By Terry Massey
College Sports Journal
Editor's Note: This commentary originally appeared in the Grand Strand Sports Report just days after Coastal Carolina dropped a 27-21 Big South Conference decision to No. 7-ranked Stony Brook and coming up on another key league encounter at home against Liberty on Oct. 27. Readers can see the original article at:
CONWAY, S.C. — It’s been nearly one year since the saga of Coastal Carolina’s quest to get its “return on investment” from its football program began.
Although the firing of its only head coach, David Bennett, and hiring of a rookie college head coach, millionaire businessman Joe Moglia, was still two months away at this time last year, the wheels started on Oct. 15, 2011.
Here’s an annual report on where the program stands on the football field and business ledger:
Nothing seemed amiss as the 4-1 Chanticleers traveled to Liberty for a key Big South showdown.
Then the game kicked off. The much-anticipated matchup turned into a blood bath, with the Flames jumping out to a 42-0 lead in the first half. The 63-27 final score did little to put a positive spin on a disastrous performance.
Then came the game that likely cost Bennett his job — a 26-24 upset loss to Gardner-Webb. Coastal returned a kickoff for a go-ahead touchdown with less than two minutes remaining.
But an excessive celebration penalty and two personal fouls allowed Gardner-Webb to take three knees and kick the winning field goal as time expired.
And to cap the hat trick of horror, Coastal made the long trip to Stony Brook for a game that was played in unimaginable conditions — sleet, wind and cold.
The Chanticleers got pushed around like traffic cones, some suffering from frostbite and others from a bad case of the quits as Bennett’s fate was officially sealed.
"By the end of October, I had made the decision that I was going to replace the football coach,” CCU President David DeCenzo said in a statement following the public release of his office e-mailed. “I knew that there was a ‘Joe Moglia’ who was a football coach for the Omaha Nighthawks, and I heard that he had recently purchased a home in Pawleys Island. Nov. 14 was the first time that I reached out to Joe Moglia. We then made contact by telephone, and he and I set up a time to meet, around Thanksgiving."
Remember Thanksgiving, when the Chants had put a bow on a respectable 7-4 season and Bennett and his staff were hitting the recruiting trail in hopes of a stronger 2012?
Meanwhile, back at home, DeCenzo was plotting the infamous “return on investment” press conference in which he pretended to launch a nationwide search for CCU’s next head coach.
Enter Moglia and his introduction just 10 days after Bennett’s dismissal, which left many Coastal fans scratching their heads and some cancelling their season tickets.
How could Coastal can the man who built the school’s football program from scratch, compiled a 63-39 record and won three Big South titles for an unproven outsider?
Most people’s beef wasn’t with Moglia, although many wondered whether he would have been given the same consideration without all those zeroes in his bankbook.
It had more to do with Bennett, who endeared himself to the community during his tenure, and DeCenzo, who appeared to sell out his coach to the highest bidder.
Moglia would instead be judged solely on his record, the same way most coaches are eventually judged.
His efforts to improve the team’s academic standing is admirable but eventually irrelevant in college football, especially those wanting to be a championship contender.
Ultimately, it’s wins and losses that will decide his fate.
While half a season may be too early to make a call, Moglia is the not-so-proud owner of the longest losing streak in school history at four games.
Of course, Coastal has never seen a stretch of games like Coastal just went through — at Furman, vs. Eastern Kentucky, at Toledo, at Appalachian State and vs. Stony Brook.
Bennett’s teams faced tougher competition, including FBS schools like Clemson, Georgia, Penn State and West Virginia, but they were usually closely followed or preceeded by an automatic win against a D-II program.
Still, he didn’t lose more than two in a row until his fifth season and had a winning record against ranked teams in his first three years, including No. 1 James Madison.
After beating NC A&T in the opener, the Chants needed three overtimes to beat Furman, otherwise Coastal would be in the midst of a five-game losing skid and fans might not be so forgiving.
But there seems to be a general attitude to give Moglia a chance for a couple of years to see if he can bring some Wall Street magic to Chanticleer Avenue.
Yes, he has implemented a new system, which takes time and talent to do in a year.
But he’s also done it with Bennett’s holdover players – record-setting quarterback Aramis Hillary, Matt Hazel, DeMario Bennett, Andrae Jacobs, David Duran, Jeremy Height, Niccolo Mastromatteo.
They make up large portion of Coastal’s offense and defense this season, so it remains to be seen if Moglia’s recruiting efforts are up to snuff.
Although it’s been a year since the drama began unfolding, it’s still going to be a while before we can fairly judge Moglia and his staff on the job they do.
But as for a return on investment, the first fiscal year has seen CCU pay almost $1 million to buy out Bennett, earned little in the way of guarantee games and seen very small increase in attendance, if any.
So far, at least, Moglia and his millions have not turned the balance sheet in terms of wins or revenue. At best, it’s business as usual.