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After The Aughts

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The total stands at eight.

With roughly six weeks remaining before National Signing Day and the UIL state playoffs set to drop its curtain, the Owls have just eight commitments for the Class of 2010. With 13 scholarships available David Bailiff has plenty of work remaining before this class is complete and he can take the next step toward building Rice football into a consistent winner in C-USA.

That feeling bubbling within is related more to concern than panic, although panic lurks around the bend ready to pounce following the defection of two previous commitments. When Bailiff dropped the 'you win with Jimmys and Joes, not X's and O's' cliche´ a few weeks back, it succinctly captured his thoughts on the need for superior talent while surmising that responses to play-calling and game-day schematics are often overblown. Before Bailiff can coach like Nick Saban he has to sign players like those at Alabama. Well, in a relative sense of course.

However, while tuned in to Rivals Radio en route to campus on Monday morning and listening to pundits describe Buffalo, San Jose State and UNLV as 'stepping-stone jobs' one question came to mind: Is Rice such a gig? One particularly loathsome defensive guru believed so, but Bailiff has verbalized on multiple occasions his conviction that Rice can be a destination, not part of the coaching journey. But the fact remains that no coach since venerable Jess Neely has posted a winning career record while working on South Main for at least two seasons. Through three seasons Bailiff is already seven games under .500, and given the history of Rice football since Neely stepped aside four decades ago, Bailiff will need to get the next decade off the a rousing start in order to begin a reversal of his 15-22 career mark at Rice.

The fact is Rice has not enjoyed a winning decade since the 1950s. Here is a review of the last seven decades of Rice Owls football, starting with Neely in 1940 through Bailiff and 2009:

DECADE          OVERALL          CONFERENCE

1940s             63-36-4 (.631)        36-19-3 (.646)
1950s             58-48-3 (.545)        29-30-1 (.491)
1960s             37-61-4 (.382)        25-43-2 (.371)
1970s             29-77-3 (.266)        19-54-1 (.263)
1980s             22-86-1 (.206)        13-65-0 (.166)
1990s             52-57-1 (.477)        37-38-0 (.493)
2000s             46-72-0 (.389)        34-46-0 (.425)

First of all, condolences to those who played, covered or supported Rice football in the '80s.

These numbers reveal that the program began its decline as Neely concluded his tenure and bottomed out with 37 losses during one 40-game stretch between 1981-85. If Fred Goldsmith and Ken Hatfield proved anything it's that Rice football could be resuscitated, their combined and miraculous mark in the '90s providing ample evidence. But is near-.500 football as good as it gets at Rice? Even during the halcyon Neely days lulls were intermittent, with winning seasons in 1940, '41 and '42 followed by losing records in '43, '44 and '45. The Owls were plus-22 overall between 1946-50, 10-10 over the following two seasons, 16-5 in 1953-54 and 6-13-1 in 1955-56. The pendulum swung for seven additional years before Neely finished with three successive losing seasons and an 8-21-1 record from 1964-66. It wasn't all glorious.

So what can Bailiff do? How many more solid recruiting classes will it take for 2-10 seasons to become a thing of the past, and how badly (quickly?) does he need the ceaselessly discussed End Zone Facility to maintain recruiting momentum? Rice has posted consecutive winning seasons only twice post-Neely (1992-93 under Goldsmith; 1996-97 under Hatfield), so even if everything falls into place and the Owls ride 2010 grassroots Heisman Trophy candidate Sam McGuffie, Charles Ross, Vance McDonald and The Taylors to success next season and in 2011, what will 2012 bring? Are you as fans willing to accept the occasional 5-7 season as long as Rice is bowl-eligible twice every four-year cycle, or are such expectations too modest?

Will the dawn of a new decade usher in a new era of Rice football, or is status quo inevitable? If Rice isn't destined for mediocrity, what must happen for it to permanently turn the corner?

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6 Comments

Can you tell us more about the recruits? Who dropped away? Who are left and how solid are they?

As to the wins and losses... part of the issue is scheduling. They schedule 3 almost sure losses... presumably for a payoff. With that they have to win 6 of 9 to get to .500. That isn't going to happen most years. If they replaced Big 12 and SEC schools with Furman, VMI and Citadel, we would see better records. That, in part, is how UT does it.

