Three schools, three vacancies, three hires. So how did UNT, Texas State, and UTSA do? Great question, glad we asked. Grading the hires at this point is impossible, based solely on experience and reputation, similar to grading recruiting classes on signing day or Def Leppard albums based on their covers. But who cares, the Round-up has never been limited by the constraints of time or facts, so here we go.
Texas State - Everett Withers
Coming in at the dreaded first spot, the best of the three hires in our opinion, the Texas State Bobcats and Everett Withers. The Bobcats went outside the box in hiring Withers away from James Madison. Withers won 18 games in two seasons as the head man at JMU, taking the Dukes to two straight FCS playoff appearances. He’s also been an interim coach at North Carolina after the academic scandal of the Butch Davis era. Withers went 7-6 and made a bowl game his one season in charge in Chapel Hill.
Strengths: Simple, he’s done it before. He’s been a head coach, a position that is much more CEO nowadays than chalk jockey. Withers has managed coaches, support staff, donors, alums, fans, and expectations. He also has experience working with some of the best minds in the game from Mack Brown to Urban Meyer to Butch Davis. Plenty of titles between those three. (Sorry Larry Coker, you were caretaker of Butch’s guys.) Withers has won or been associated with winners at every turn.
Weaknesses: Withers has limited connections with the state of Texas and this recruiting region. Withers spent time on Mack Brown’s staff in the late 90’s, but that was almost 20 years ago now. If twitter is to be believed the Bobcats have offered several players from Virginia to fill out the 2016 recruiting class, that’s great and all, but the Bobcats will need to make their bread in Texas to compete long term.
Overall: Solid hire for Texas State. If Withers can beat the bushes around the state and find some players, he knows how to organize and implement a system and will find success. If he keeps looking in Newport News for talent, this may be a long couple of years.
North Texas - Seth Littrell
North Texas takes the silver medal with Seth Littrell. Littrell is a very good offensive mind having honed his skills as the OC at Arizona, Indiana and most recently North Carolina. Littrell played running back at OU and eventually joined Mike Leach’s staff of pirates at Texas Tech.
Strengths: Littrell has run an offensive system at some big Power 5 jobs. Leach’s influence is clear, but Littrell has also worked for some other offensive innovators including Kevin Wilson and Larry Fedora. Littrell knows the state fairly well, having coached in Norman and coached at Tech.
Weaknesses: This will get redundant but, collegiate head coaches are CEOs. They are managers of people and resources. This will be Littrell’s first rodeo at the CEO part of the job. His staff hires will be critical to his success.
Overall: To grab a coordinator from a successful Power 5 school is significant for North Texas. Littrell is a nice hire, he’ll have great facilities and a fertile recruiting base to draw to and from. With the resources he has, Littrell will have to prove he can run his own show.
UTSA: Frank Wilson
Rounding out the new hires is UTSA’s Frank Wilson. Wilson was a high school coach in New Orleans at Perry Walker prior to taking a running backs coach position with Ed Ogeron’s staff at Ole Miss. Collegiately Wilson has coached at Ole Miss, Southern Miss, Tennessee, and most recently at LSU.
Strengths: Wilson is a voracious and talented recruiter responsible for bringing in boatloads of talent at every stop. He is known for his organization and tireless efforts to sign big fish. Wilson made a huge impact at an inner city New Orleans high school not only on the field but off it as well.
Weaknesses: This is Wilson’s first collegiate head coaching gig so he’ll have a higher learning curve than most. The fact that Wilson has never been an offensive coordinator, in charge of not only scheme but also a number of coaches makes the curve steeper. While a great recruiter, that role will be handed off primarily to his staff. Wilson will need to set a tone and develop and offensive and defensive identity for the Roadrunners. All that while putting together a recruiting class in the next two weeks.
Overall: Overall: Wilson is a huge risk/reward hire for UTSA. The risk is Wilson’s never having been a head coach or coordinator at the collegiate level. That typically doesn’t bode well for a head coach, particularly one who faces the rebuild that Wilson does. On the other hand, if Wilson can assemble a group of coaches who are half the recruiter he is, and if Wilson can bring an identity to San Antonio, the sky may be the limit.
So there you have, the Round-up’s oh-so-not-scientific ranking of the new coaching hires. Regardless of how things ultimately pan out for any of these three, the key to success will depend on success in three areas:
1. Developing an identity both offensively and defensively. The Round-up harps on this any chance we get because it matters as much as anything else. Ask yourself, what do you want to do well and work to bring in players to do that and never stop developing your program to do be excellent in those areas. Know who you are better than anyone else does.
2. Recruit, Recruit, Recruit. All three of these schools can draw a 100 mile circle around their campuses and find every player they need in that circle. Go find those players. Players like Larry Rose from Fairfield who was a small school stud that now plies his craft in Las Cruces, New Mexico because his only offers were from Abilene Christian and New Mexico State. Those players are all over North and Central Texas.
3. Market who you want to be not who you are. Art Briles walked onto a Baylor campus that hadn’t finished better than 5th in the South of the Big 12 and told everyone he was going to win Conference Titles and National Titles. We all laughed. We ain’t laughing now. Tom Herman championed the #Htowntakeover and we all thought it was a neat hashtag, but Herman made a commitment and more importantly made the University make a commitment to the details of running a program and now the Cougars are a preseason top 10 squad in 2016. Already we’ve seen an uptick in UTSA, North Texas, and Texas State’s social media presence. All three have increased the salary allotment for assistant coaches. All three have flashy hashtags and instagram accounts that the young moderns seem to love so much. All three coaches must now go about selling a vision for how things will be.