jump to example.com

Chris Graham: The bungled JMU football coaching search

A report Thursday in The Breeze, the student newspaper at JMU, has the school accepting applications from parties interested in the open football coach job through Dec. 11.

jmu logoCue head scratch here.

Inexplicably, James Madison fired a legend, Mickey Matthews, who won a national title in 2004 and raised the program’s profile to the level that the university has considered jumping up to FBS, and it did so without having a plan in place for who his replacement would be.

All you can say to that is, Wow.

Every day that we get closer to Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, is a day wasted in terms of National Signing Day, which is the biggest day outside of game day in any college football program. Recruits lining up their school options get less likely by the day to put or keep JMU in their plans. No doubt rival coaches are poaching the commits that Matthews had in the wings for the class of 2014.

The Breeze report has the school working on a timetable of “two to three weeks” past the Dec. 11 application deadline to have a new coach in place. So we’re talking the week of Christmas or as late as the week of Jan. 1.

Again, Wow.

The next coach, whoever it is, will already be behind the 8-ball when he gets into town. His first priority will be on trying to retain as much of the current undergrad roster as he can. That’s right – don’t assume that current players, uncertain of the future, aren’t already mulling over other options for continuing their careers. Then second, the new coach will have to do his best to keep as much of Matthews’ 2014 recruiting class intact as he can.

You can almost write off adding anything significant in terms of new recruits to the incoming class. Which won’t be as much a problem in the fall, because few true freshmen make an immediate impact on game days as true freshmen, but the lack of depth from this class will hurt in years down the line.

It’s hard to imagine that JMU could have bungled this any worse than it already has. Athletics director Jeff Bourne was already under fire from alums for getting rid of Matthews in the first place. Now the realization that Bourne sacked Matthews without having a coach-in-waiting has to make you wonder if the AD has the slightest clue as to what he’s doing.

  • JMU Alum

    Considering a jump to the FCS? Umm, they are currently in the FCS.

    Also, this alum and most I know who also have season tickets to the games are in favor of a coaching change.

  • JMU Alum/Fan

    Bourne is under fire by alums for firing Mickey? I’m not sure where you got that. Most seem to be in favor of a change or, at best, are split.

    Also, your outrage over the coaching search is somewhat silly since you don’t seem to have any actual information as to what the administration is doing. You cite a job posting being open until December 11th as proof? Really?

    This is a national search with national interest from a number of quality candidates. And maybe some that are not quality. *cough Stinespring *cough. Perhaps it is better to just relax and wait for the process to play out before reacting without really any information.

  • afp

    Edit being made to “FBS.” I-A and I-AA are still natural terms.

  • afp

    I must have missed the comments sections on stories populated by the alums who wanted a change. I wrote a column on the firing the day it happened explaining in detail why it happened and why it was a good move.

    I’m explaining here that not having already had somebody in mind when making the move to get rid of Mickey makes no sense. Fiddle while Rome burns all you want. The recruiting drumbeat will go on without you participating, basically, and this isn’t an issue with short-term, but rather long-term implications.

  • JMU fan in Indiana

    This is a terrible article. So many dumb assumptions are being made in this article about where JMU is in the process, having a plan or not having plan, the comment that you can “write off anything significant in terms of recruits”, the comment that “the lack of depth in this class will hurt in years down the line,” the sentiment of the fan base, and on and on.

    Why do you have to have a coach in waiting to be successful? It’s a search. It happens all the time, top notch programs included. Nick Saban became the coach at Alabama on January 3rd. Les Miles was hired by LSU on January 2nd. USC hired Pete Carroll on December 15th. Spurrier was hired to coach Florida back in the day on December 31.

    Also, what percentage of the fan base is upset Matthews was fired? Who have you talked to? The message boards are overwhelmingly saying thank you and good luck, it was time.

    Was any research done at all for this article? Simply trying to stir the pot, which I guess is part of your job, but do something credible.

  • afp

    Day of the firing, I saw several comments critical of Jeff Bourne and supportive of Mickey in comments sections on stories announcing the firing. I was surprised, because I am among those who supported the move, and saw it coming over the course of the weeks leading up to the end of the regular season, and thought others would have seen it coming, too.

    (Link to my article on the firing: http://augustafreepress.com/chris-graham-surprised-jmu-sacking-mickey-matthews/)

    If what we want to say now is that the overwhelming majority of JMU alums supported the move, I’m fine with that. Not sure that I see it that way, but the point that I make in this column, criticizing Bourne for firing a coach with a long track record of success without having a plan in place for naming a successor, doesn’t turn on that single line.

