While I was watching the once mighty Georgia Southern Eagles get annihilated by a run-of-the-mill Big Ten team on Saturday, several thoughts went through my head. Not the least of which was, how did we get here?
Only two years prior, Georgia Southern took UGA to overtime between the hedges. They demolished the MAC champions Bowling Green 58-27 in our first bowl game. They had swept the conference our first year in 2014.
Georgia Southern’s epic fall has been a result of poor decision after poor decision. It can all be traced back to how the University responded when Head Coach Willie Fritz decided to accept a six-year offer to coach for Tulane. Why did he leave? Why wasn’t he given an extension after leading the most successful FCS-to-FBS move up since those Marshall teams lead by Randy Moss and Chad Pennington in the late 90’s?
Well, below is an audio recording. This clip is certainly clarifying, at least for me personally. This is an audio clip from the last players meeting Willie Fritz had as Georgia Southern Head Coach ahead of the 2015 GoDaddy Bowl. It shows Fritz’s side of the story. No contract extension offered after going 18-8 (if you count the GoDaddy Bowl) in his first two seasons at the helm. He also mentions recommending Dell McGee to replace him.
I broke it down for you here a bit. I tried to transcribe it as much as I could. It’s worth a listen.
4:00 – Interim HC Dell McGee takes the stand to introduce Fritz
4:30 – Willie Fritz starts
5:00 – Fritz thanks the football team, uses words like “family” and “great group of young guys.”
5:20 – Fritz starts explaining his decision to take the Tulane job.
5:25 – “I’m 55 going on 56.” – Fritz explaining that job security matters at his age.
5:41 – “I took a contract that didn’t have much job security.” – referring to the year-to-year review he faces at Georgia Southern. Could get terminated if he drops below 7 wins.
5:45 – Money quotes: “They told me when I proved myself that I would be given job security. That wasn’t the case.”
“I thought the last couple years I deserved more than that.”
“At this stage of my career, this stage of my life, job security is really, really important.”
“At some point I would like to retire.”
6:55 – “Last week a guy (from Tulane) called me, they targeted me. Offered me a six-year contract. Too good for me to pass up.”
7:15 – “I don’t expect you to understand (the decision)” Fritz says to his players, “A lot of thought was put into this.”
7:45 – Recommended Dell McGee to be his successor. Fritz says “You should hire this man right here (McGee).” He addresses the players “If you want him hired, you’ll have to do a great job in the bowl game tonight.” They did, as evidenced by that 58-27 scoreline.
8:45 – Fritz gets emotional talking about winning the conference his first year, taking them to their first bowl game, and “playing on ESPN, none of that “U” or “2” bullshit!”
10:00 – Fritz starts choking up while biding his final farewell to his former team.
Sidenote: The actual term of his contract was only 12 months, although his salary was guaranteed for 4 years. It is my understanding that Fritz wanted his actual employment contract to be 4-5 years, for obvious reasons, and that although GS did provide him with an offer of a raise (whether unsolicited or as a counter to Tulane), that GS refused to offer the longer term, and that this was basically the most important thing to Fritz. So, while he had some measure of income security, he had no actual job security, and could theoretically be forced to renegotiate his contract every single year.
So let’s go over it, quickly:
1. A lot of Eagles fans blamed Willie Fritz for chasing the money. But a coach rapidly approaching 60, has to look out for his future. Fritz spent most of his career coaching the bottom rungs of college football. Georgia Southern and Tulane are his opportunities to make FBS-level pay before retirement. AD Tom Kleinlein should have offered him an extension after winning the conference his first year. Or at the very least after the 2nd season where they made it to the program’s first bowl game. Any normal, functioning athletic department would give a coach an extension and a pay-bump with that record.
2. Fritz recommended Dell McGee to succeed him. After winning the GoDaddy Bowl handily over Bowling Green as the interim, McGee has become somewhat of a folk hero to the Georgia Southern fan base. His name comes up often in new head coach discussions. He is now the RB coach at UGA and is regarded as one of the best recruiters in college football currently.
3. Fritz really did care for his players. I can’t blame him for watching out for his own well-being. I can blame Tom Kleinlein for failing to make Willie Fritz a competitive offer despite being an amazing head coach in his two years. I can blame Tom Kleinlein for flubbing the coaching search. Going for inexperienced Tyson Summers over more qualified candidates such as Jamey Chadwell, Mike Houston, Brian Bohannon, Brent Pry, and yes, Dell McGee.
We can also blame him for failing to fix that mistake. If Kleinlein continues to hide from fans and donors behind President Jaimie Hebert, then it will Hebert’s time to feel Eagles fans wrath. He can’t keep his head in the sand any longer while the front porch of the university burns to the ground.
To read more on the current situation at Georgia Southern, check out my previous articles….