Second-year Ball State football coach Mike Neu has secured 19 verbal commitments from prospects leading into next month’s National Signing Day, and for that, he deserves an incredible amount of adulation. That is because, quite frankly, he has a very difficult sell in promoting the Cardinal program given all that has occurred during his first 12 months on the job.Ball State football has had its share of negative news, but from a public relations standpoint – aside from losing twice as many games (eight) as it won (four) last fall – the most recent happening is perhaps its worst.
The Detroit News reported this week that Cardinal defensive coordinator Tim Daoust is leaving the program for another job. But it isn’t just any job, it is to serve as the co-defensive coordinator for Ball State rival, and fellow MAC West Division power, Western Michigan.
That is a punch in the gut for the Cardinals.Having a coach leave for a league rival – and take a demotion in doing so – may be the ultimate low blow for any program, and the Ball State leadership needed to do whatever it took to avoid this from occurring.
I have been highly critical of the lunacy in fiscal (mis)management that permeates intercollegiate athletics and no one is more to blame recently than Western Michigan.
The fact that it reportedly paid new football coach Tim Lester, who has never been a head coach above the NCAA Division III level, and was unemployed after having been fired twice in the last 24 months, in excess of $1 million annually, is borderline sickening, regardless of the fact that I have been told by a number of sources that university donors cover a portion of that salary. But from Ball State’s point of view, the negative perception of Daoust leaving that is created across the college football world is so bad, that the Cardinal administrators should have done whatever was necessary to prevent it.
High school athletes and coaches are already cognizant that Ball State is less committed than any other MAC program in terms of football facilities, now it is abundantly clear that the university isn’t committed to retaining its coaches either.
The Ball State program doesn’t need any more bad news. And it certainly doesn’t need a seventh voice in the last 10 years leading its perpetually awful defense.
The 2016 season was the fifth in the past 12 for the Cardinals to finish dead last statistically in total defense in the MAC. It was the 11th time in that span of ranking seventh or worse.
That unit needs continuity in its leadership and from a recruiting standpoint, high school coaches and players need familiarity to build the necessary relationships that lead to ultimately signing the best players.
Daoust’s departure follows the Cardinals’ third consecutive losing season, which concluded with the NCAA reporting that no FBS program in the country (there are 128 of them) had less fan support than Ball State.
A miniscule 4,442 fans watched the Cardinals blow a 21-0 lead and lose to Eastern Michigan on Senior Night in November in front of a national television audience. It was a terrible 4 hours and 27 minutes of marketing for the university and its football program, and now this happens with Daoust.
In addition to the mounting defeats, the lack of fans at Schuemann Stadium, and its top defensive coach not even wanting to be there, the one thing that Neu was supposed to bring to the program when he was hired was quarterback expertise, but that didn’t show last fall.
The level of play by sophomore quarterback Riley Neal regressed in several ways this past season from his first, much to the shock and dismay of the few that followed the program.
All of this negative – but factual – information has to make it staggeringly difficult for Neu and his coaching staff out on the recruiting trail and that is why the university desperately needed to show a level of commitment to the program and retain Daoust.
I have no doubt that Western Michigan made a larger financial commitment to Daoust, and I understand that his previous time working alongside Lester at Syracuse added to his reasoning for the move. However, the Ball State football program is in a very precarious time right now, as it trends downward in all of the aforementioned ways. It simply could not afford to allow Daoust to further that demise with this type of move.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at Tdavis@news-sentinel.com.