Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Rice fires David Baliff after 30-14 loss to UNT

The Mean Green came to Rice Stadium last weekend and handed the Owls their 11th loss of the season. The Owls briefly led the game on a interception return for a touchdown, but after that North Texas took over; the score was 24-14 in the Mean Green's favor at the half, and UNT added two field goals after halftime in spite of being held to just 84 yards in the second half.

After the tough season-ending loss, focus shifted to the future of the man who had led the program for the past eleven seasons, head coach David Bailiff. Sure enough, on Monday Rice's administration announced that they were parting ways with Bailiff:
Bailiff was informed of the decision during a Monday meeting with director of athletics Joe Karlgaard. 
Bailiff was 57-80 and led Owls to four bowls including three straight from 2012 through 2014. 
Bailiff was named Conference USA's coach of the year twice (2008 and 2013). His 57 wins are second in school history behind Jess Neely. 
Bailiff took Rice to heights it hadn't reached in more than half a century, leading the Owls to two of the school's three 10-win seasons—their first was in 1949. 
During Bailiff's tenure (tied for the third-longest in school history), Rice players have regularly excelled off the field; eight players have been taken in the NFL Draft; and the school opened the $31.5 million, 60,000-square-foot Brian Patterson Center for coaches' offices and a locker and weight room in 2015. 
After going 3-9 in Bailiff's first season in 2007, Rice rebounded with a 10-3 year and won the Texas Bowl in 2008. But since winning the Owls' first outright conference title in 56 years in 2013, Bailiff's teams have done progressively worse.
Coach Bailiff was by all accounts a good guy - I've met him - who brought the Owls a measure of success the program hadn't experienced in a long time. But there's also little doubt that the program was trending downward under his leadership: from a 10-4 record (and Conference USA championship) in 2013, to an 8-5 record (and most recent bowl appearance) in 2014, to a 5-7 record in 2015, to a 3-9 record last season, to this season's 1-11 campaign. Given that trend, Rice AD Joe Karlgaard's decision is understandable.

The question now is who Rice will find to replace Bailiff. Rice is a hard place to win, due to a variety of factors including high academic standards and low fan support. It takes a special kind of coach to keep that program competitive, and even then coaching might not, by itself, be enough. As the Rice athletics program searches for their next coach, John Royal ponders the future of the program overall:
Is there a corner that the team can turn? Is there anything that can be done that will revitalize not only the dwindling Rice fanbase, but will somehow make the program relevant throughout Houston so that people will actually come out to Rice Stadium? 
These are all questions for another day. But they all need to be addressed sooner rather than later.
While Rice licks the wounds of a rough season and looks for a new coach, they might find inpiration from the team that beat them last weekend. Three seasons ago, the Mean Green had also limped their way to a 1-11 record. But Seth Littrell took over as coach following the 2015 season, and has now led North Texas to a 9-3 regular season record and a trip to the Conference USA Championship Game.

No comments: