DALLAS – Rick Stockstill was one of the new kids on the block on Wednesday.
He also was the veteran in the room.
Of the 16 coaches at the Marriott Hotel for Conference USA Media Day, Stockstill has been at his current school longer than anyone else.
As Middle Tennessee State begins its first year in Conference USA, Stockstill enters his eighth as the Blue Raiders’ football coach. David Bailiff has spent seven seasons at Rice. Bobby Wilder started that same year at Old Dominion but the fledgling football program didn’t begin until 2009.
For the 55-year-old Stockstill, a new conference home presents a chance for new heights.
“To me, the job isn’t done yet,” he said. “I’ve had chances [to leave]. But I want to have the commitment to our players when I recruit them, tell them my vision and what I want to do. I’m always going to be honest with them. I’m not just trying to find the next big job. That’s not my style. I want to see us to go to the Orange Bowl. I want us to win the Orange Bowl. I want to see this through. I want to finish the deal.”
Stockstill has ridden the proverbial roller coaster to a 43-44 record at MTSU since he took over in 2006 after 23 years as an assistant coach, including 10 at Clemson.
He has endured four losing seasons, including a 10-loss campaign in 2011. Under his watch, the Blue Raiders also won a Sun Belt Conference championship and have gone to three bowls, including one in his first season and the program’s first bowl win in 2009 – the highlight of a 10-win season. Plus he steered the Blue Raiders to the GoDaddy.com Bowl the next season despite losing his starting quarterback for the opening four games due to a violation of NCAA rules.
In 2012, he overcame an embarrassing season-opening loss to Football Championship Subdivision foe McNeese State, and his team won eight of its next 10 but was left out of a bowl just days after the announcement it was leaving the Sun Belt Conference.
“Stock’s done a great job,” Southern Miss first-year coach Todd Monken said. “They’ve had their moments. At times, it has been up and down. All of a sudden up and all of a sudden down, which is normal for this level to an extent. It is hard to maintain because of the changeover in kids and trying to get players who can play against anybody. You probably take a few more risks. But he’s done a great job.
“Everybody counted them out [last year] and then – bang. All of a sudden they won [a ton] of games and they got screwed on playing in a bowl game.”
After winning the New Orleans Bowl in 2009, Stockstill was a candidate for the opening at East Carolina, where he served as an assistant coach in 2003. But he withdrew his name from consideration, saying he couldn’t abandon incoming freshmen just two weeks before national signing day.
“I’d follow him to end of the earth,” senior quarterback Logan Kilgore said. “He is an incredible coach and incredible man. I am just extremely honored to have the opportunity to play for him.”
On Wednesday, Stockstill said his family’s fondness of Murfreesboro also factored into past decisions to stay at MTSU. This year, he’ll get a chance to coach his son, Brent, an incoming freshman quarterback who stood out at Siegel High School the last four years.
Stockstill can appreciate longevity. He played quarterback for Bobby Bowden, who spent more than 33 years at Florida State.
“This is a tough profession,” Stockstill said. “The Bobby Bowdens, Tom Osborne, those guys, there are not many who can say they are at one school 30, 35, 40 years. It is hard to do. To me, I’ve just always tried to do it the right way and have success at Middle Tennessee. We’ve got great support from our administration. But I just try to do the best I can each day and try to improve and try to help Middle Tennessee improve to be the best program it can be every day.”
With eight years under his belt, Stockstill is the fourth-longest tenured coach in MTSU history. Charles Murphy coached for 22 seasons (1947-68). Boots Donnelly spent 20 years (1979-98) at the helm. Alfred B. Miles began the program in 1913 and served nine years over two stints.
While opportunities might present themselves in the future, for now Stockstill is content with his seat.
But he’s not satisfied with settling in the Blue Raiders’ new home.
“Why can’t we win the national championship? Why can’t we play in the Orange Bowl or Sugar Bowl?” he said. “Let’s have long-range vision and long-range plans. And that is what I’d love to be able to do. Any job I’ve ever had I’ve never looked at as it as climbing up the ladder. I want to do the best I can every day for Middle Tennessee, provide the leadership and direction to help us reach all the goals we have.”