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The MAC Is Either At A Crossroads Or Just Passing Through

Obvious crossroad is obvious. (photo via <a href="" target="new">Flickr/Jon's snaps</a>)
Obvious crossroad is obvious. (photo via Flickr/Jon's snaps)

In the movie Castaway, Tom Hanks (spoiler!) is standing in the last scene at a road intersection, because his life and the world around him have changed very much after talking to a volleyball for a couple of years. The Houston Oilers became the Tennessee Titans! If you had to absorb that transition overnight, you'd find yourself at a METAPHORICAL AND PHYSIOLOGICAL CROSSROADS too.

This brings up a couple poignant points:

  • 10 years is the statue of limitations before freely spoiling movies, right? Maybe it's five. Check your local ordinance. Castaway came out in 2000, so we oughta be in the clear.
  • Has there ever been a more obvious metaphor depicted at the end of a film? I mean, good Lord. A freaking crossroad. Even if you sat through that film and bought into the whole escaping-from-the-island ploy ... a crossroad!? A soliloquy to the camera would've been subtler. 

Oh, and this is about the MAC losing all their coaches and being in flux and all that good stuff. Y'know, the subject of this website.

My good friend Peter Schinkai posted a concerned citizen letter of sorts on his The Mac Daily website soon after the third MAC football coach this offseason left to a much nicer program with shiny facilities:

Either it needs to throw some money behind its programs, start paying its coaches, building better facilities and taking proactive steps to keep good coaches in MAC schools, or its going to become completely irrelevant. But, it can be done.

Yeah. Two of 'em left last year, and a sixth the year before that, and ... well, look, you saw the table. Lump in the firings and resignations, and this means that Bill Cubit and Frank Solich are the only two MAC coaches with more than two years experience at their current institution. Basically the MAC is the truck stop where FCS high-risers and big-time coordinators show up to turn around a hapless program, then prove to a bigger school that they can do it again.

So it's CROSSROADS TIME. Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher needs to do some serious thinking, and it would help if he actually stood in the middle of a road intersection (with no traffic oncoming, of course). Agenda items to ponder:

  1. Al Golden was bound to leave sooner or later. You couldn't keep a guy that won at Temple. If Temple were in the Big East he'd have bolted as soon as they made a bowl game.
  2. Jerry Kill to Minnesota was a little strange ... but he's always been a coaching gadabout ever since his Saginaw Valley State days, which was suddenly four schools ago.
  3. Haywood to Pitt was just goofy. But, mumble mumble Cradle of Coaches.
  4. Other coaches who at one point decided to leave the MAC for bigger schools: Woody Hayes, Ara Parseghian, Urban Meyer, Don Nehlen, Gary Pinkel, Nick Saban, and Bo Schembechler.
  5. I have no idea why everybody named in the previous bullet point were from only Miami, Toledo, and Bowling Green. What the hell are the rest of you doing?

This is the way it's always been. The diaspora is slightly higher than we're used to — I don't know when the last time three MAC coaches were hired away in the same calendar year, if ever. Probably not. But is this a trend or an aberration? (Don't answer now. Stand on a crossroad and think about it.)

What Peter and I would probably agree is that the MAC doesn't have many great institutionalized coaches in the league. Solich and Cubit probably aren't going anywhere — but what the heck do I know, Cubit was fielding questions about the Temple job — but we don't have the Herb Deromedi, the Doyt Perry, the Bill Hess in our lives. I don't think we're ever going to experience that coach again. You need the right situation and the right guy with a love for his hometown, like Tom Amstutz, who I once wrote that would probably stay coaching the Rockets for as long as he wanted. That was an incorrect assumption.

Now it's time to turn this conversation on its head by oversimplifying the question: is it possible that this coaching flight is a good thing for the conference? Well, heck, we have the reputation. ("Cradle of Coaches" is sort of venerable.) Maybe it's the small-school mentality bestowed within the university presidents and athletic directors who constantly feel the need to prove themselves to the big-name schools with limitless resources and infinite ESPN exposure. That's another point, now that I think about it: the continuity of athletic directors in the MAC is pretty solid. They sometimes leave, but not as quickly as the playcallers and recruiters, e.g., the faces of the program. And which one has more influence, at the end of the day? CMU might've had three football coaches in six years, but Dave Heeke was the constant throughout that time period.

I hope you're still standing on that crossroad, because we're not done.

While this is all ongoing, realignment is going to creep back into the national sports fan's consciousness. Other teams want to join the Bowl Subdivision, and conferences like the WAC and Big XII are in trouble. The MAC could easily be pulled apart by the right cash-fueled forklift, so one way to avoid that is to expand to more teams, strengthening its numbers. You all know of the rumor that UMass is going to make the jump, perhaps to our humble borough. Others may follow suit to create a Middle America that extends to New England for some flipping reason. But this is a direction they might take.

So there might be some cost-effective ways to keep the coaches, and that'll also strengthen the continuity of the conference. It'll not only help fans remember the names, but allow conference-specific bloggers to not have to update the goddamn sidebar every other day during the offseason.

Here's an off-the-cuff idea that may very well be neither feasible nor innovative: When Kent State, Ball State, Temple, and now Miami hire the next great rising star in the coaching ranks, include in the contract a stipulation that if another school hires them away in three years, their new destination has to pay the MAC school x dollars. Sure, upgrades to facilities would be nice — REALLY nice, especially for Ball State — as would anything else they're jonesing to do to improve the overall rockitude of the athletic experience. They should always be thinking about this.

Personally, I'm thinking the road on the four-way stop that oughta be driven down is the one that increases accessibility for fans of the schools that have since moved away. We all can't go to games every Saturday, because we've moved and have "lives" (okay, SOME of us), so perks like video highlights and a more centralized entity of discussion and intrigue on the conference would liven up the general excitement. That might get coaches to stay and better players to arrive. So, yes, ideas need to be vetted and considered for a continuously better conference. This is always the case. But as for a conference that's left with several greenhorns ... that's probably aberrational.

Remain standing on the crossroad, now have the camera pan out ... and ROLL CREDITS.