Rice announced today that David Bailiff will return for his 11th season as the Owl head coach. Bailiff's job was considered in jeopardy after a second straight losing season. All this follows a run of three straight bowl games and an unprecedented four bowls in seven years. Let's put that in perspective in graphical form.
Notice Rice's success: By in large, the Owls best years were under the venerable Jess Neely. Neely of course of the 144 career wins and the only coach since the Kennedy Administration to coach more than one year with a winning record (screw you Todd Graham). The Owls were a laughing stock and perennial homecoming opponent in the 1970's, 80's and even into the 90's until a few good Fred Goldsmith years and an uptick under Ken Hatfield after the Owls transitioned to the WAC.
Bailiff has the highest winning percentage of any coach at Rice since the 1970's, unless you count Todd Graham and why would you? Actually other than Hatfield and Goldsmith, it's not even close. Rice has been a dead end for coaches for forty plus years and Bailiff has changed that in part because now we actually expect the Owls to win. We're surprised when they spew forth a 3-9 season. That used to be cause for celebration.
Bailiff has taken the Owls to as many bowl games as the Owls accounted in the previous 60 years combined. Let that marinate.
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Things do need to change at West U and it looks like part of that change is coming by default with the retirements of defensive coordinator Chris Thurmond and secondary coach Larry Hoefer. The question will be can Bailiff upgrade his staff with the anvil of a win or else season hanging over his head. Thurmond's bend and don't break defense was subpar in 2016, continuing a trend from 2015. The Owls ranked 123rd in total defense in 2016.
Rice may also make some changes on the offensive side of the ball where the Owls ranked in the 86th in total offense, 74th in rushing offense. The Owls were at their best in the Bailiff era when they could run the football at an above average rate.
Can Rice pry away a bright defensive mind to run the defense in the next few weeks? That remains to be seen, but we still think Rice's best talent are underclassmen who'll be assets on defense in 2017. Plus, if Rice can stay somewhat healthy, something Rice couldn't do this season, they'll already be in a much better place. This year the Owls had to eight or nine offensive line combinations and played a number of young players on both lines of scrimmage. According to their Stanford depth chart they'll return eight starters on each side of the ball and every specialist.
Bailiff also has access to the Patterson Sports Performance Center for the first time during this offseason and recruiting cycle. Maybe the new end zone complex helps with recruiting, but at this point Bailiff can't wait on player development he'll need to win now.