February 06, 2017
By Chris Stanley
Whether they like it or not, college football coaches wear more than one hat over the course of a year on the job.
There was a time in the days of leather helmets and racially segregated rosters that all a college football coach had to do was recruit and coach. Nothing more, nothing less. Yes, it was a simpler time. However, like the black and white televisions games watched then, those times are long gone.
College football is now a multi-billion dollar industry, thanks to uber-lucrative television contracts and the advertisers willing to pour out a king’s ransom just so your eyeballs can see Jennifer Garner get angry about your credit card choices.
The money being brought into the sport has raised the stakes for every school in Division I. Athletic departments are essentially small, internal businesses within the university working to market a brand out to not just put fans in seats buying overpriced popcorn and soda – but to show television networks they’re worth watching so they, too, can get a bigger cut of those precious ad-fueled payouts.
Football and basketball reign supreme over most athletic departments, making them the biggest money generators for the schools’ athletic departments and, in turn, the universities themselves. At the forefront of those programs are not the players (that’s a different argument for a different column) but the head coaches instead.
A head coach of a D-1 college football or basketball program are the de-facto poster boys. When you think of Alabama football, who do you think of first? It’s not Jalen Hurts or OJ Howard, it’s Nick Saban or Bear Bryant, depending on what era you’re from.
Ohio State? Urban Meyer. For the longest time at Boise State it was Chris Peterson and even closer to home you could pull the same analogy for Mark Richt and Georgia. These coaches stand at the forefront of their respective programs, making them more than just coaches or recruiters.
These guys are public relations specialists, fundraisers and salesmen, as well as coaches and recruiters. Their job is around the clock, because when the season ends you have to go recruit and when the recruiting cycle is done you have media days and when media days are done it’s back to fall workouts.
It’s a vicious cycle that every D-1 coach has to live with, even guys like Saban, who are about as warm and fuzzy as penguin feces. It’s something all coaches have come to learn and adapt to, even right here in Statesboro.
While Georgia Southern is a baby in the landscape of D-1 FBS college football, it’s still a name that’s known from its dominance at the FCS level and upsetting D-1 bluebloods like Florida back in 2013. So when things aren’t going right in Statesboro, certain situations can still draw the national eye right here to Bulloch County.
It’s a part of the job that whether he likes it or not, Georgia Southern head coach Tyson Summers has to live with. When something goes wrong under your watch, you’ve got to handle the PR to clean up the mess.
In the ranks of the NFL, Jeff Fisher managed to make a 22-year career of .500 football seem great because he was a master of PR. The media lapped up every word he said and it extended his career far longer than it probably should have been.
Les Miles is another example in the college ranks of someone who was excellent at PR despite consistently underperforming with tons of NFL talent. Even though it was a necessary football move, Summers made a necessary PR move in December with the hire of Bryan Cook as the Eagles’ new offensive coordinator.
When I asked Summers if this was a good PR move for the programs at Cook’s introductory presser, the second-year head coach was puzzled at first by the wording of the question. After rewording my question, Summers finally came back with this: “We want to bring in the good people and people who knew how to run the ball. Bryan’s proved that as the OC at Cal Poly and as a coach at Georgia Tech.”
It was a necessary move for the program – built on its pride of being able to run the ball in the option style better than anyone else – and a necessary move for his own well-being.
Fans were calling for Summers’ head following a 4-7 start to the season, and had it not been for an upset win against Troy in the final game of the year the former Colorado State defensive coordinator might be looking for a DC gig elsewhere this season.
The decision to bring in Rance Gillespie and David Dean as co-coordinators with no prior option experience was a move last August that looking back in hindsight probably wasn’t scrutinized enough. The two were handed the keys to a Ferrarri Berlinetta and repeatedly ran it into a guardrail.
If you follow the advanced efficiency metrics engineered by SB Nation’s Bill Connelly like I do, those can illustrate just how dramatic the fall was. Keep in mind Georgia Southern brought back its top five rushers from 2015 with three returning offensive lineman.
With all of that talent, the Eagles went from being the ninth ranked rushing offense in the country to the 117th. In 2015 Georgia Southern had the most explosive rushing offense as ranked by Connelly’s numbers, however this season the Eagles dropped to 90.
Matt Breida, GS’s leading rusher from 2015 went from gaining 1615 yards at 7.9 yards a carry to gaining just 646 yards at 3.8 yards a carry. The last time America saw something so great fall so quickly Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling were selling Enron stock and testifying on Capitol Hill.
Either way, even though Summers never outright said it at the press conference it was obvious he knew Dean and Gillespie had to go at some point before the Troy game. It less than 24 hours after GS’s 28-24 win over the Trojans the dual OC’s were relieved of their duties.
So Summers went out and hired an OC who had an option background in Cook, who not only served under the tutelage of Georgia Southern legend and current Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson but was the OC at Cal Poly where he ran the option to great effect.
Additionally, Summers went out and hired Bob Bodine and Juston Wood – both of the option tree – to come in and fill out the offensive staff. These moves aren’t just football moves, they’re PR moves too.
Summers could have easily flipped a middle finger to the fan base like Brian VanGorder did and ignored the entire option identity. However he didn’t, he went out and not only made good football moves but made the necessary PR moves to buy some love from Georgia Southern’s hyper-passionate fan base.
GS’s fans wanted the option, they pleaded for the option and by God they got the option back. This should be a positive sign for Georgia Southern fans to show Summers isn’t stubborn and he is open to adapting his philosophies to save his job and getting the program back to where it was in 2015.
Cook said Georgia Southern will be a gun option team, plain and simple. This should be enough to calm the nerves of fans until they get a legit taste of what’s to come in 2017 on April 1 during the spring game.
Because as Summers said during that presser, he knows no matter how good the offense is next season or how aesthetically pleasing it is –he better do one thing and one thing only this upcoming season.