When Dick Tomey stepped down as head coach of the San Jose State football team following an abysmal 2-10 season back in 2009, it was clear that yet another rebuilding job was in store for the Spartans.
Having once led the Arizona Wildcats to a No. 4 national ranking while guiding the “Desert Swarm” defense of the mid-to-late 90, Tomey arrived in San Jose in 2005 as a dose of credibility for the program in need of some rebuilding back then. Despite taking the team to its first bowl game since 1990, by the time Tomey retired—with a losing record at San Jose State—it seemed as if all the momentum he had built had completely dissipated and the whole thing was back to square one.
It was clear the program needed a younger coach with the energy Tomey lacked as his tenure wore on; but at the same time it would need to be a coach with enough credibility to convince recruits that San Jose State—long a tough sell in the recruiting-rich state of California—was a place they could find success and a complete college experience.
A lot of names were speculated upon by San Jose State fans. Retreads like Tyrone Willingham; long-time coordinators such as current Hawaii coach Norm Chow. Bobby Hauck, who had experienced great success at FCS-Montana, was a name tossed around quite a bit before he wound up taking the job that same year at UNLV (where he is currently 6-31). I even recall some ridiculous, pipedream suggestions at the time such as Turner Gill passing on BCS conference offers to leave Buffalo for SJSU.
So when we found out that former athletic director Tom Bowen hired Mike MacIntyre, a guy with southern roots, no head coaching experience, and at the time the defensive coordinator for the 5-7 Duke Blue Devils, there was a little bewilderment to say the least.
How could someone from the East Coast, with no apparent connections in the state of California, and hired in mid-December be reasonably expected to come in and salvage the 2010 recruiting season in time to field a team that opened that year’s campaign against Alabama, Wisconsin and Utah in that order?
It was a daunting task right out the gates for whoever took the job, which isn’t exactly looked at as a premier destination even for up-and-coming coaches looking for a stepping stone. Reasonable fans knew to keep expectations in check, but I have to admit I had some serious reservations about the new coach.
It didn’t take long for MacIntyre to suppress my doubts.
The son of former Vanderbilt Head Coach George MacIntyre, Mike played his college ball at Vandy for two seasons under his father, before transfering to Georgia Tech. He had numerous coaching stops in the collegiate ranks, including Ole Miss from 1999-2002 where he played a vital role in the recruitment of Patrick Willis. He also spent five seasons coaching in the NFL, with four years as a member of Bill Parcells’ staff in Dallas before spending a season with the Jets. In his final year at Duke, the American Football Coaches Association named him its FBS Assistant Coach of the Year.
The more you learned about the man, the more you started to like the hire, and the more you understood why Bowen was so emphatically proud at the time he sealed the deal with Coach Mac. But that’s all fine and good until the glow of the new job and the new coach starts to wear off for him, the school and the fanbase. What exactly was going to happen when MacIntyre got to work?
Would he be able to land high school players other than those left out in the cold after the Pac-12, MWC and rest of the WAC teams handed out all of their scholarships? Would he rely on quick fixes by filling out his roster with JC recruits like his predecessors had? Could he even convince the few committed recruits SJSU had at the time to stay?
HERE TO BUILD A PROGRAM
What MacIntyre proclaimed at the time, and maintains to this day, is that he arrived at San Jose State not to build a team, but a program. The results have backed up his claim. He has red-shirted most players, and used the first full-allotment of 85 scholarships the program has ever had to build and establish the deepest team in SJSU’s history.
The recruiting job he did in 2010 was incredible, if you are keeping things in perspective. Upon his arrival, San Jose State began to saturate the state with recruiters and with a presence, as MacIntyre made it his goal to reach out to every football-playing high school in California.
At the time he was hired, San Jose State had two known commits: quarterback Blake Jurich of Scotts Valley (about a half hour south of San Jose) and Derek Muaava, a once heralded prospect out of Independence High School in San Jose who missed his senior season with an injury that scared off every school but SJSU. Muaava, a starting linebacker until he was injured in week nine, and Jurich both stayed committed.
Then MacIntyre really got to work. He signed JC quarterback and former Fresno State recruit Matt Faulkner to bolster the very thin QB ranks. The offensive line got some needed help with the arrivals of Keith Bendixen, David Peterson, Jake Peterson and current starter Nick Kaspar. But it was on the defensive side that MacIntyre really laid some ground work.
His inaugural recruiting class featured LBs Keith Smith and Vince Buhagiar, and DB Bene Benwikere, all of whom have received WAC Player of the Week honors in 2012. As true freshman, Smith and Buhagiar both saw extensive playing time and Smith was honored as the WAC Freshman of the Year in 2010.
Also signed that year were defensive tackle Travis Raciti, who has been a playmaking stalwart on the Spartans’ defensive line the past two seasons, and San Jose native Jabari Carr, who received a lot of attention from Pac-12 schools in 2009 before attending the Hargrove Military Academy for a year. Carr has been one of the Spartans’ top outside playmakers this year.
Aside from Carr, none of the recruits from MacIntyre’s initial class at San Jose State where highly sought after by any major programs. What he showed from the onset is that he has the ability to identify talent, be they diamonds in the rough or simply players that the bigger programs missed on, and convince them that a school without a ton of tradition and even less national exposure is the right fit for them.
More importantly, he has been able to maximize their potential.
The following years, the recruiting classes where progressively better, all things considered. While San Jose State hasn’t exactly cracked the top-25 recruiting rankings under MacIntyre, they have been consistently rated at or near the top of the WAC, depending on which recruiting service you read. He’s also been able to out-duel more prestigious programs for recruits, including current backup quarterback Joe Gray, who de-committed from Washington, and offensive lineman and San Jose native Fernando Villanueva, who spurned his original choice Washington State to stay home and play at SJSU.
The recruiting classes are only part of the story. How MacIntyre has handled his recruits once on campus is just as vital to the team’s resurgence. As his bio on the San Jose State athletics website reads, MacIntyre “instituted the most comprehensive recruiting plan ever at the university and initiated a “summer bridge” program for his first recruiting class to provide his newcomers a smooth transition into life as a college football player.”
Additionally, he’s surrounded himself with a quality staff of assistants, the most important of which may have been strength and conditioning coach Dave Forman, who was hired in January of 2011 after three years as an assistant at Stanford. Under Forman’s watch, the Spartans have made remarkable strides in terms of durability and late-game performance. The best example may be this year’s 38-34, come-from-behind win at San Diego State, which featured a furious 21-point effort by the Spartans in the fourth quarter.
HOW LONG CAN SAN JOSE STATE KEEP MAC?
The story of a program that went from 1-12 to at least nine victories two years later is one of an extremely motivated, energetic and talented coach that has earned all the speculation coming his way about his future employment. As much as I hate to admit it, the chances of San Jose State keeping MacIntyre around much longer appear bleak on the surface.
Sure, he’s been saying all the right things about loving where he is, and even made an attempt on “The Damon Bruce Show” this past week to distance himself from the suggestion that he could be a candidate for the Cal opening. But realistically he has to know that his star is rising and may want to strike while his stock is high.
San Jose State recently signed him through 2017, but we know that means little. Jobs are opening across the country in stronger conferences for teams that can pay much more than MacIntyre is making, which is $430,000 per year, not including any incentives that may be in his contract.
You have to figure Tennessee will look elsewhere after their most recent coaching hire, former WAC coach Derek Dooley, failed miserably in the SEC. Kentucky, however, may decide that an up-and-comer with the will to build a program and the track record suggesting he can is the path they need to take. Surely MacIntyre’s southern roots wouldn’t hurt as far as they are concerned.
The Cal job is the most concerning for Spartan fans. MacIntyre has been steadfast in his assurances that he wants to stay in San Jose at least long enough to allow his two sons to finish high school (the older son Jay is a quarterback in his junior season for local powerhouse Valley Christian). A job opening an hour up the road doesn’t seem to interfere with his family’s whereabouts.
At just one million dollars a year, Cal could more than double MacIntyre’s salary, while putting him in one of the most prestigious conferences in the country and keeping him in the recruiting gold-mine that is California. The chances of SJSU being able to come up with a seven-figure salary for MacIntyre are pretty slim, and he’s dropped hints recently at his displeasure toward the lack of attendance at San Jose State games.
The best hope for Spartans fans is that MacIntyre isn’t done building the program he came here to establish; that he’s eager to lead San Jose State in their inaugural season in the Mountain West Conference where he knows the team can challenge for a conference title immediately. Along the way, the success he has achieved is going to have to add up to increased attendance and overall support for the team.
In a perfect world, perhaps MacIntyre sees the success Chris Petersen is having at Boise State, dominating as a mid-major, not having to play the gauntlet of opponents a team in the SEC or Pac-12 has to week-in, week-out. Maybe he sees how much money Boise State has been able to break off for Petersen as their success has grown over the years. Maybe he knows that Boise State gets most of their talent from the state he is already in, and thinks that sort of success can be replicated in the Bay Area.
More likely, he has broad aspirations that will take him beyond San Jose State sooner rather than later. Hopefully for Spartans fans, he’s waiting for a different job back east or down south, one that hasn’t opened yet, and is going to stick around here long enough to let his kids graduate from Valley Christian and guide San Jose State to a few MWC titles.