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The Hard Reality of Coaching Changes and Where BSU Stands

Pete Lembo

CPL has one of those tenure defining stretches upcoming this offseason and next fall

When news broke out of Muncie this week that defensive coordinator Jay Bateman was bidding adieu to the green pastures of east central Indiana for the greener pastures of West Point, NY and the United States Military Academy, he became one of 6 football staff members to transition away from Muncie this season. That seems like a high number, and considering that neither head coach Pete Lembo didn’t move to another job and take a group of assistants with him a la Brady Hoke nor did he get fired and his staff given pink slips a la Stan Parrish, it is.

2013 staffers that have moved on to other opportunities include offensive coordinator Rich Skrosky (head coach at Elon), defensive coordinator Jay Bateman (defensive coordinator at Army), defensive line coach Chad Wilt (defensive line coach at Maryland), offensive line coach Nick Tabacca (offensive line coach at Wake Forest), GA Cris Resiert (tight ends coach at Elon), and GA Billy Riebock (wide receivers coach at Elon). All are either increased responsibility positions (Skrosky and the GAs) or a significant increase in pay for the same thing (Bateman, Wilt, Tabacca). Can you really fault coaches for that?

But the questions people should be asking aren’t “Is this bad?” or “How do we stop this?”, they should be asking “Are we finished with the transition?” and “What’s next for BSU?”. We’ll address them all,  because we’re thorough like that.

Question 1: “Is this bad?”
Well, it certainly isn’t “good”, but I would argue that there is a silver lining in all of this. In fact, there are two good benefits that come from this. First and foremost, the biggest fear of continuity is mitigated a bit considering who is staying around and what they’ll end up doing, though read on down for some more information on that. Additionally, perhaps the bigger positive is that it makes the positions themselves considerably more attractive. If I am pitching a job offer to someone, telling them they can spend a couple of years at BSU then land at an ACC school if they’re successful is a considerably different kind of sale than most MAC schools can make. That’s a good thing and only trends the market value of our coaching positions up. So the answer to “Is this bad?” is a resounding “Not really”.

Question 2: “How do we stop this?”
In reality, you can’t. I would love to date Jennifer Lawrence. However, she’s an exceptionally talented Hollywood actress and I am an educator and blogger. Plus she’s a Louisville fan, so it just wouldn’t work. The moral of that metaphor is everyone has their place in life, and like it or not, your place is your place. BSU is, and probably always will be, in a different stratosphere than the AQ conference schools. Financially, facilities, prestige, the list goes on. It’s not a bad thing, it’s not a good thing, but it is reality. And as long as there are bigger and better brass rings to grab, successful, driven people will always attempt to grab them. Is it possible that BSU could become a Boise State-esque mid-major that rides consistent success to a higher plateau of relevance? I reckon anything is possible. I would argue that much like me and J-Law there are systemic things in place that make that 99.99% impossible. First and foremost is the lack of a financial sugar daddy like T Boone Pickens at Oklahoma State. In the arms race of college football, BSU isn’t bringing a knife to a gunfight, they are bringing a laser pointer to a nuclear holocaust and just hoping we can shoot someone in the eye and mildly annoy them. So the answer to this is a chuckle and a clear and convincing “We can’t.”

Question 3: “Are we finished with the transition?”
Most thought that any coaching transition started and stopped with coach Pete Lembo. Wherever CPL landed, it was presumed that an exodus of staff would follow, as this group had been together for some time. One by one, vacancies floated open and CPL’s name floated to the top. And yet, with Derek Mason presumed to be the next Vandy coach, all of the openings are filled and CPL is still a Muncie resident. Things had to break exactly right for that to be the case. BG had to beat NIU. Texas had to fire Mack Brown. Charlie Strong had to leave Louisville. Louisville AD Tom Jurich had to develop a significant case of amnesia and rehire perhaps the worst human being in the coaching profession short of Jerry Sandusky. Bill O’Brien had to get wooed by the NFL. James Franklin had to get wooed by Penn State. Wake Forest and UConn had to make mistakes. It all happened. And now here we are with CPL as the Cardinal in Chief still. Still!!! So in terms of CPL leaving, unless the Cleveland Browns (who still don’t have a coach) get turned down by dozens of people it’s a near certainty that CPL will be in Muncie when fall camp opens.

The assistants? That’s another story. The feeling around the football offices from those in a position to know tell OTP that Keith Gaither (wide receivers), Daryl Dixon (outside linebackers/nickelbacks) and Justin Lustig (special teams coordinator/running backs) are the three most likely to leave. In fact, sources tell OTP that Lustig went through the interview process with Texas Tech who ultimately decided to hire Darrin Chiaverini for the Red Raiders’ first ever special teams specific coach. Though it is late in the coaching search game, until staffs at Vandy, Texas, and Penn State are filled out and the openings those searches create locked up, it is possible that another assistant may be out the door but in reality, at this stage, it would surprise me.

Question 4: “What’s next for BSU?”
There are a couple of absolutely critical vacancies for the Cardinals in both function and appearance. With the recruiting period and signing day right around the corner, getting an offensive line coach and hiring a defensive coordinator are of the utmost importance. A name to keep an eye on for the offensive line job is John Strollo, former BSU o-line coach under Lembo and most recently tight ends coach at Penn State. As for the defensive coordinator, it’s possible that’s an internal hire as current assistant Shannon Morrison already oversees the passing defense responsibilities. It wouldn’t be a difficult jump to give him the reigns to everything. That would leave the defensive line position open and should Morrison move up, the DBs. As it is late in the coaching change game, it’s good and bad for BSU. Good in that there aren’t a whole lot of other openings. Bad in that many people are already where they want to be and/or the best candidates have already changed addresses.

The most important thing to remember is that for perhaps the first time since we’ve been covering the team here at OTP, I have complete and total faith in the coaching staff and the administration. CPL always says there is a plan for everything and stuff rarely catches him by surprise. This would be the time to show that. For fans and supporters, now would be a wonderful time to demonstrate some semblance of faith and patience, which, granted, most BSU football fans are not exceptionally great at. You can choose the “Our assistants are leaving! Our players are leaving early!! OUR PETS HEADS ARE FALLING OFF!!” sort of approach, or you can wait and see what this staff is capable of. I vote for the latter. You?

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