(UPDATE – FAU fired Charlie Partridge on Nov. 27. Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell is being mentioned in media reports as a possible replacement based on the fact that he interviewed for the FAU job in 2013. Also, Pat Chun spent 15 years in the Ohio State athletic department before becoming FAU’s athletic director in 2012.)
An important window of opportunity may just have closed for Florida Atlantic coach Charlie Partridge.
Already behind schedule with a 9-25 record in three seasons as the Owls football coach, Partridge has picked up a formidable rival right here in the same Conference USA neighborhood.
Butch Davis, a terrific recruiter and a known commodity among South Florida high school coaches, will coach Florida International starting in 2017. He will be introduced at the school Tuesday afternoon with a contract expected to stretch five years into an uncertain future.
Uncertain because Butch is a big name with a winning reputation from previous turns as head coach of the Cleveland Browns, Miami Hurricanes and North Carolina Tar Heels. The natural question is how long would a guy like this be satisfied to operate outside the national spotlight in a league where a trip to the Heart of Dallas Bowl or the Independence Bowl is pretty much topping out?
If it’s any time at all, the competition will be hard on FAU and a head coach who believes he is just beginning to turn an important corner.
The Owls are on a rare win streak, with back-to-back wins over Rice and UTEP.
What Partridge also has, unfortunately, is a 3-7 record that includes a 33-31 loss to FIU. To change all of that he needs more kids from Broward and Miami-Dade counties, not less, and he’s got more than 30 from down there as it is.
Butch can flash his championship rings from his days as Jimmy Johnson’s assistant and wow the few South Florida high school coaches he hasn’t already met. For those too young to remember all of that, he can count on being recognized from his analyst job on ESPN2. Finally, he can look into the eyes of potential recruits and their family members and say that he wasn’t charged in the NCAA violations that caused North Carolina to vacate a bunch of wins, because he wasn’t.
Is there a glass-half-full view on this thing for Partridge? Sure.
Because nobody else is going to want to mess with Butch, there will be fewer mid-level assistants eager to replace Partridge at FAU and less reason for the Owls athletic department to go fishing around for anyone who might.
Any way you slice it, the FAU job, with the new stadium and the huge enrollment and the fertile South Florida recruiting fields, just got tougher than Partridge or anybody else saw coming.
If Butch is serious about making a run at Conference USA supremacy, all the other coaches in the league are in for a fight. And if he’s not, all the other coaches in the league have just been put on notice anyway.
Whatever FIU makes look easy over the next few years will be interpreted as something those other guys should already have been doing.
If that doesn’t close some windows of opportunity, it surely smudges them up.