REGIME CHANGE: NOW WHAT?
The long term survival rate for college football coaches, at any level, who lose 64% of their career games is incredibly poor.
Bill Terlisner proved the exception. He made it twelve long years on the Hawk sidelines with a record that typically doesn't justify continued employment; let alone multiple contract extensions.
Call it proof positive that coaching football at Quincy University isn't like coaching college football anywhere else in the country.
Therein lies the problem.
It's easy to lay blame for the failings of the Quincy University Football program at Bill Terlisner's doorstep. He is, after all, the longtime CEO of the Hawk Pigskin Program. His shortcomings have been documented to exhaustion here over the past two years. And I hold that every one of them played a role in his ultimate demise here. But allow me to add one more that I have not previously mentioned:
Bill Terlisner's greater failing may have been loving a program more than it loved him back.
To some degree, Terlisner has been bailing water from the hull of Quincy University Football for a dozen years now; long after most sane men would have given up this seemingly doomed enterprise.
Too much water, too little help.
For a guy who had outs (namely his well respected ability as an Offensive Line coach) the decision to stay at QU seems, in retrospect, foolhardy.
Why fight what was essentially a fight that can't be won?
Blame his streak of alumni pride or just his optimistic hope that things would get/were getting better, the guy essentially did himself in by staying and fighting to make things a little better.
In some ways he did.
When Terlisner took over the program more than a decade ago, the Hawk Roster had 42 players. Now, QU Football is a money maker for the University with a roster that has essentially tripled in size. He not once, but twice helped elevate the quality of the University's meager workout facilities. He beat a Division One opponent for the first and only time in school history. And most importantly, Bill Terlisner has positively impacted a number of young lives in a manner that resonates beyond the football field; more so than most of us will see.
Still, if you can't fix teeth; no one considers you a successful dentist, regardless of whatever other attributes and strengths you may bring to the job.
Ultimately, Bill Terlisner couldn't win football games with anything remotely resembling consistency.
But it bears mentioning that he didn't get a lot of help either from the school or the administration he served. And mind you, this is coming from someone who has been the antithesis of a Terlisner apologist.
Given the circumstances and the manner in which Quincy University has ran its football program the last twelve years, I question if any coach would have won here at a consistent level given the lack of previous engagement from the institution itself?
We are about to find out, one way or another, where blame lies.
In striking the deal to move Hawk Football Games from the embarrassing eyesore that was QU Stadium to the magnificent new turf at Flinn Stadium, Athletic Director Marty Bell made the first real "pro-football" commitment by the University I can remember in my now 17 year tenure here. He has given his Football program a home it can actually be proud of.
That can't be all.
Firing Bill Terlisner, however ham-handedly that process has played out, is a sign that the Quincy University Administration has been made to realize the status quo with QU Football the last decade plus wasn't acceptable. Sadly, the QU Brass had to be shamed to that conclusion to some degree by angry alumni and a frustrated Sportswriter or two. Anyone who argues the program didn't need some infusion of leadership, a new approach and a fresh direction is deluding themselves.
I am hoping the same qualities might aid this Administration as well.
Firing Bill Terlisner, in and of itself, placates no one. It was not my ultimate aim when I wrote my "regime change" op-ed a little over a year ago and I am not dancing on the man's coaching grave now. Regime change meant exactly that: a radical new way of looking at this football program and inspiring it.
What I want, as nothing more than someone who loves football in the Tri States, is a viable, vibrant program this Tri State Community can be proud of.
Quite candidly, Bill Terlisner wanted that too.
I sat down with Coach Terlisner this past April over lunch, at his invitation, to try and find working ground after "The Regime Change" article going forward. I articulated to him, in no uncertain terms, my frustrations with his program and the way he had run it. I gave him my standard issue lecture which goes something like this: College Sports are Big Boy Sports and as such there are only two ways I can sell you to my viewers. You can be intensely successful or intensely local. If you are anything else you don't move the meter and you are wasting valuable TV time I could be using to highlight programs that are either successful or local or god forbid, both. I looked the man dead in the eye and said you have 79 kids on your roster from Florida and 9 from within a 90 mile radius of Quincy and you are winless. And I asked him does anything I've said to you seem remotely unfair in this, especially after 11 years of same. And I told him, essentially, that all he had to do was recruit one Nick Lonergan-type local superstar every year or two and a handful of second tier local players and we would have never had a single issue.
