Predictably, the 1-5 start to the San Jose State Spartans’ first half of the 2016 season brought talk of a coaching change up from social media and message boards to the mainstream media. The Mercury News has had two articles after the homecoming loss to Hawaii bringing up that possibility.
First, on Oct. 11 the publication retitled an article by Martin Gallegos to “Ron Caragher addresses job future at San Jose State”; that article was previously “San Jose State looking to jump-start offense against Nevada” for online publication the day before. Later that day, Jon Wilner came out with his take on Caragher’s future, “San Jose State coach Ron Caragher under pressure as season slips away”.
The same day as these two articles came out, San Jose State campus newspaper The Spartan Daily also reported that a tent in the tailgate area had a sign that read “Fire Ron Caragher”. At the postgame press conference versus Hawaii, Spartan Daily reporter Luke Johnson brought up the anti-Caragher sign and social media posts. Caragher responded, “That’s a part of coaching.”
As Caragher is currently in the fourth year in his five-year contract, it is in the program’s best interest that there be a long-term head coach in 2017, whether Caragher or someone else. Having Caragher as head coach next year with no clear future in sight puts San Jose State at a disadvantage in recruiting, so this year is the stay-or-go year, with the current results leaning strongly leaning towards go.
When athletic director Gene Bleymaier decided to retain Caragher as head coach after the past two losing seasons, he made sure to make his decision public. In December 2014, following a 3-9 season, Bleymaier confirmed that Caragher would return for 2015 and that letting him go was “not even a point of discussion.” Nearly a year later, after San Jose State finished 5-7 in the regular season, Bleymaier said, “There’s no question about his status. Ron’s our coach, and he’ll be our coach going forward.”
In contrast, Bleymaier had nothing to say last week. “Athletic director Gene Bleymaier declined a request to comment on the state of the program and the future of his head coach,” reported Wilner on Oct. 11. Because it is far different from how Bleymaier has publicly stood by Caragher in previous years, the silence is more telling than deafening.
Precedent in firing previous coaches can provide a better idea of how San Jose State could handle the situation with Caragher. Two examples from Bleymaier’s tenure imply that Bleymaier will allow coaches to finish out seasons before termination. In February 2013, the athletics department quickly squashed a report by blogger Kevin McCarthy that Nessman was fired, but McCarthy stood by his writing and updated his blog to state that Nessman had been informed that he would be fired at season’s end, which ultimately did happen. This year, former baseball head coach Dave Nakama remained with his team through the end of the season before being let go in June.
The last time San Jose State football had an interim head coach was for the 2012 Military Bowl, when defensive coordinator Kent Baer took over after Mike MacIntyre resigned to take the job at Colorado. Prior to that, NCAA records show that the last time a midseason coaching change happened was in 1970, when DeWayne King took over for Joe McMullen three games into the season. In fact, during Bleymaier’s administration at Boise State from 1982 to 2011, there was never a men’s basketball head coach fired before season’s end, and the only interim football head coaches were either temporary for bowl games (2013, when Bob Gregory coached Boise State for the Hawaii Bowl after Chris Petersen was hired at Washington) or health reasons (1996, when Tom Mason took over for Pokey Allen, who had cancer). Thus, history shows that having an interim head coach take over midseason due to poor performance by the head coach is highly unlikely.
In other programs, midseason firings have happened after particularly embarrassing losses. Last October, North Texas fired head coach Dan McCarney after a 66-7 loss to FCS opponent Portland State dropped the team to 0-5. (No, I am not making up that score. Had San Jose State lost even by one point to Portland State this year, I wonder what would have happened to Caragher by now.) This was over a year after McCarney signed a five-year contract extension following a bowl win over UNLV, so North Texas ended up on the hook for nearly three and a half years’ worth of pay to McCarney. In contrast, when Hawaii fired Norm Chow after a 58-7 loss to Air Force sank Hawaii to a 2-7 record, Chow had just over a year remaining on his contract.
Back in 2009, San Jose State could have done the same to Dick Tomey, after a 62-7 nationally televised home loss to a Nevada team that featured Colin Kaepernick on Nov. 8. Even though San Jose State fell to 1-8 with that loss, Tomey announced nearly a week later that he would finish out the season and retire. Allowing Tomey to do so on his terms was the classy, dignified thing to do, because Tomey did so much to rescue San Jose State football in the long term: he had given San Jose State its first bowl win in over 15 years in 2006 and helped increase the Academic Progress Rate.
Another example of a coaching decision at San Jose State being known in advance was the resignation of Fitz Hill in 2004. On Nov. 22, the Monday before the season finale, Hill announced that he would resign after that game, at the request of then-university president Don Kassing. However, the resignations of Hill and Tomey occurred under different athletic directors, Chuck Bell in 2004 and Tom Bowen in 2009. Inferring from the situation during the final month of George Nessman’s tenure, Bleymaier prefers to run a tight ship. The leaking of word about Nessman’s firing must have annoyed Bleymaier and others in athletics.
Examining these recent cases of San Jose State sports as well as Bleymaier’s administration at Boise State leads to the conclusion that a coaching change in football will happen immediately after season’s end, should one happen. It is now up to fans to voice their concerns about the football program to the athletic director and president.