Arkansas State has become a football coach’s fantasy site.
The university has turned fulfilling dreams into an art form while the Red Wolves have become a "howling success," on the field.
ASU has had five head football coaches in five years. The last three (Hugh Freeze to Ole Miss, Gus Malzahn to Auburn, and Bryan Harsin to Boise State) have left for their dream jobs.
Yet, under three different head coaches, the Red Wolves have won three straight Sun Belt Conference championships and are making their third straight trip to the GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile, Ala. Actually, if you consider defensive coordinator John Thompson’s tenure last year and now as interim head coach for the bowl game, it’s three and a half coaches.
In your wildest dreams several years ago, could you have imagined Arkansas State turning into such a cradle of coaches?
On the potential candidates’ resumes for the current job, ASU officials might include a line asking about the potential coach’s dream job, then up the buyout for that.
Still, ASU has surpassed Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari for the most effective and efficient use of "one-and-dones." It’s "win one and done."
And in this crazy coaching carousel, the University of Washington just ought to send the check for the buyout of Boise State coach Chris Petersen ($1.3 million) directly to ASU because the buyout for Harsin ($1.75 million) is close to the same.
In this Christmas season, it’s a weird type of regifting.
ASU placing almost a $2 million buyout on its coach? It shows how the culture of that institution — and the college football world — is changing.
Jonesboro has become a primary stop on the way to good coaching jobs.
Baylor, Duke and Rice are all conference or division champions. Getting a coach to shift from Boise State to the University of Washington is considered a prime catch.
What is happening is athletic directors are looking beyond the stars. They see the value of finding the right fit and evaluating and developing players rather than just who can attract the players with the four- and five-recruiting stars.
Evaluating and developing players relates to Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III becoming Heisman Trophy quarterbacks rather than defensive backs like the University of Texas and other schools wanted to make them.
It’s finding a diamond-in-the-rough quarterback like ASU did with Ryan Aplin, who became a cornerstone of the Red Wolves’ recent success.
You will hear a lot of names tossed as potential candidates for ASU, including some with state and local connections such as Auburn’s Rhett Lashlee, Tim Horton and J.B. Grimes, assistant John Thompson, UCA’s Clint Conque, Pulaski Academy’s Kevin Kelly and Henderson State’s Scott Maxfield.
Pundits and fans like the sport of throwing out names in coaching searches. The smart athletic directors don’t look as much as a name as a fit.
ASU’s Terry Mohajir appears to be very proactive and a visionary as an AD.
He has big dreams and he aims high. Maybe more importantly, as ASU AD, he is not bashful about aiming high.
While people talk about ASU not becoming a stepping-stone for coaches, I’m not sure Mohajir worries about that. An institution such as ASU, outside of a major FBS conference, has to be constantly prepared to reload. The last three years have brought exceptional and extraordinary developments that have caused coaches to jump elsewhere.
The fact that Jonesboro has been a location a coach could get to his dreams may be an asset. It’s on the map.
It seems Mohajir, as any good athletic director should, is committed to finding the best coach, selling a vision and continue building the program whether that coach stays for one year or 10.
Remember several years ago when the University of Texas designated assistant Will Muschamp with the silly title of "head coach in waiting" to succeed Mack Brown at Texas? Muschamp bolted head coaching post for the University of Florida, where he is currently on the hot seat in Gainesville. The Gators will not go bowling this season.
Finding the person who can best fortify a program is probably more important than just going the "Catch of the Day."
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)