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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, December 18, 2009

CFB: Time will tell if this is good hire for San Jose State

By Mark Purdy
San Jose Mercury News

Mike MacIntyre is a smart football hire for San Jose State. In a few years, we will know if he is a good hire.

Not before then, though. Not with the way next season begins. At Alabama. At Wisconsin. At Utah. When he stood at the podium Thursday during his introduction to the press and school boosters, MacIntyre might as well have had an 0-3 record already next to his name. This is going to be a project.
But here is one thing to like about the guy: MacIntyre is not naive. He is no guppy being thrown into unfamiliar waters. He has done his research. He has a pretty good notion of what he’s getting into with the Spartans.
How do we know for sure? When someone in the big crowd Thursday asked MacIntyre what he expected his biggest football challenges would be at SJSU, he paused, audibly exhaled for effect and then said: “Oh, shoot.”
Yup. Oh, shoot. Let’s hope this job doesn’t kill him — or drain his football soul, the way it has drained and sapped the souls of MacIntyre’s recent predecessors. All began with great and wonderful hopes, just as he is. None since Ron Turner in 1992 has left SJSU with a winning record.
In many ways, MacIntyre was a curious Spartans coaching candidate. He has no West Coast background. His previous job, as a defensive coordinator, was at private Duke University rather than at a large public school. But he has been here before, literally. In 2006, MacIntyre was part of the Dallas Cowboys’ coaching staff when the NFL team spent a week practicing at San Jose State between two West Coast games.
“So I was aware of the facilities,” MacIntyre said. “And when I came here Monday for my first in-person interview, before that, I checked into the hotel and changed clothes and walked a few blocks over to the campus all on my own. I spent probably a couple of hours looking around and getting into conversations with students or faculty or whoever I ran into.”
Nothing he heard raised alarm bells. And the formal interview went like gangbusters.
“I felt like this opportunity is a little bit of a gold mine,” MacIntyre said after his formal media remarks, citing the blatant football enthusiasm shown by SJSU president Jon Whitmore and athletic director Tom Bowen.
“I can tell they are pumped up about football, passionate about it,” MacIntyre said. “That means something.”
It will mean even more when Bowen finally fulfills his mission of making 85 fully funded football scholarships available to MacIntyre. That’s the standard number for top-tier college programs. But the past four years, largely because of NCAA penalties based on academic issues, the Spartans had between just 67 and 72 scholarships. This led to severe depth issues — which helped create this season’s 2-10 record under now-retired coach Dick Tomey.
The current SJSU academic minefield also explains why MacIntyre was the intelligent choice for Bowen. With just one more scholastic banana peel, the Spartans could receive even worse NCAA punishment, such as a ban on bowl appearances. MacIntyre has been a classroom stickler at Duke, which annually ranks among the NCAA’s best at graduating players. Other SJSU coaching candidates admitted they did not completely understand the NCAA rules about academic progress. MacIntyre practically had them memorized.
He has other intriguing qualities, as well. His father, George, was a longtime college coach at Vanderbilt and other stops. At age 72, George is fighting multiple sclerosis. When speaking of his dad Thursday, Mike nearly broke down twice. As a youth, he spent many hours riding team buses, playing in locker rooms and watching and splicing film. After his own college career ended at Georgia Tech, there was no other career choice. MacIntyre has never been a head coach. But he’s been both an offensive and defensive assistant, is known as an energetic recruiter, has made good impressions everywhere.
What he has not done, however, is be part of a team that’s won big, or won a conference title. MacIntyre has spent 15 seasons as a college assistant coach, at six different schools — and in those 15 seasons, the teams have compiled an overall 78-93 won-lost record. During MacIntyre’s four years with the NFL Cowboys and head coach Bill Parcells, Dallas went 34-32, including two playoff defeats. In 2007, MacIntyre was part of the New York Jets’ miserable 4-12 season. And in the past two years at Duke working under head coach David Cutcliffe, the Blue Devils have gone 9-15.
Of course, numbers do not mean everything. And it is always hard to assess how much any given assistant coach contributes to a team’s bottom line. This is especially true at challenging college programs such as Temple and Tennessee-Martin, two of MacIntyre’s other stops. But at some point, San Jose State followers will want their team to finish above .500.
MacIntyre understands that, too. But it all starts with a coach, convincing his players they can win. Thursday, he was asked the smartest advice his father ever gave him about coaching. MacIntyre thought for a few seconds.
“Probably, it was when my dad told me that you don’t fool a young person,” MacIntyre said. “He said that young people will see if you’re real or if you’re not. And he was right. He was right.”
MacIntyre seems real. Sincere, too. Maybe by 2011 or so, we’ll find out if he can coach.