Hello. Perhaps we’ve met. I’m the SMU resident sports idiot/columnist, and I predicted SMU would go 6-6 and make a bowl game this season. No, that’s not a typo. Laugh at me as long as you’d like.
OK, now stop laughing and hear me out as I explain.
A year to the day as I write this, SMU introduced Chad Morris as its head football coach. It didn’t take long for everyone to reach the same conclusion: Chad Morris is a great coach. He said all the right things and hit the recruiting trail right away to get started on this massive task.
I too reached the conclusion that Chad Morris and his staff are great coaches. And after a season of covering him and his staff, I still think they are, in fact, great coaches. A year to the date of his introduction, that conclusion can be lost in the team’s 2-10 record and season-ending 63-0 loss to Memphis on Nov. 28. But when a team makes a high-profile hire like Morris, realistic expectations can be lost in it too. After getting a close look at the energy he and the staff put into recruiting, spring practices and fall camp, plus the team’s work in spring ball, summer weightlifting sessions and fall practices, I thought six wins was realistic because Morris was a miracle worker.
He may well be a miracle worker. But I forgot about history. The history lesson is that miracles aren’t worked right away, even though the optimistic and goal-oriented Morris set the bar high in his first season. This is a 180-degree culture change. It takes time. Like, more than one season, no matter what a team displays in the first offseason under a well-acclaimed head coach.
Take a look around the American Athletic Conference and you’ll see turnaround programs in Memphis, Temple and South Florida. The first two are historically moribund programs, and USF has only played football since 1997. Those teams are a combined 27-9 this season. Two years ago, they were 7-29 and occupied the bottom three spots in the conference. The common denominator is that each team’s win-loss record improved significantly in year three under the coaching staff tasked with the rebuild. Which means that well-acclaimed coaches lost a lot of games early in their tenure at those schools.
South Florida was 4-8 in 2014, prompting some fans and media to put Willie Taggart on the proverbial hot seat. The Bulls won eight games this year behind Taggart’s newly installed spread offense. Memphis actually regressed from four wins in 2012 to three in 2013, Justin Fuente’s second season at the helm. Now, Fuente has 19 wins in the last two seasons and just became the head coach at Virginia Tech, which I think is one of the best jobs in all of college football. The lesson is that above all, enduring a rebuild takes patience.
After SMU came close to a road win against TCU, my prediction didn’t look too insane. The Mustangs beat North Texas the week before and threw Baylor a punch before the Bears pulled away in the second half. While those games showed the immediate progress, they also let our expectations get a little too inflated. Even in the two losses, fans still had something to be proud of. I don’t think I was wrong, but it led to higher expectations for the conference games, when teams had more film on SMU. So, I’m sorry for getting anyone’s hopes up too high.
Ultimately, I think SMU made progress. The team did get one more win than last year. It battled hard in a lot of games this year after showing almost no fight in 2014. Obviously, games like Saturday’s horrid performance aren’t indicative of any improvement. SMU also made lots of mistakes that “made SMU beat SMU,” as Morris likes to say. That’s to be expected on a turnaround team playing a lot of young players. I’ll admit I didn’t take that into account in my six-win prediction.
Since arriving at SMU, Morris and his staff have done all the right things. Again, after an inexcusable loss like Saturday’s, that’s hard to remember. They’ve recruited well, preached getting a little bit better each day, patience, and buying in as a community to change the entire culture of SMU football. I’d say that’s a pretty good vision for the future.
Anyway, I’m sorry for not using patience, realism and common sense when analyzing this season. I guess I bought in a little too much, even though I ironically wrote in August that this would be a season of patience and progress. But I’m not sorry for buying in right away.