While we’re still working on the yearly BYU awards, which we hope to bring to you tomorrow, I feel obligated to share this juicy story. Even though I can barely muster ties to the state of Utah, I just have to share this. As a loyal Cougar fan, I don’t really have ties to the current environment in which I live; Jonesboro, Arkansas. I do live in SEC country, so I love being here. But Jonesboro is a college town too which, up until recently, was perennial underachieving Arkansas State University. If my BYU diehards will think back to the 14-1, 1996 season, ASU would be win number 2 on that journey.
Today, the Arkansas State University Red Wolves introduced the Offensive Coordinator from Auburn, Gus Malzahn, as their new head coach. Why do you Mountain Time Zone people care? Among other things, the president of ASU met with Boise St. Directors in October. ASU was interested in how BSU made their transition to the top levels of the FBS. The president states today at the presser that “We can be the Boise State of college football,” Lee said. “Coach Malzahn, we want to be the Arkansas State of college football, which is going to be better than Boise State.” It’s seriously a stunning move for ASU. They go from Coach Hugh Freeze, who left for Ole Miss and made division 1 low salary last year of just 151K, to Gus Freaking Malzahn, who will make a cool 800K/year for 5 years with a 2.5 million dollar buyout.
You have to understand how big this hire is for ASU. The Sun Belt Conference is the weakest conference in the FBS. And Malzahn turned down the Vanderbilt job last year, and gave up his current salary of 1.3 million to come to Jonesboro FREAKING Arkansas. He does have huge ties to Arkansas. He was a former high school coach in Springdale and was the Offensive Coordinator and the University of Arkansas under Houston Nutt. Not to mention, the current team has a good nucleus to start from and be successful. And Malzahn WILL be able to recruit and possibly steal a few players away from other big schools based on his name.
However, ASU is putting all their eggs in this basket betting it will work. Other than their stadium, which is really quite nice, but only holds 35K (lots of room to expand), their facilities are inadequate. They’ll need to do some serious upgrades in the next 5 years to make this a reality.
I’ve actually been a soft voice to the idea that if ASU can have another good season next year (10-2 this year), they could make a consideration to move to the C-USA. With all the moving pieces in NCAAF right now, it’s entirely plausible.
Even if it doesn’t happen, watch out for the Sun Belt in the coming years. Carl Pelini, Defensive Coordinator at Nebraska, was named Head Coach at Florida Atlantic on December 5th. I think the Sun Belt feels it’s getting left behind, so they might be aligning themselves for the greater good of the conference. You never know, they may even add power FCS schools such as James Madison or Appalachian St.
This school certainly said the right things today, but it will take the hard work of implementing a system that works in SEC country. Not saying it can’t work, because it worked in Boise Idaho. But to go from doormat paying school, to top tier MWC pay, their mortgaging the farm on this decision and I hope it works. They can dominate the Sun Belt, but will they achieve that power status Boise St. has enjoyed over the last 6 years? A red-turf stadium might be the symbolic cherry on top to say the Red Wolves have arrived.