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2008 Big East Preview: Cincinnati Bearcats

This isn't exactly a traditional preview. Everyone has the same questions about Cincinnati - can Dustin Grutza replace Ben Mauk? Will their defense suffer now that it's a year removed from Dantonio and Narduzzi? I'm interested in those questions - but other people are answering them. Each team in the Big East has a storyline this year. For Rutgers, it's probably how they'll replace Ray Rice. In the coming days, I am going to tackle the underlying theme of each non-Rutgers team this season. The plan is to draw analogies to several relevant NCAA teams of recent memory, trying to discover any information of merit or explanatory power. I searched the team records on CFBDataWarehouse for roughly the past 25 years. The sample size is not as big as would be ideal, but that's life. So without further adieu.

Cincinnati: Can a new coach ever live up to a big first year?

Brian Kelly has tasted nothing but success in his seventeen years of coaching, winning over 70% of his games. From dominating DII at Grand Valley St., to quickly bringing Central Michigan to the top of the MAC conference, Brian Kelly acquired quite a hefty resume before Cincinnati hired him to replace Mark Dantonio when he left for Michigan State in late 2007. Dantonio had the Bearcats headed in the right direction, and most observers expected Dantonio to be successful, but no one quite anticipated to what level he would bring them. Before 2007, Cincinnati had not won 10 games in over 50 years, when they were coached by the legendary Sid Gillman.

While unprecedented at Cincinnati, such a turnaround does happen occasionally in I-A football. It's happened twice at Notre Dame in the past decade. In 2005 and 2002, Charlie Weis and Ty Willingham respectively both added 5 wins to the totals of their fired immediate predecessors. Weis had been a career assistant in the NFL, while Willingham had been lured away from Stanford based on his perceived ability to work with tight academic standards. What are some situations where a new coaching hiring has immediately improved a program's win total?

In 2001, Maryland also went with the career assistant route, hiring Ralph Friedgen, a long-time assistant in the NFL and the San Diego Chargers. Maryland improved from 5 to 10 wins, and had two more extremely successful seasons before falling back into a period of relative mediocrity during the past four seasons. BYU went the career assistant route in 2001 with Gary Crowton, who initially led his team to a 12 win season, but was eventually let go as he subsequently suffered three straight losing seasons. Purdue improved from 3 to 9 wins in 1997 by hiring Joe Tiller from Wyoming, and he has been relatively successful ever since. My final relevant example is Florida's hiring of Steve Spurrier away from Duke in 1990. Spurrier was worth two wins in 1990, and the program never looked back, becoming one of the more successful programs in the nineties.

Cumulatively, my six examples improved from 32-37 (winning at a 46% rate) under the previous regimes to 59-15 (80% winning percentage) in their first year under a new coach. Most fell off the next year, but not by much - to 50-26, winning at a 66% clip.

Is it possible to decide which precedent is the most applicable to Cincinnati's team this season? Weis, Friedgen, and Crowton did not have previous head coaching experience, while Spurrier, Tiller, and Willingham did. That may portend somewhat for Cincinnati's future (depending on how Notre Dame fares this season), but it does not appear to make a difference in the figurative comedown year.

Of the six candidates, I believe that Purdue shares the most similarities with Cincinnati. Both are universities based in the midwest, that have more history in basketball, and both hired offensively-oriented coaches away from mid major success. If Brian Kelly's tenure at Cincinnati can match Tiller's at Purdue over the past decade, Cincinnati fans should be very pleased.

Blind prediction: 8-5 (the Bearcats play 13 games this year because they're travelling to Hawaii.)