Head football coach Ron Caragher will not return next season, San Jose State University confirmed on Sunday. This announcement came one day after the Spartans finished the season 4-8 (3-5 Mountain West Conference) with a 16-14 win at rival Fresno State.
“I want to thank Coach Caragher for his hard work and commitment to San Jose State football these past four years,” said San Jose State athletic director Gene Bleymaier.
“A search for a new head coach will begin immediately.”
Caragher completed four out of five years in his contract. His overall record at San Jose State is 19-30 (14-18 MW), including a win in the 2015 Cure Bowl, San Jose State's only bowl appearance in the Caragher era. San Jose State has never had a winning season in Caragher's tenure, but the team had a 5-3 conference record in Caragher's first season in 2013. The buyout will cost approximately $525,000, equivalent to one year's worth of salary.
Hired in December 2012 to replace Mike MacIntyre, who resigned to take the head coaching position at Colorado, Caragher inherited a team that returned 15 starters from the 2012 team that finished 11-2 and ranked No. 21 in the year-end AP poll, including future NFL draft pick David Fales at quarterback. However, the team finished 6-6 (5-3 MW) and was not selected for a bowl. After Caragher changed the defensive scheme from 4-3 to 3-4 that season, the run defense gave up 5.2 yards per rushing play in 2013 compared to 3.6 yards per rush in 2012. Caragher returned to the 4-3 defense in 2014, but the run defense continued to give up over 5 yards per rush.
In 2015, despite a 5-7 record, San Jose State was invited to the inaugural Cure Bowl on the basis of its high Academic Progress Rate score, due to a lack of teams with six or more wins for every available bowl spot. San Jose State won the Cure Bowl 27-16 over Georgia State on Dec. 19, 2015. The Spartans entered 2016 with high expectations coming off that bowl win, only to start the season with a nationally televised 45-10 loss at Tulsa. San Jose State started the season 1-5, with the one win being against FCS Portland State. That poor start led to questions being raised if Caragher would return. The first win this year against an FBS opponent was on Oct. 15 against Nevada.
Caragher has also attracted much criticism from fans for his remarks to the media. One particular quote that attracted scorn came after a 41-31 loss to Navy: "I'm very pleased we won't have to face [quarterback Keenan Reynolds] again." In 2015, after a 35-21 loss at Oregon State in which San Jose State went scoreless in the second half and gave up a 21-14 halftime lead, Caragher responded to a question from Mercury News reporter Jimmy Durkin about "letting this one get away": "Those are harsh words, Jimmy. Were we favorites in this game"?
That same season, after a 40-23 loss to Boise State in the regular season finale, Mercury News columnists Mark Purdy and Jon Wilner both called Caragher "defensive" in remarking in the postgame news conference, “I want to go to a bowl game each and every year. But I think you have to take into account that we moved into the Mountain West Conference. We’re not playing in the WAC anymore.”
A commentary article on this site written by this author led to much criticism of Caragher from his former players who had also played in the 2012 top-25 season. Published in September, the article analyzed Caragher's comments published a month earlier claiming that his earlier teams were "built for the WAC." Former wide receiver Jabari Carr tweeted: "You say our roster was built for the WAC[;] we can also say our [head coach] was built for [the] Pioneer [F]ootball [L]eague," in reference to Caragher's previous stint as head coach at the University of San Diego, a member of the Pioneer Football League.
Scout rankings show Caragher's 2014 recruiting class as third best in the MW and 2015 recruiting class as second in the MW. Additionally, Caragher's teams have had 26 all-MW honorees from 2013 to 2015. In 2013, wide receiver Tyler Winston won third-team freshman All-American and MW Freshman of the Year honors.
Social media reaction
On Twitter, junior safety and defensive co-captain Maurice McKnight implied that defensive backs coach Will Harris was also let go.
In response to that tweet, team spokesperson Lawrence Fan said in an email: "It would be the next head coach's decision which assistants he may want to retain. That is assuming an assistant is interested in staying and/or did not accept another job opportunity."
Defensive coordinator Ron English tweeted in part: "Thank you so much for believing in me enough to never quit."
Sophomore linebacker Frank Ginda subtweeted English and wrote: "I [a]ppreciate everything you taught the team."
This coaching decision also raised questions for members of the upcoming 2017 recruiting class. Daniel Schoene, an offensive line commit out of Bakersfield (Calif.) High School, posted a screenshot of the Mercury News report about Caragher's firing and questioned if his scholarship offer would still stand.
Payton Stoner, from Mt. Carmel High School (San Diego, Calif.) and another offensive line commit, simply tweeted, "Decisions to come."