Stockstill Speaks

Middle Tennessee fans sweated through a nerve-racking weekend in late January as they waited for word on Rick Stockstill's decision about his coaching future. It was rumored that he had been offered the same position at ECU and that he was likely to accept the job.

Despite all reports to the contrary, however, the Blue Raider faithful were able to breathe a collective sigh of relief when Stockstill took his name out of the running that Tuesday morning.

Although the entire incident only took five days, it seemed like an eternity to Middle Tennessee fans who had already seen defensive coordinator Manny Diaz leave for the same job at Mississippi State. The waiting was compounded by message board fodder and college football blogs giving varying accounts of the details of the situation. Then, as suddenly as the worry began, it was over.

Stockstill announced that he was withdrawing his name from consideration.

"The bottom line is, I talk to our players all the time about character, integrity, doing the right thing, being honest, being loyal," said Stockstill during a phone interview. "I talk all the time about doing the right thing. And when I looked at it with 10 days before signing day, to me, if I would've left it wouldn't have been the right thing to do."

Had he chosen to make the leap to Greeneville, Stockstill could have left proud of what he'd accomplished in his four seasons. During his tenure in Murfreesboro, he has been to two bowl games and accumulated an overall record of 27-23. Even more impressive is his record against the Sun Belt in his four seasons: 20-9.

Had he chosen to make the leap to ECU, Stockstill could have left proud of his most recent season with Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders went 10-3 and set a new mark for wins by a Sun Belt school and the wins by an MTSU team since making the leap to Division I.

Had he chosen to make the leap to Conference USA, Stockstill could have become the first head coach from a Sun Belt school to make the leap to a program in a bigger conference and become a very wealthy man in the process.

But he didn't.

"I believe he is firmly committed to this program," says Middle Tennessee athletic director Chris Massaro.

Massaro stayed in constant contact with Stockstill throughout his interview process with ECU. At the end of the five days, Massaro was just as relieved as the rest of the Blue Raider faithful.

"I was absolutely thrilled that he decided to stay, because I would really miss our working relationship," Massaro says. "From a personal level, I would miss seeing him everyday. He's a colleague and a friend, so to see him go would've been tough."

Fans can be assured that Massaro's relief wasn't purely for Stockstill the friend. He was also glad to retain Stockstill the coach.

"Also, I knew that particularly right now he's the best fit that we could possibly have for this program. While I'm confident that we would've been able to attract a really quality coach, it would be difficult to find somebody who could fit into the culture he's established," says Massaro. "I think he's a special, special coach and it would've been tough to replace him."

"I believe in my heart the only person I would've been thinking about would've been me," Stockstill says about the most obvious incentive for taking the job. "The only thing I would've been going for was the money. That's not me. I'm more than that."

Everybody familiar with the Blue Raider football program is also familiar with Stockstill's coaching inspiration: Bobby Bowden. Stockstill played quarterback under Bowden at Florida State during the legendary coach's earliest seasons in Tallahassee. Stockstill often references the Seminoles program as the benchmark for college football programs.

"One of the things we really talked about is the fact that we haven't hit a ceiling yet," Massaro says, regarding Stockstill's long-term plans for Middle. "He always uses the FSU analogy from when he was a player and this is his program. So to put his stamp on something and make it his legacy could be so great."

In just three short months the Middle Tennessee fan base has gone from celebrating the New Orleans Bowl victory to worrying about coaches coming and going and now to celebrating Rick Stockstill and his vision for this program. With a favorable schedule and several key players returning for 2010, the fans should have plenty to be excited about, and thanks to Stockstill's graduation from the Bobby Bowden school of coaching, they should be excited for many years to come.

Extra Extra:

Stockstill on his boss: "I have a ton of respect for Chris. Not only as my boss and how he runs this athletic department, but for him personally and our friendship. I respect him as a person, as a family man and as my boss."

Stockstill on the ECU time line: "ECU contacted [Massaro] and asked for permission to talk to me. He came down and told me and that kind of shocked me because I had no previous contact from anybody that they might be calling me. They contacted him Friday morning, he told me, and then they contacted me Friday afternoon."

Stockstill on his communication with Massaro during the ECU incident: "I talked to Chris and kind of gave him the details of what was going on. I was going to fly up there Sunday afternoon after the banquet and after the recruits left. I got back late that night, talked to him Monday morning and then I went to Atlanta to see a couple of recruits that I had already scheduled visits with. I drove down there and saw them, and I continued to talk to him over the phone. Tuesday morning it was basically over."

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