Iowa State defensive coordinator Jon Heacock talks to members of the press during a press conference on Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018, in San Antonio. Iowa State takes on Washington State in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Friday.
Few people in the college football coaching industry are more well respected than Jon Heacock.
All anyone has to do to understand that is watch either of West Virginia head coach Neal Brown’s press conferences from last week. He spoke glowingly of Heacock’s ability as a defensive coordinator both prior to and after Iowa State’s loss to the Mountaineers.
It is the reason countless coaching staffs, including some of the nation’s best, have made their way to Ames in recent years to learn about the program’s defensive system.
So, for these reasons, it was interesting to hear Heacock’s perspective on the direction of college football coaching after several high-profile in-season coaching firings, including Texas Tech’s Matt Wells last week and TCU’s Gary Patterson earlier this week.
“I think early on, 30-some years ago for me, whatever, 39 years ago, I felt like I guess I would say that I thought it was a great profession,” Heacock said on Wednesday during a Zoom call with reporters. “I think now it’s becoming a business. That’s a little bit disappointing to me. But again, it’s part of what’s going on. I’m not sure where it’s all headed. But like I said, I feel like it used to be a profession and you worked at the business part of it. Seems like now it’s become more business and that’s a little disappointing to me. You know, again, through all the years that I’ve been in this whole thing, but that’s how it’s going. So it is what it is.”
The likelihood of things slowing down in this area seems slim. College football is a big business that is growing every year. Athletic directors are under immense pressure to field winning teams in every sport, but especially football.
There is no better litmus test of this than Patterson and TCU. There is no TCU football in its current form — a member of the Big 12 and highly respected football program — without Gary Patterson.
In a sense, he was TCU football.
But, because this is a business, things like that have stopped mattering as much as they used to, which I imagine has to be taxing for stalwarts in the profession like Heacock.
This change presents the question of whether or not this constantly shifting coaching landscape is really good for college football. Is having more schools with a revolving door of football coaches better for the sport than having guys who stick with programs and build them over decades (i.e. Patterson, Bill Snyder at Kansas State and Kirk Ferentz at Iowa)?
I think we are about to find out because the latter group I mentioned is fixing to become rarer and rarer, which is saying something considering they were already rare to begin with.
“I think it’s a lot harder than it ever used to be. I just think times have changed,” Heacock said. “Everything’s the fast food. I want this. I want a number one, and I want it today and I want it now and I want it fast. I’m not sure it’s the instant, we got to have it right now. I think those things are hard, and I think it’s hard to do.”
The most unfortunate part of this I think is the message firing coaches mid-season sends to players. It is the administration more or less saying they don’t believe in the group of guys on the field or the individuals leading those young men.
It feels like people in control angling to win press conferences and coaching carousel rankings over doing the right things by the kids. Obviously, all of this stuff is hard, but firing a coach mid-season doesn’t seem to make it any easier.
Sonny Dykes is no more likely to leave SMU for Texas Tech or TCU than he was before either of those schools fired coaches. Yet, their administrations made the choice to make those moves and sent messages to their football teams that they didn’t really believe in them very much, which is the truly unfortunate part of it all.
“I think (the players) are sometimes the guys we lose sight of,” Heacock said. “They’re kids and, man, I think continuity for kids is awesome. I sure hope that happens, but I would say I’m concerned at this point.”