Not very long ago, the University of Cincinnati fired a coach who took his program to heights it hadn't reached in decades. The coach gave UC many years of dedicated service, set attendance records and helped increase the athletic department's profile to the extent that it could seriously pursue membership in the Big East.
For his efforts, the university fired him, believing the program and the university's association therewith would improve with a fresh perspective.
Among the differences between Bob Huggins and Rick Minter is the absolute lack of bad press or NCAA trouble during Minter's regime. Out of more than 200 football players Minter brought to UC in 10 years, one or two popped into the news for poor behavior. Despite relative disadvantages unfamiliar to the basketball operation, Minter's football teams competed hard, won often enough in Conference USA and would have won six to eight games most every year as a member of the Big East.
Perhaps, indeed, he would have done better than that. His recruitment could have improved by an even greater degree than the new difficulty of the Big East because the new path to a national championship might have induced the Cincinnati area's cream recruits to participate. Minter's best contribution to UC was simply his willingness to stick around and lend to the program enough continuity to prosper with small budgets, following decades during which coaches came and went on the winds of upward mobility.
The former athletic director, Bob Goin, never feigned high regard for Minter's work with UC's football program.
When Goin arrived from Florida State in 1997, he absolutely couldn't believe 20,000 constituted a good house at Nippert Stadium. And after seven years of watching Minter, he still couldn't believe it.
Goin hovered over Minter's last three years waiting for a slip, which, considering the program's lack of funding and facilities, was inevitable.
Finally, the Bearcats lost their last three games in 2003 to finish 5-7 and Goin pulled the trigger, replacing Minter with Mark Dantonio. And thus transpired the predictable scenario: Some knowledgeable athletic director with a larger football program would be impressed when Dantonio put together a couple barely winning seasons and the Bearcats would be looking for a new coach in three years.
Minter should have been the UC Coach for Life, and now we'll hope for the same from Brian Kelly — but we know better.
Kelly, introduced Dec. 4 as the new UC coach, is 44 and on the move. He won two Division II national championships at Grand Valley State in Michigan, then took over at Central Michigan, where he posted his first Mid-America Conference championship this year.
At UC, Kelly will fire up a couple 7-5 seasons with bowl games and move on to the big time. He's young, obviously talented and clearly ambitious. If he can't do that much, UC will look for a new football coach anyway.
Kelly's last three teams at Grand Valley finished a combined 41-2, winning two national championships and advancing to the national championship game the third time. He took a chronic loser at Central Michigan three years ago, notched a 6-5 record his second year and won the MAC in his third. Now he's taken the next step to UC, and there's another step to take in another three years.
Round and round we go at UC, pushing the wheel over and over but never pushing the same wheel for long enough to generate its own momentum. This is the past, present and future of UC football, an eternal recurrence, broken and re-connected by triennial coaching changes.
And none of these fellows will end up doing a better job than Minter, who took UC as far as it can go, considering the university's commitment to football. He never claimed a win like Dantonio's 30-11 victory against Rutgers this year, but Dantonio never played a game at UC along the lines of that 23-19 loss to eventual national champion Ohio State at Paul Brown Stadium in 2002.
Dantonio's best houses never approached Minter's, and he didn't begin to create buzz until he was nearly out the door.
With Minter, we had a nice little football program, players and teams we could like, successes that were modest and satisfying, a coach who was all ours and an affordable price for football. But the university decided that it wanted more, with absolutely no idea what that means.
UC thought it could improve the football program simply by changing coaches, which instead was the road straight back to the old dreary status as a place holder for coaches on the move.
It would have been worth a try to just let Minter coach this program for a while in the Big East and see what he could do. He deserved the opportunity, and he was the best idea. He might have won enough without forcing the university to spend.
Now that UC sent him off, the advantages of continuity are out the window and UC won't become a consistent Big East contender without spending. The choice for UC is simple: Either spend and contend, motivating good coaches to stay, or stay the course and keep pretending the next coach is the magic pill.
We've said it before, we'll say it again and we'll keep saying it for as long as it describes the truth: Don't believe a word UC says about moving to the top of the Big East in football unless the university is up to spending the money and making the commitment. And don't be surprised or too disappointed if UC doesn't make the commitment, because it's a loser and a drain on the athletic department unless the alumni and the community line up behind the football program.
UC is in a real bind with football. According to figures from the Office of Postsecondary Education in the U.S. Department of Education, UC is the only football program in the Big East that lost money for the reporting year ending on June 30, 2006. UC lost nearly $3 million on football, spending $7.8 million and taking in $4.9 million.
Among Big East schools, only South Florida spent less on football, $6.7 million. But South Florida took in $8.8 million, so the basis is in place for spending more in the future. And South Florida is the least of UC's trouble.
Look at these figures for the other Big East football programs: Louisville spent $10.5 million and took in $16.3 million; West Virginia spent $11.9 million and took in $22 million; Rutgers broke even, spending and taking in $13 million; Pittsburgh spent $11.8 million and took in $19.7 million; Syracuse spent $14.6 million and took in $19 million; and Connecticut spent $10.1 million and took in $12.1 million.
The average Big East football program besides UC spent $11.2 million and took in $15.7 million. UC brought in about 30 percent of the conference average. And if UC were to spend another $3 million on football to match the league average, what are the chances it would match the league average by bringing in another $10 million in revenue?
Which football coach is going to hang around and address this mess when he can move on to a program with three times as much money to spend and 70,000 home fans every Saturday? God is too busy for this work.
UC Athletic Director Mike Thomas didn't cause the problem, and he did a fine job by quickly procuring an ascendant coach who plays an entertaining game of football. But UC should have faced reality three years ago and hung on to Minter so we could enjoy our respectable football program without giving it too much emphasis.
Now UC needs to either emphasize football or live the rest of its days as a patsy for coaching careerists. But if UC puts the extra funds into football and the marketplace doesn't respond, then the athletic department is on life support. And the marketplace, we all know, has shown no inclination to respond.
The athletic teams at UC already don't support themselves, bringing in $9.7 million against $21.4 million in expenses.
But if UC stays its present course, which is more prudent, then the future looks all too much like the past. Which means another new football coach in three years.