Watching Villanova play William and Mary... I found myself wondering if Rice is in the wrong division. Perhaps they should seriously consider a shift.

Owl63: I can not discuss recruits in this space, but routine Internet research will reveal the information you seek. And consider this a piece of advice: Tread lightly with all that talk about Rice dropping classifications. Such opinions tend to upset the apple cart around these parts. Oh, and I totally agree regarding scheduling. - MK

Hasn't Bailiff also said that missed assignments are worse than mismatches? Are we ever going to see that philosophy in action?

Gothic R: I just want to see the defense improve. It's been three seasons of the same woeful statistics, and it's high time that a seismic shift in results takes place. Whatever is causing the disconnect between the staff and players needs to be addressed and corrected so that efforts against Navy, UCF and UH are anything but the norm. - MK

MK, agree with your response completely. I follow recruiting as closely as anybody, but we need our players to perform to their capabilities. The Navy game made that obvious if it wasn't already. It's always easy to say, "we don't have the talent to compete with Oklahoma State," but we were much more respectable against them than 8 of our other opponents.

As for the history, for much of that time we were not really trying. Embarrassing facilities, dubious coaching, no promotion, very little accountability, and even less confidence. We still have a lot of work to do, but I think we are getting on the right track.

The difference between winning and not winning at any program in D-1A is coaching. That's what the evidence supports. That's why coaches get paid what they do. One need not look far for examples of programs with even worse histories than Rice in football turning it around completely simply by having a good coach in place. One capable of maximizing what is available.

Obviously recruiting is part of that coaching, and I agree the Owls could use a talent upgrade, but it won't matter if the coaching continues to fail to maximize that talent available.

The EZF would be nice and is needed for the future, but either way it bears no effect on the 2010 season, which must be a winning one for confidence to remain in Bailiff.

The part of this that does concern me is the stepping stone status of Rice, for those coaches that have proven their abilities. Look no further than the offensive staff bolting post-2008 season. There will need to be proactive investment in the program by the Rice administration in order for that trend to cease.

I would accept the occasional 5-7 season as long as Rice goes to a bowl twice every four-year cycle (not just bowl eligible). I think given the fact that we have been to two bowls in the last 40 (50?) years would make an every-other year bowl trip pretty good.

the owls offense and defense are full of talented guys who can get the job done..when put into the right situations. the defense is in desperate need of a new staff there is no respect for coaches on that side of the ball and many of the players dont have trust in their coaches. its coming to a year where bailiff has had his own boys in place he has recruited well enough and now it is time for him to produce with what he has. rice hasnt been beat physically in games in their loses its just guys being in the wrong place at the wrong time. and some of the coaches need to realize hell if your whole position group cant seem to understand what the heck is goin on u suck at teaching the game ie linebackers..hell the whole defense really..
as far as offense goes Z is a nice man but its time for him to go..there are too many old guys sitting around at rice trying to collect a check and set themselves up for retirement this is not the place for that. there needs to be young blood in coaching staff at rice..coaches that the players can identify with and trust..when was the last time that you saw a player and coach embrace eachother during the game besides Herman and chase. there is no love in the lockeroom of that place and it shows.. the players love eachother it shows.. who else do they have rooting for them not the school who continuously shows a lack of commitment nor the coaches staff who can never seem to connect with their players.. the last coach that was liked at rice was yancy..hell he got the gatorade bath before bailiff did at the texas bowl if u didnt notice.. its time for some weedin out of uncommitted coaches not time to punish or ask for recommittment by the players...players who pour their heart and soul into this game..players with more after season surgeries than any team ive ever heard of. this team is tough beyond measure and its time for someone to realize it.
ps cook is the man..period..sam is FAST(so is donte)..the receivers need the deep ball thrown to them..(we have the speed) so many beautiful running backs..oline needs dept and a new right tackle..the d-line needs life sized players.. linebackers need a new coach..corners too..safeties need max and willy(they are the hardest hitters on the team(yes even over bradshaw)) also tolu needs to be a safety he doesnt have the hips for cb

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