Attention, all Georgia Southern fans.
Welcome to the new normal.
Over the last couple of years, the Eagles have had a big list of new experiences to check off as they made the leap up to FBS competition. And those experiences have been overwhelmingly positive.
A first FBS win, the first undefeated conference run by a new FBS program, some well-earned respect from Power 5 programs that GSU took to the brink; those were all great, but now it’s time for the not-so-fun news.
Friday brought about the unwanted early Christmas present of a coaching search as Willie Fritz accepted the head coaching position at Tulane. While Georgia Southern has seen coaches hired away before, it usually took a lengthy period of incredible success to get an FBS team to buy into an FCS coach.
As fans have now seen, the brighter lights of the FBS also make it much easier for a coach to be recognized by schools with deeper pockets. The loss to Georgia State was certainly a kick to the Eagles’ pride, but the fact remained that Fritz had taken a team full of guys mainly recruited by the previous coaching staff and took them from a perennial FCS power to an immediate FBS success story.
That sort of thing simply doesn’t happen. Most transitioning teams are 7-17 after two years at the highest level of play instead of 17-7. And only one previous transitioning team ever had to expand the conference championship trophy case after one year in FBS.
Those accomplishments were bound to be noticed and Tulane certainly did. And if the next Georgia Southern coach harnesses the momentum of the last two seasons and adds a Sun Belt title or two of his own to the history books, you can bet that the same fate will await him.
The fact is that – for all the new heights Georgia Southern has reached in the last 24 months – the Eagles are still just a blip on the national radar. Georgia Southern never had a huge budget for facilities or coaching salaries, even when compared to the likes of its old home in the Southern Conference. Some more revenue has been added since making the jump to FBS, but the Eagles still rank next to last in the country of all schools who report their annual athletic budgets.
That’s not meant to be a criticism, but it is meant to shine light on why the Eagles are in their current situation. Reports are that the Eagles did their best to offer Fritz more money, but Tulane can double any amount that Georgia Southern could have reasonably offered without breaking a sweat. And in this case, approximately $600,000 went to approximately $1.2 million.
Money isn’t everything, but it’s definitely something. It’s something that will continue to be a sticking point for coaches if Georgia Southern continues to succeed. The Eagles have shown the ability to target the right coaches recently and I don’t see any reason to think that filling the office vacated by Fritz should turn out any differently.
But just down the road – and we’ve seen that the road can be as short as two years – there will continue to be a threat of bigger, wealthier schools continuing to pillage Georgia Southern for coaching talent.
There is no easy fix to that issue, but that doesn’t mean that there is no solution.
Many fans will be just as upset if and when the next coach leaves for a bigger contract, and they’ll ask what can be done to bump up the salaries while admitting that they can’t help because they’re incapable of writing out seven-figure checks.
The thing is, Georgia Southern already has a few of those guys (although I’m sure they’re always looking for more). What the school doesn’t have enough of are people who will rattle off 10 or 20 bucks per month, or maybe increase their annual donation by a small amount each year.
That doesn’t just go for athletics. The university as a whole is growing and achieving despite the fact that some department bank accounts look frighteningly similar to those of Georgia Southern students.
Georgia Southern University has always been an overachiever, whether it’s in classrooms, in research, or on the playing fields.
Those who wear the blue and white seem to have no trouble continuing to shine, but if people want to keep these success stories associated with the school, it’s time for fans and alumni to step up their own game.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.