I talk a lot about recruiting in these pieces because, frankly, it’s the most important thing in college football. If you can’t recruit well, you’ll never win championships. That fact is why Gene Chizik, one-time failed Iowa State coach and benefactor of the Cam Newton experience, is a National Championship winning coach and Chip Kelly, long regarded one of the most brilliant football minds in the sport, is not. Recruiting is the ceiling that Missouri constantly bangs its head into, and while developing overlooked athletes into awesome football players is awesome and rewarding, it’s way better to just get that talent on day one and deploy it for massive effect. So what would you do if Jim Sterk put all of his attribute points into a young recruiter with a small, inconsistent track record accumulated at two schools that require massive rebuilding? That’s the question I found myself asking as young Will Healy began trending in the Mizzou-sphere on Tuesday. Small sample sizes aren’t super great for extrapolating long-term prognostications but, dammit, I’m going to do it anyway.
Only eleven years of experience, ten of it at the FCS level, but still a head coach going into his fourth year. FCS data is not nearly as deep (nor accessible) as FBS data, but I’ll do my best to convey my thoughts in the same format as previous iterations of this series have done.
Healy played quarterback at Richmond and wound up focusing on wide receivers and recruiting for the majority of his time as an assistant at Chattanooga. The real story is his time at Austin Peay: he inherited a program that had lost 16 games in a row, gone 1-34 in the three seasons prior, and had just one winning season in the past 13 years. Although he didn’t win a single game in his first year, he improved their offense to an average of 23 points per game, then upped it to 27 in 2017, and finally 30 in 2018. Currently, his 49ers are the 51st best offense in the country, and considering just last year Charlotte’s offense ranked 125th, that’s certainly an indicator of the impact he can have on the offensive side of the ball.
And this is why you hire the kid. As previously mentioned, Austin Peay was truly awful. In his first recruiting class - a class that he got a late start on compared to his peers - he was able to take a team that was 1-34 and haul in the 144th best class in the country. In 2016 there were 128 FBS teams. Let that sink in...he essentially brought in the 16th best FCS class on THE worst FCS team. And then, after winning exactly zero games, he brought in the 132nd best class in the country, which equates to the 2nd best class in FCS. WITHOUT WINNING A GAME. In 2017, he managed to win the Ohio Valley Conference and FCS National Coach of the Year and translated that into another Top 3 FCS class. And in his first year at Charlotte he brought in the 132nd best class in the country. So...the kid can clearly bring in talent.
SP+ wasn’t around for Healy’s FCS years, but you don’t win any football conference or coach of the year awards with shoddy teams. His sample size is small but he took the worst team in FCS to first and took a moribund Charlotte program and made them bowl eligible in year one. He can definitely get wins at tough locations.
I left the SP+ breakdowns empty because there’s not much to learn from an FCS team playing an FBS team and we don’t know final SP+ rankings for the 2019 season yet. These numbers don’t look super great, but a) it’s only four years and b) Austin Peay and Charlotte were the worst programs in the world when he took over. So, not much to take away from here other than he’s turned around programs at both stops he’s made.
So...what do you want to think? He’s taken programs much worse than Missouri and made them better quickly; can he do that in Columbia? Can he replicate his recruiting successes in the SEC after just four years of lower level recruiting victories? Does he actually make excellent game plans or did he ride two seasons of playing bad teams to his breakout years at Austin Peay and Charlotte? There’s just not enough data to even come close to figuring out Healy, so any program who hires him is banking on small sample sizes holding true and having him breakout to the mainstream coaching their respective team. It’s a risk, and I find it hard to believe that Sterk would fire Odom for such a high variance coaching candidate, but that’s not up to me to decide. If Healy is truly in the mix and gets the job, it’ll be an exciting yet anxious time to be a Tiger.