When coaching vacancies open or schools experience down periods, we often hear about them looking to return to prominence. Following the Rich Rodriguez era at Michigan, Brady Hoke was brought in to bring them back to glory. Nebraska is still hoping to return to the spotlight. Florida State wants to get back to the good old days of dominance.
Basically, if your team had any sort of success in the last two or three decades, everything is about returning to prominence. The talk is about how the program has to "get back to" doing X, Y and Z. Or how "we were good when we had Johnny X, we need to get back to that level."
It is 2012. If your football team is not good in 2012, the ancient history of your program is not what you need to get back to. What you need to be doing is looking for a way to compete in the current state of college football.
In other words: Newsflash, people! It is not 1988. The game has changed and you need to change with it.
That's not to say you need to forget history. Rather it is to say you need to understand that winning college football games now is harder than ever. There are more good college football teams now than there ever have been before, and winning enough to compete at a championship level is more difficult because of it.
You can thank television. You can thank the Internet. You can thank the scholarship limitations. Most importantly, you can thank football, and its financial importance, for the landscape being more difficult than ever.
Ask Miami about how television and the internet, ease of communication, has made things harder. The old "State of Miami" is likely never going to happen again. Too many schools know too much about southern Florida to ignore it the way they did in the past where recruiting is concerned.
Add to that the fact that kids in the area are growing up seeing everyone play football. You do not just get your local games, you get every game from all over the place. Football is on three to four nights a week and kids get a chance to see what's out there. They understand they have options beyond staying at home.
Those things make recruiting true dogfights. You miss on a couple recruits each cycle and you have glaring holes in your team.
Speaking of dogfights, the scholarship limitations rev those issues up even more. Since 1994, officially, the limit has been 85 kids on full scholarship for FBS, formerly known as 1-A, football. Prior to 94, the limits were 95 from 1978-1991, 105 from 1973-1977 and of course the glorious "unlimited scholarship period" of 1965-1972.
Fewer scholarships means that schools do not get to take as many athletes each year. Fewer athletes means less depth and less depth means smaller margins for error. It also means that other schools get to play.
Remember, we mentioned there are more good schools now than ever? Yes, thank the scholarship limits for increasing the quality of rosters all over the nation because bigger schools cannot hoard the best talent. The bigger schools also cannot afford to take as many chances in recruiting and so those recruiting reaches end up elsewhere.
We've hit technology and scholarship limits already. They play a role in why your team now, is not playing the same game that you were playing back in the "good old days." However, the biggest issue is there is not a school on the landscape that truly can afford to not maximize what they are doing.
College football now is more about keeping up with the Joneses than anything else. Facilities. Coaches' salaries. Recruiting budgets. Television exposure. Merchandise sales. It's a big business. A big business that only flourishes if your team is winning on the field.
So what does that mean?
Those extended lulls that occurred as folks waited to see if their new coach would get things on track? They don't happen anymore. The waiting to see if the experienced coach can right the ship? They don't happen anymore. The taking it easy in recruiting after signing a couple good classes in a row? They don't happen anymore.
The schools that were never really "that good" at football, now want to be really good. The schools that were always decent but not great, now they want to be great.
And a lot of them have the money to do it.
For Tennessee? No more South Carolina wasting away, Georgia spinning its tires going nowhere and Clemson being a non-factor. It is going to be a fight for every single kid in that area. The same goes for Auburn.
It is not about returning to the good old days. It is about finding a new way to succeed on the current landscape. It is not about what you used to do, or what you remember or getting your swagger back. It is about studying the current climate, finding your area of opportunity, coming to terms with the changes and maximizing what you can do.
Florida State is not competing to get back into a BCS Bowl game because the Seminoles are returning to glory. They're pushing for an Orange Bowl birth because Jimbo Fisher dumped history and married the program to the 21st century.
Oregon is not the program they are because of history; they are that program because of the way they embrace the now. Alabama didn't return to prominence; they brought in Nick Saban to create dominance. Notre Dame did not get back to the good old days—they got really good for today.
The quicker folks look at football in terms of today, understand the landscape in the terms of today and push for their teams success in terms of today, the quicker idiotic notions and ideals can be dumped.