It wasn’t long ago when a Sun Belt coaching hire was followed by a resounding “Who?” The conference, beset with FCS start-ups and low-budget programs, wasn’t exactly a culture dish for big names. If you were an FCS coach with recent success, an offensive coordinator whose QB put up good numbers, or an aging coach looking for one last paycheck, the Sun Belt was likely looking for you.
Today, the sun shines a bit brighter for the Sun Belt, with national-scale success polishing unfamiliar luster onto the the SBC brand. Sun Belt programs are bouncing into national polls, and seemingly overnight, what was once a conference for has-beens is now a coaching destination. Over the off season, the Sun Belt experienced its usual coaching turnover, but this time, the conference took a potpourri of approaches to filling vacant positions.
Ancient Recipe Porridge: ULM and Terry Bowden
I’ve not been shy about criticizing the University of Louisiana-Monroe and its super-savers approach to college athletics. I’ve oft suggested that ULM follow Idaho back to the FCS, where its heroically small budget will stretch much farther. My points were only underscored with the Warhawks endured an especially gross and miserable winless season under Matt Viator in 2020.
Holster those pistols! The Warhawks went ahead and pulled Bobby Bowden’s son Terry into Monroe. The former Auburn and Akron head coach has hit retirement age at 65 years-old, which means this hire goes one of two ways: It can be a pleasant surprise like Howard Schnellenberger at FAU, or spiral into disaster like Texas State’s experiment with Dennis Franchione. At least early on, it appears that Coach T-Bow is attempting to inject some pride into the downtrodden program.
I don’t know how this turns out. Our last look at Terry saw him as an assistant at Clemson, so he’s bathed in big time wins. But at sixty-five, you got to wonder if Coach Bowden is more interested in padding his retirement portfolio then trying to wrest dimes out of Warhawks supporters. By God, Monroe, we shall see.
Hot Porridge: South Alabama and Kane Wommack
A few years ago, the Jaguars went the traditional Sun Belt route and scooped up a successful FCS coach – Red Wolves killer Steve Campbell out of Central Arkansas. Yeah, that didn’t really work out, though. South Bama simply could not find balanced success under the process-driven Campbell. Rather than stick with Coach C, South Alabama shocked much of the nation by replacing Campbell with 2020 Broyles Award Finalist Kane Wommack out of Indiana.
Though many in the Sun Belt orbit found the superstar hire surprising, Creg Stephenson of the Alabama Media Group wasn’t particular flabbergasted by Wommack’s hire. “Given South Alabama’s facilities and recruiting territory, I think this was an attractive job for Kane and for the other coaches who applied,” he said. “This program has been viewed as a sleeping giant for some time. They just need to get the coaching hire right.”
Wommack, who served as DC for South Alabama in 2016-2017, was a sizzling hot commodity in 2020, masterfully creating a defense that suddenly made Indiana a relevant football team. South Alabama not only enticed Wommack to make a return to Mobile, but he also flipped name-brand OC Major Applewhite from Arkansas State to join him. Playing in a nearly new stadium, Wommack has an opportunity to finally elevate the Jags to the program’s high-ceiling potential. So far, South Bama fans like what they see.
“There’s some excitement because Wommack was very popular as an assistant when he was here before,” explained Stephenson. “Also, the opening of the new stadium got spoiled a bit last year by COVID, so it’s almost like a re-boot in that way.”
At just 34 years old, the energetic Wommack fits in the mold of Texas State’s Jake Spavital and Louisiana’s Billy Napier – young, relatable, talented and very hungry. South Alabama needs a major dose of all four of those elements to drag it from mediocrity’s orbit.
Juuuuust Right Porridge: Arkansas State and Butch Jones
Contrary to the toxic opinions floated by cartoonishly spiteful SEC commentators, Butch Jones bears both the gnawing hunger of Wommack and the deep experience of Bowen. An added ingredient: Jones is both a distinguished citizen of the G5 (Central Michigan, Cincinnati) and the P5 (Tennessee).
However, the most valuable element Jones brings to A-State’s table is a discipline to elevate the Red Wolves to a higher category of football. Reports out of the locker room indicate that the players have bought in on Jones’ uncompromising approach to accountability – an essential part of what he deems as “building a culture” in Jonesboro.
“Jones brings a more militaristic style of wholesome football fun,” says Jay Bir of KARK News. “A reenergized focus that may have been lacking in the past, for good reason, that seems to have awakened the inner wolves within the Red Wolves early on.”
Jones isn’t in Jonesboro to retire, nor is he using the stint to polish his skills set. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have something to prove. Jones left Knoxville unfairly vilified and humbled. He’ll use the chip on this shoulder to pry some respect from his critics – and hopefully push the Red Wolves back into the ranks of G5 elite.
HowlRaiser thanks Creg Stephenson of AI.com for graciously giving us a little insight into Kane Wommack, and to Jay Bir of KARK News, who without question responded to this text:
PHOTO CREDIT: It’s mine. Steal it if it makes the world a better place.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post pegged Terry as Bobby Bowden’s brother, not his son. So I’m not some kind of Bowden family tree expert, okay?