Well it's time to look back at the past three months of Bearcats football and breakdown the good, bad and ugly of the past season. Instead of giving you one look at the team, we'll look deep into the program as to what needs to be done. Who is getting the job done, and who needs to look deep into their soul to make the Bearcats a team fighting for a Big East title.
Today we start right at the top and look at the Bearcats head coach.
MARK DANTONIO - HEAD COACH
2 YEARS - 11-12 OVERALL
No one should question if Mark Dantonio is the right man for the job, because he is... Before taking the job at Cincinnati, Dantonio could have waited for an opening at another Big Ten, SEC or ACC program to open up. But the former Ohio State defensive coordinator took the reins running and made waves from the very start.
While other coaches would look to make excuses, Coach Dantonio would have none of it. He believes in the path being taken at Cincinnati and has the commitment to see it through for the long haul. This trait will allow the Bearcats program to see long success as each recruiting class is being built.
While being a defensive coach, Dantonio has shown he's willing to take risk on special teams. Fans have expressed an enjoyment to this trait. But while many fans enjoy the riverboat gambler side of its head coach, others have questioned the Bearcats offensive game plan. Some wonder if the defensive background of its head coach keeps the offense in check much like Coach Dantonio's former boss Jim Tressel. But having seen the number of practices and games this season, I feel the offense was held in check because of its personnel. This is the hardest area for fans to understand that have not played the game at the college level. Don't ask your players to do more then they can.
A family man and one who believes in hard work, Dantonio has done a great job of keeping players in line on and off the field. His no nonsense approach with players and coaches help keep this team on its path of becoming a player in the Big East. This approach was one that was needed in the Bearcats program for it to have a chance in the Big East. A coach who would flinch and look for shortcuts would sell the program and it's fans short in the long run.
While the coach showed some frustration in the later parts of the season, this should be understandable. Coach Dantonio doesn't like to lose, and will work to make sure the results of 2005 are not seen in the future. This program is about 1 or 2 years away, but with another solid recruiting class in 2006, they should be able to build a team that will fight for a bowl bid next season.
This winter will prove to be the hardest for Coach Dantonio since taking over the job at UC. Talk was there would be 11 scholarships for this class. But now it looks as if 21 scholarships will be handed out. This means some changes will be coming as Coach Dantonio and his staff start meeting with players one-on-one to talk about their future in the program. Don't be surprised to see several players leave the program between now and the start of spring football. These players will be those who don't feel they will see the field or leave due to career ending injury or other off the field reasons. Fan's should not take too much from this. This happens in programs across the country each year.
While I don't see many changes coming in the current coaching staff, it's still a possibility as this staff has several coaches who will end up as coordinators or even head coaches in the not so distant future. The longer this staff can stay together, the better the program will be. But we're already seeing interest in one coach this year, and with more success we'll see even more programs showing interest in the men who are responsible in building this program.
Many have spoken since the Coach Huggins ordeal that Cincinnati coaches would be hand-tied during recruiting. Coach Dantonio has stated this is not a fact and will not play into the way his staff recruits student athletes. Keep in mind two of the more highly touted players in the Class of 2005 didn't take the field at anytime this season. They both had to sit out because of NCAA rules. But when they take the field, the Bearcats program will receive a great boost.
What area does Coach Dantonio need to work on? Recruiting! His hardest job is not game planning for an opponent. It's getting players who will make a difference and believe in him and the program he's building on the campus of Clifton. With all the new buildings set to open in a few months, and players seeing a chance to take the field early, Coach Dantonio has some great things to sell players in his next few classes. These classes will build the foundation needed for Bearcats football to reach a level it hasn't seen in its history.
So while many will question if Mark Dantonio is the right man for the job of building the Bearcats football program, I'm one that's not worried about the direction or the man in charge of this task. I've had the pleasure to cover the Bearcats for the past 11 months and see the light at the end of the tunnel. This man can get the job done if given the time needed. I feel in the near future Bearcat fans will enjoy seasons fighting for Big East titles and bowl trips to end the season.
Bearcat Insider will take its next look at the Bearcats football program and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi.