No more free lunches for Hawaii
THE hiring of Dennis Erickson at Idaho is problematic, to say the least, for everyone else in the Western Athletic Conference. These poor coaches. I feel for them. At last, they get rid of Gandhi -- Boise State's Dan Hawkins heads off to Colorado, and now we'll see just how much of a miracle worker he really is. But now this!
Because Erickson will win. He always does. (And then he'll immediately move on to a better job; he always does.) He's won big everywhere but the NFL. If he can turn around Oregon State the way he did several years ago, the WAC won't be a problem. So look out, here we go.
And it probably won't take long.
And then you have Idaho, winning.
The era of the free lunch is over in this conference. There will be less getting lucky. There will be far fewer instances of "getting away with" stuff and still winning games.
Once, not too long ago, the WAC was a fairly easy conference for coaches who knew what they were doing. June Jones came in and took an 0-12 program to nine wins with most of the very same guys. Steve Kragthorpe arrived and Tulsa -- Tulsa! -- was in its first bowl game in 12 years.
Mike Price went to UTEP and he was so head and shoulders above the field it was ridiculous to watch.
A coach who quoted Gandhi made a conference powerhouse out of a little school called Boise State.
Yes, the talent level was lower, definitely lower than the BCS leagues. But the coaching was, too, in recent years, in this new WAC. And a decent coach didn't have much problem going against counterparts -- let's not name names here -- who would sometimes give away games like they were throwing candy from a Fourth of July parade float.
But now here comes Erickson. He's going to the doormat, but believe me, he'll look under it and find the key.
This almost isn't fair, for the rest of the WAC, that Idaho gets a guy like this.
And Hal Mumme at New Mexico State. If he can ride out the first year or two (he went 0-11 last year, he's kind of "eccentric," his latest recruiting class had nobody from New Mexico on it, he's already had a grievance filed against him by the ACLU) he will have a good team. How long he stays is another matter. But if he doesn't run into trouble of one kind or another, that guy will have a good team.
And then there's Nevada, which under Chris Ault appears to have turned around. The Wolf Pack outtoughed, outplayed and outcoached a vastly physically superior UCF team in the Hawaii Bowl. (I was there. I saw it, along with 347 other people.) This guy went to the Hall of Fame as a I-AA coach. It's tougher to do on this level, but if he's still got it -- and the Hawaii Bowl says he does -- there's another one.
And, of course, our friend, Dick Tomey. Now, it may take a few years. And they may never be elite -- who knows? San Jose State does tend to get lost in that Bay Area, was talking about dropping the program just a year or so ago. But Tomey's teams will hit you, the way his teams did here. They will play defense, the way they did here. They will play with their hearts, the way they did here.
They will make you earn everything, the way his teams did here. They will fight you to the end, and you will feel it the rest of the week.
The era of the free lunch is over. These coming seasons, being competent is no longer an advantage. Now, that's just the ante to get in the game.
Tomey is a really good coach. It looks like there are a handful of really good coaches in the WAC, now.
Now, this doesn't mean that people are going to be saying that the WAC is a great conference, because it won't be, not in the grand scheme of things. Not compared to the BCS leagues. Not even close. But it should be a good conference -- good in that it will be interesting. Good in that it will be exciting. Good in that it will be competitive every week. Good in that it should be fun.
Much like it is in basketball.
And the teams at the top -- and Hawaii isn't currently in that group, but could be -- will have to work even harder. Pat Hill and Fresno State can be counted on to lose two or three WAC games every season, write it down. But he'll always have the WAC's best talent, and seems to have finally figured out how to handle UH.
At Boise, former offensive coordinator Chris Petersen probably isn't another Hawkins -- who is? But he probably should be able to keep the Broncos steady enough to be a conference favorite these next couple of years, at least.
Oh, yes. And every five years Louisiana Tech is tough, too. (Luckily, it was last year.)
I don't envy these coaches with a guy like Erickson in the mix on top of all this, and at a school that used to be a pretty sure win. Everything just got taken up two notches, plus three. Hawaii needs to step it up, in every area. Everybody does. Things just got interesting. The WAC isn't easy, now, not anymore.