The Blueprint for Mid Major Success
Every year, there’s at least a couple of mid-majors that make big noise on the national scene in the world of college football or college basketball. However, few of those middies are able to actually experience sustained success, for one reason or another. Some of them may be one-year wonders, and some can keep it up for a few years, but wind up falling off of the map before too long.
This season’s hot mid-majors (right now, at least) in the world of college basketball are Drake and St. Mary’s, who are both flying the flag in their respective conferences. What does it take for up and coming mid-majors like Drake and St. Mary’s to get to the point that the likes of Gonzaga, Butler, Creighton, Southern Illinois and Xavier, to name a few, have?
This isn’t a blueprint for every successful mid-major, because there are different paths to national prominence, but these are definitely some good places to start.
Continuity: This is a hallmark of any team that succeeds for an extended period of time. Of course, you have to have continuity within the team, with emphasis on the ‘team’ part, and that continuity needs to filter on through to the coaching staff, to the administration, to the fan base. If the team does the right things, they win. If they win, it makes the administrators and fans happy. If the seats are filled, that benefits the university, and it benefits the program as well, because if you’ve got a successful program, then when you need new facilities, or are in search of a new coach, the administrator will give 150% just like the team has.
Some might have raised an eyebrow when Hawaii QB Colt Brennan commented on a lack of support from the school, but then coach June Jones cited it as a part of his leaving Hawaii for SMU, after which athletic director Herman Frazier got the boot, right after the school’s most successful football season ever.
So, support on all fronts is definitely a must if you want to get the most out of your program.
Resiliency/Ability to Withstand Losses: Having that continuity will make a great difference when your program takes hits, which frankly, is inevitable.
May it be a coach leaving, a star getting injured, the core of your team graduating, or having a struggling season, the program needs to be able to withstand those storms.
Having the Right Personnel: Not only do you need to have the right players, but you need the right person to lead and mold that talent.
If your coach is a lifer (Dana Altman at Creighton - flirted with Arkansas, but came back), you’re set. But, if your coaches are going to be jumping to another job every few seasons, then make sure you’ve got the right assistants in place to take over for him, or that you look hard and choose smartly for your next head man, because one bad hire can send a program spiraling.
Tulsa was one of the top mid-majors throughout the 1980s, 90s, and the early part of this decade, with the likes of Nolan Richardson (Arkansas), Tubby Smith (Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota), Steve Robinson (Florida State), Bill Self (Illinois, Kansas), and Buzz Peterson (Tennessee) all patrolling the sidelines during that time. But, thanks to a few sub-.500 seasons, the Golden Hurricane are in rebuilding mode under Doug Wojcik.
Just as quickly as you’re doing great, you can fall off the map. But, if you don‘t lose your way one way or another, then your down years will be a lot better than others.
Confidence: If you want to hang with the big boys and be able to win those respect-building games, you have to have the confidence that you can do it. If not, you’re going to just end up being another middling middie.
If You Can’t Join ‘Em, Beat ‘Em: If you want to really want to play with the big boys, then you’ve got to beat the big boys every now and then. You may take your lumps at first, but that’s what makes those wins that come eventually all the more satisfying.
It’s Not About What You Have, But About What Do With What You Have: You may never have a team full of four and five-star recruits, or even three-star guys. But if you build and develop the ones you get, and they do all of the right things, then you’ll be on the path to success. Sometimes, all a guy needs is a little coaching, and sometimes attitude & heart can make up for any weaknesses in talent. And sometimes, you wind up getting that diamond in the rough who was overlooked by the bigger schools.
It must be said though, that if your team of mostly lightly-recruited players starts beating the McDonalds All-Americans, then you may start getting those big-time recruits every now and then.
Being in the Right Place at the Right Time: If you’re in a state or region where the talent pool is deep, or you don’t have to battle with a plethora of in-state schools for the area’s top talent, then you can be in a favorable position when it comes to snagging talent.
Granted, there are some players who are still going to go to the big schools no matter what, even if you end up doing better in the Big Dance than said big school(s).
So, St. Mary’s and Drake, you’re flying high right now. But, will you stay there?Only time will tell, but if you’ve got a few of these going for you, then you can hopefully look forward to a bright future.
by Eddie Griffin
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