With wins come losses.
For a football program in a non-BCS conference such as Middle Tennessee State, it’s almost inevitable.
The Blue Raiders won 10 games in 2009, including a 42-32 victory over Southern Miss in the New Orleans Bowl. Only 21 teams in the entire Football Bowl Subdivision (120 members) won 10 or more, and just seven previous MTSU teams, regardless of classification, won that many.
Not long after, the program lost both of its coordinators — and very nearly its head coach.
Rick Stockstill received some very public interest from East Carolina when that school went looking for a coach in January. He ultimately withdrew from consideration and restocked the MTSU staff after offensive coordinator Tony Franklin took the same position at Louisiana Tech and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz signed on to do the same thing at Mississippi State.
With 14 starters returning, including an experienced offensive line and a productive dual-threat quarterback in Dwight Dasher, the expectations are that MTSU has the potential to win more than its share of games and possibly its first outright Sun Belt Conference championship in 2010.
“I’d much rather have a team where you say, ‘I hope we can win 12 games,’ rather than one where you say, ‘I hope we can win just one.’ ” Stockstill said. “It gives your program credibility every place you go. It’s good for the university, it’s good for your community, and it’s good for your football program.”
Stockstill has won 54 percent of his games overall and more than two-thirds of his conference contests since being hired after the 2005 campaign. He has a pair of non-conference wins over Maryland and Memphis, and he has engineered two bowl appearances.
With nine victories or more this fall, he will become the third-winningest coach in the history of MTSU football, which is about to complete its first century of competition.
“The foundation of this program is built on competition; we’re going to compete at everything,” Stockstill said. “If you’re not hungry to get better and to improve, you’re not going to be able to compete at the level you need to be successful.”
‘I embrace expectations’
Only one other coach in the past 40-plus years has amassed a winning record at MTSU. Boots Donnelly went 140-87-1 from 1979-98. The end of his tenure coincided with the end of the school’s participation at the Division I-AA level.
No one in the last half-century has used the program as a steppingstone to immediate opportunities. Johnny “Red” Floyd, who went 30-8-1 (mostly in the 1930s), later coached four games for Auburn. At that time, Auburn was a far cry from what it is now.
If a larger school comes looking for Stockstill this December or January, it will have a clear idea of what he has to offer.
“When I first got here, I said I wanted to be an up-tempo attacking defense that utilized our speed,” Stockstill said. “We grew more and more into that mold as we recruited for those needs. Offensively, we have progressed into more of a spread team from a two-back system when I first got here.”
His four Blue Raiders teams have forced 33 more turnovers than they’ve committed and have featured the conference’s top touchdown scorer twice in four seasons.
Last season, MTSU was the only team to finish among the Sun Belt Conference’s top three in both total offense and total defense. In a season-ending seven-game win streak it scored more than 30 points six times and allowed 21 or fewer five times.
“Coach Stockstill preaches players being unselfish,” new offensive coordinator Mike Schultz said. “It is a team concept here. There is no one player we cannot live without. Our kids believe this. They think, ‘What can I do for the team?’ ”
It’s telling that when Stockstill needed to find men to run his offense and defense this offseason, he was able to attract two from bigger, more successful programs.
Schultz came on board after having been the offensive coordinator last year at Illinois and prior to that at TCU. Defensive coordinator Randall McCray came from Wisconsin, where he coached three different position groups over the past four seasons.
Still, it’s the offense and the defense he installed when he was hired nearly five years ago. They are the schemes that have proven successful on the scoreboard and appealing to recruits. Thus, the expectations for the Blue Raiders headed into 2010 are higher than at any time since the school joined college football’s most competitive classification.
“I embrace expectations,” Stockstill said. “As a coach, your expectations are to win games.”