Dallas A friend was putting two and two together. SMU was firing its football coach and he thought he'd heard that the coach of a prominent local high school had resigned smack in the middle of the playoffs. Coincidence? Maybe that guy was going to become the next Mustangs' football coach, my buddy wondered.
"Who else are they gonna get?" he asked.
What my friend thought he'd heard proved, fortunately, to be as untrue as the notion that SMU can't afford a new coach with any more experience than City High. It can, despite the appearance of being tapped out after spending $60 million (of other people's money) on a new stadium complex and buying out the last two years of Mike Cavan's contract.
For starters, those other people the Fords and Hunts and Pettuses and Sewells haven't walked out on their favorite university. Some of them, along with a few less well-known but still influential folks, met on and off with SMU athletics director Jim Copeland in past months on how much more commitment it would take to, in part, make the football program a winner. They're prepared to write some more checks for the right person, at least.
It isn't as if they'll have to take out a loan to do so, either. Football coaches in the Western Athletic Conference, where the Mustangs now roam, aren't the highest paid guys on Saturday afternoons. On average, they take home somewhere between $310,000 and $450,000 a year. That's an affordable range for SMU. The least compensated WAC coach makes less than $200,000. The luckiest guy makes a little more than $600,000.
The WAC isn't the Big 12, where coaches like Bob Stoops and R.C. Slocum and Mack Brown command seven-figure pay. It's more like the Sun Belt, regardless of whether SMU folks want to admit any similarities with North Texas, whom they ought play in football as it does in basketball.
No, money is not an issue with SMU football. It only used to be, like when the governor was handing it out to players.
The issue with SMU football remains the same as it's been since 1989: Finding a fellow with a formula to attract fans, or to win, which should be one in the same.
Although Copeland would argue otherwise, finding this guy shouldn't be as difficult as SMU has made it look. Just look around.
North Texas just did it.
TCU has done it.
Rice is doing it, sort of.
Several of SMU's new rivals in the WAC are doing it, like Fresno State, Louisiana Tech, Boise State and Hawaii.
The formula doesn't appear to be a complex mix. It's a heap of offense and a dash of quarterback or running back. What comes out of the oven is a scoreboard full of points that catches people's attention.
The coaches of those teams at least made their teams worth blowing off a Saturday afternoon to watch, and more often than not the home crowd even left having watched their homeboys win.
Copeland said he wants an experienced coach or coordinator who has succeeded with integrity and can sell the program in this always competitive sports market. Great.
I just think that means the guy better be offensive minded in addition to having some personality. Cavan was, in fact, both. But that former trait from the former quarterback never rubbed off.
I also think it wouldn't hurt to hire a guy with greater aspirations than retiring at SMU.