When a head coach gets that new job at a non-BCS school, or even a lower level BCS school, for discussion's sake, what is he thinking? What is his prime directive? What is the ultimate goal at this stage in his coaching career?
Well, whether he is a retread who's been all over the nation, or a young guy getting his first shot, the basic goal is always the same: Stay employed.
Yes, while coaches will talk about winning championships, getting to a bowl game and improving in recruiting, the most basic need that every single coach wants to satisfy is to keep the job. It is tough to do anything else, including get a better job, if the school is showing you out of the door.
The modern era of college football is all about rapid turnover and guys being hired to be fired. It is a "what have you done for me lately" culture that demands instant results and one-sided loyalty from the coach's perspective.
Schools only hire coaches for three reasons: Either the last coach did so well he got a promotion, the old guy decided to retire or the school had to ax the previous job-holder. Last season, 31 schools had to find new coaches, two coaches retired, one quit, 10 head coaches found new jobs and the other 18 were fired. In other words, coaches were about two-thirds as likely to get shown the door as they were to leave the job on their own terms.
In the mid-major ranks, the ratio is a bit more forgiving, where only five of the vacancies could be attributed to firings. Dewayne Walker quit at New Mexico State, Chris Ault and Bill Curry retired and seven coaches got to take the step into the big leagues as BCS-level head coaches. Essentially, the mid-major, non-BCS ranks, are where the next crop of replacement coaches are nurtured for the big-time jobs at the BCS level.
And to get one of those jobs, you have to stay employed.
Staying employed requires two things: Staying out of trouble and winning football games. Keeping their noses clean means everything from not rubbing administrators and boosters the wrong way, to making sure players stay off the police blotter and that the NCAA stays out of town. For most coaches, this is the easy part about the mid-major gig.
The hard part is the winning. Sustaining success at the collegiate level is not an easy task. Sustaining success as a "have not" on the current landscape is incredibly difficult. It is a delicate balancing act of operating with tight budgets, lesser facilities and inherent recruiting disadvantages to reach out and grab success.
Grabbing that success is what helps you keep the job. Big dreams and the realization that success is fleeting is what makes it easier to take the next gig. With the exception of guys like former Fresno State head coach Pat Hill or current Boise State head man, Chris Petersen, coaches are motivated to climb that ladder.
The first step toward upward mobility is keeping the job they have. Fired coaches do not step up to the big leagues. If they get hired at all, it's a step, or several steps, down. In the business world, they say you have to spend money to make money; in the coaching profession, unless you're Urban Meyer, you have to keep a job to get a better job.
Winning is certainly paramount, and improving the program is a must, but just not getting fired is the baseline goal when a coach gets a mid-major gig. Fired coaches do not often get a second chance to be the head guy; thus, keeping the job he has is priority one.