Terlisner's response was not what I expected. After hearing out every word of what I had said (in a far more impassioned/less fit for family consumption manner than I detail here) Bill look at me and said he both respected and understood my stance and my frustration. And admitted that the he essentially could not articulate why a program that had shown three years of promising upward mobility with a trio of 6-5 seasons, punctuated by the Indiana State win the next year, fell off the table so fast. And he made no excuse. We talked at length about theories and talent situations, but he took responsibility for all of it. Himself.
But when we got to the topic of recruiting, his mood turned to anger. He started detailing for me, in no uncertain terms, his frustrations with Quincy University's "Florida Initiative" and how his hand was essentially forced to take every single recruit from that state who expressed an interest in the program because he could not justify turning away players to a University that was reaping either grant money/tuition from same. He essentially wasn't allowed to turn kids away. So he was left with a roster filled with kids no one in this community had any connection to, some of whom he had no idea if they could play or not.
Does it absolve Terlisner of ignoring the Wyatt Greens/Ashton Gronewolds/Chris Keithleys of the world in the local recruiting pool?
In retrospect, Terlisner admitted as much that he screwed up alienating the local coaching pool earlier in his career. Like a Restaurant that opened with bad service, that was a hard reputation to live down/get back. But he also named off all the local kids he had pursued in the last five years and how he was pleased that the rich Central State Eight talent pool had opened up to him of late.
But if filling beds is the first thing/only thing perhaps that your employers are looking at in regard to your continued tenure, then that explains a lot of the maddening local recruiting choices Bill has made. And in the same position, trying to make my daily bread, might I not have done the same thing to preserve a job I love? Like all of us in the Grown Up World, I've had to do things I might not have agreed with philosophically because my boss told me to.
Does anyone believe that said culture of "filling beds first and foremost" won't exist for Bill Terlisner's successor?
I get that every coach, at every level of college football, is to some extent asked to aid admissions. The question is whether QU is willing to do that in a manner that also serves the greater benefit of Hawk Football and the local audience which is itching to follow it. It would appear that the Florida Initiative has failed on all such counts.
More to the point, if you want to run a successful, now Division Two Football Program, more has to change at Quincy University then just the guy who is wearing the headset.
You have to spend money to make money in any business endeavor. You can't pay a Division Two Football Coach what you pay a first year IHSA Class 2A High School skipper and expect to attract anything more than coaching retreads and grad assistants to the party. You are not going to lure a Derek Leonard-type offensive savant out of the high school ranks or a Garrett Campbell-esque program builder away from a smaller college offering your head coach under 38K. Heck, I know an assistant high school coach in Western Missouri who makes better than eighty grand a year. If you want quality people and a truly quality program, you need to pay realistic salaries, for both the head man and his staff. And if you as an athletic department can't afford to pay a legitimate staff for legitimate Division Two football work, then you should either (A) reconsider jumping to that level of football or (B) re-evaluate how successfully you as an athletic department are raising funds.
You also need to commit to the infrastructure of Football. Flinn Stadium was a tremendous step in the right direction, but any applicant of any gravitas is going to look at Quincy University's practice "facilities" and blanch. And now that you have the Flinn turf to use, how about we tweak the schedule to find a way to use that facility more than three times a season? Perhaps afford the football program a full time SID to better promote the program to the local media and by extension the entire community, which by the way is filled with future potential tuition paying students. Every wise dollar Quincy University spends on football can be a reinvestment back into the school and the more enjoyable experiences of its customers, present and future.
November 1st, 2011 may ultimately become the day that Quincy University first shifted the paradigm and sought true excellence for what has been the neglected stepchild of its otherwise enviable Athletic Department. I've heard from a half dozen really good area coaches in the last 48 hours who see the potential of this program going forward, some of whom would have interest leading this program into a brighter tomorrow. And the future is far from bleak, with as irony would have it, with a tremendous number of outstanding local freshman and sophomores from Bill Terlisner's last two recruiting classes. The only variable here seems to be the commitment level to excellence of the institution itself.
Absent that, none of those other positives will matter any more than they did the better part of the last decade.
With that firm commitment, there is no limit to how this program might rise.