On Tuesday Rice announced that David Bailiff is returning for season No. 11 as head coach of the Rice Owls football team. This despite Rice's going 3-9 this season. This despite it being Rice’s second straight losing season, and this despite it being the team’s sixth losing season out of the last ten.
Bailiff’s record at Rice is 56-68. His teams have achieved just four winning seasons, and the Owls have lost at least eight games in five of the ten seasons. Yes, there have been four bowl games for the Owls, and a Conference USA title. But of this season’s three wins, just two were against FBS schools, and Rice struggled to be competitive in more than half of the games lost.
“While we are all disappointed with the results, there is a plan to turn things around under his leadership next season and I have made the expectations for 2017 very clear to Coach,” Athletic Director Joe Karlgaard stated in a press release Tuesday.
“After two straight seasons without a winning record, we need to acknowledge that we are not meeting an acceptable competitive standard for this university,” Karlgaard continued. “Our ambitions remain very high. We expect to be competitive in every game and to compete for conference championships. When nearly two-thirds of college football programs participate in bowl games every year — including slots for half of Conference USA members — bowl games should be a part of our seasons.”
And that’s the thing. That’s the problem right now with the Owls. This team is not competitive, and unless something changes, it’s not going to be playing in a bowl game, no matter how desperate some bowls are for participants, and even though Rice plays in Conference USA, the AFC South of college football.
The Rice fan base is not the biggest in Texas or even Houston. It’s a fan base that, football-wise, has shrunk a bit over the past two seasons because of the poor play on the field, and also because, in part, of some possibly oversized expectations. Many of these fans are unhappy Bailiff is sticking around, and a perusal of Rice fan boards shows that there are fans who have been canceling season tickets while pointing out that Karlgaard’s statements yesterday sound an awful lot like the statements he made after last season.
While it might be expecting a bit too much for Rice football to compete for a spot in the college football playoffs, it should be expected that Bailiff will get his squad to at least a lower-tier bowl every season. And at some point, that dwindling base of fans and alumni who buy season tickets and contribute to endowments and scholarships should be rewarded for sticking around and not bailing on the team.
The Owls are never going to be bigger than other schools. Rice is never going to get the best athletes. It’s got to out-scheme the competition. Its players need to play smart and without mistakes. Every play has to be executed to perfection. And even then, it’s still difficult for the Owls to win games. When the Owls went 10-4 and won the conference title in 2013, it looked as if Rice had turned the corner. That while the team wouldn’t necessarily be a college football power, it would consistently be that competitive team participating in a bowl game every season that Karlgaard wants.
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But that’s not what has happened. There have been injury problems. Lots of underclassmen have had to play earlier than anticipated. There have been lots and lots of mistakes and missed tackles and failures to execute.
“While many factors have contributed to our performance these past two seasons, I am focused on my responsibility as our head football coach” Bailiff said in that same Rice press release on Tuesday. “I am working with [Karlgaard] on implementing the changes we need to be successful while also preserving the terrific attitude of our players who fought through a difficult season this year.”
There have already been some changes due to the retirements of defensive coordinator Chris Thurmond and safeties coach Larry Hoefer. But the biggest problems weren’t necessarily on the defensive side of the ball — lots of points were due to the defense's being put in a bad position thanks to offensive ineptitude. But there have not yet been any offensive changes announced, this despite Rice’s inability to settle on a consistent offensive philosophy.
David Bailiff is an incredibly nice guy who cares greatly for his players and really seems to grasp just what it is that makes Rice special. He graduates his players and takes immense pride in their accomplishments on and off the field. In many ways he’s what any fan would want in a coach for his school. But then again, at some point fans can’t be blamed for wanting a team participating in Conference USA to be a consistent bowl game participant.