Uphill Battle on the Hilltop
When your most distinguished athletic alum rips on you with the vengeance of a rival coach during recruiting season, you’ve got a major problem.
As much as SMU athletic director Rick Hart claims that things have changed at SMU during the past decade, the school still finds itself looking up, way up, at TCU and Baylor. Eric Dickerson almost won a Heisman Trophy while a running back at SMU, and went on to be one of the greatest runners in NFL history. Instead of him being a shining light for the program and a recruiting tool that could help to convince a few 5-star athletes to pick the Mustangs over Texas or A&M or Oklahoma, Dickerson recently said that the SMU athletic department is a joke and that it should seriously consider dropping the football team. The Longhorns couldn’t have asked for more, if a kid they want even mentions SMU, all they have to do is cut and paste Dickerson’s comments and the player will sprint to Austin like Usain Bolt.
SMU does have a problem in the athletic department, despite the fact that they’ve come a long way in the past 10 years. Baylor, TCU, Texas, A&M, and even North Texas have come A LOT further in the same time. Moving forward doesn’t mean the same thing as keeping up or moving past your rivals. Before he abruptly quit, June Jones’ star was fading. He almost left for Arizona State three years ago and ever since, he’s been only luke warm on the Mustangs sideline, kind of biding his time until another “major” program showed some interest. None did, so his half-hearted recruiting finally caught up and he decided to hit the exit before he was asked to leave.
Football is the king of virtually all athletic departments in this country and SMU is floundering. An average team in a conference that few know and has no real rivalries for the Mustangs. Jones certainly turned the program around, going to its first bowl game in 25 years, going to bowl games in four of the past five years but the team has leveled off, at best. There’s a big difference in going to the Hawaii Bowl and TCU going to the Rose Bowl and Baylor playing in the Fiesta Bowl last year. Just going to a bowl isn’t good enough. Where is the fighting spirit that SMU once had. I go to most home football games and there isn’t a passion about the team when everyone is tailgating on the Boulevard. No one expects much or even seems to care how the team does. About half of the tailgaters don’t even stick around for the game; it’s a nice mid-day cocktail party and then back home to watch some “real football.”
If Rick Hart thinks there’s a lot of “misinformation in the marketplace” about SMU athletics he needs to get his ear a little closer to the ground. Alumi barely seem to care and student attendance at a Monday morning math lab is bigger and more vocal that in the student section at Ford Stadium. Larry Brown has done a remarkable job with the SMU basketball team, and at 74 maybe he’ll stick around a few more years but there’s no doubt if he were in his coaching prime, he’d be gone next year. Hart says they want to hire just the right person to replace Jones as football coach. Unless Knute Rockne has been reincarnated, I don’t think whoever it is will matter much. Everyone on the Hilltop has just become too used to mediocre.