    Regarding Bourne, if this wasn’t something that was a knee-jerk reaction to another late-season fade on the part of the athletics administration, it seems logical that Bourne would have been working on his short list of replacements for some time, perhaps as early as the Monday after the ODU loss last year.

    Whether you want to accept this or not, this elongated process for putting a new head coach in place will have an impact on recruiting specific to the Class of 2014, and I would suspect that it will also impact retention of current players if this stasis lingers on too long. I’d argue that a program already in decline probably can’t afford to fall any further behind with a one-year hole in talent acquisition and retention, but if I’m alone in thinking that way, so be it.

    Running through the above list of hiring dates:
    – Saban/Alabama: Saban interviewed for the job on Jan. 1 and was hired on Jan. 2. He was ‘Bama’s top choice, and was hired after the team he was coaching, the Miami Dolphins, finished its regular season.
    – Les Miles/LSU: Saban left LSU for the Dolphins on Dec. 25. Miles was hired a week later.
    – Carroll/USC: Carroll was USC’s fourth choice for a head coach. Obviously worked out well.
    – Spurrier/Florida: That one is vexing. Spurrier was replacing an interim coach at a program on probation.

  • 2013 Alum

    It was time for MM to go. The administration may not have handled it impeccably but firing 2 days after the last game was a good start. MM was still riding on the coattails of a national championship 9 years ago. The coaching suffered mightily the last couple of years and this team simply didnt make in-game adjustments. Good man, good coach but it was tiem for him to go and get new, hopefully younger blood as the head coach. Go Dukes!

  • Phil Showalter

    Alum angry at AD Bourne for firing Mathews? Where did that come from? Time for change was obvious to all. Alum maybe angry at AD Bourne for many other things but this is not one them.

  • JMU fan in Indiana

    AFP – Fair response on the hiring timeline. I guess my biggest point would be that we don’t know what Jeff Bourne knows or what he is doing. It’s a hard place to follow these types of processes because things are kept so close to the chest.

    I didn’t mean to offend you if I did. However, I have no doubt most alumni appreciated Mickey and thought it was time to part ways.

  • 99Alum

    As an alum and STH, I was very pleased with the decision to make a change. I’m also delighted with the use of CarrSports to conduct a national search. Not sure if you’re in the tank for Stinespring based on the first article, but he’s a truly dreadful candidate (ask any VT fan and see just how delighted they’d be to be rid of him) and if an extra couple of weeks is the price we pay for getting out of the Bourne/JMU/VT good ole’ boys network and truly looking for a coach to take JMU to FBS as a modern program, that’s a good deal.

    I think the comments in support of MM are influenced by AFP’s reach – he’s got a lot of friends in the area who surely were disappointed, but to say the fanbase as a whole was disappointed just seems inaccurate.

    Finally, with regard to listing the job publicly for a length of time, I assumed that had as much to do with VA rules for hiring public employees, which the HC technically is even if we know that’s a bit of a misnomer, than anything to do with not having a specific wish-list in mind.

  • ChrisGraham

    No offense at all. I’m sorry I made it seem that way. I think Jeff Bourne is bungling this whole situation, but I concede that mine is a minority viewpoint.

    I’m not a JMU alum. (I’m a UVA grad. We have our own issues.) No dog in the fight personally, but as a local resident I want to see that program succeed.

  • Mr. G

    As an alum, donor, and season ticket holder for 25+ years, I am appreciative of what Matthews did for JMU Football. If it was deemed necessary to make a change, then so be it, and it has been done. My concern is with the person in charge of making the decision. Jeff Bourne has proven time and again his inability to select a good coach for the larger programs on campus. He gave Sherman Dillard a contract extension, he brought in Dean Keener, and Matt Brady (take away winning the CAA with an embarrassing watered down competition field) and you have a whole bunch of nothing. Under Bourne’s watch, the basketball team draws 50% of what it did before he arrived. How can we trust that he suddenly knows what he is doing?

  • 2004 Duke

    “Athletics director Jeff Bourne was already under fire from alums for getting rid of Matthews in the first place.”

    From who?? 95% of us were good with it. You must have gone to Tech.

  • AFP

    You can surely have read above about the autho’s alma mater.

  • Disappointed

    As the father of a Matthews recruit we have yet to be contacted by any school official or coach.

    Blunder is correct. We decomitted what’s going on up there?