric Judge and sophomore Mikah Holder ranked first and second in yards per catch with averages of 19.7 and 18.3, respectively.
If Long’s entire staff returns to a program expected to have 13 offensive and defensive starters back upon commencement of spring drills, the Aztecs could well push the boundary ever farther next season. Yet this much is certain: For the first time since 1999, a head coach at SDSU will begin a sixth consecutive season.
Continuity makes a comeback.
“All coaches go into (losing programs) believing they can (win), or they wouldn’t go into that situation,” Long said. “But, to be honest, if they think they know they (can win), they’re lying; they don’t know. A coach’s personality has to fit the place they come to. Coaches can be very successful in one setting and very unsuccessful in another. Their personalities have to fit. And then you have to have other people in the (athletic) department who are willing to let you have a chance to be successful.
“I think coaches have confidence that they can do it, but everything has to be in place. You have to have the support systems in place. You have to have an athletic director who’s going to help you. You have to have a president who is willing to help. You have to have other coaches within the athletic department who are willing to let you have a chance to be successful. If those things aren’t in place, it doesn’t matter how good the coach is.”
Not only are those things in place, they are a fixture.