Coaching changes at the collegiate level can be ruthless.
After eight seasons with an above .500 overall record and a SWAC championship in four appearances, Jackson State fired Rick Comegy on Wednesday.
He has to undergo the tough task of sitting in his office, packing up all his treasured belongings and leaving the football complex with a security guard in tow.
In a sport that is based on winning, and winning big at all costs, the university publicly decided that Comegy was no longer in a position to achieve that lofty goal.
When Comegy was hired by JSU in 2006, he became the highest-paid coach in school history, drawing $155,000 a year.
It signaled the suits were serious about regaining its title as an HBCU football Goliath that had been rendered defunct for three years under the bumbling James Bell. Comegy would be deployed to retain that title.
Comegy won immediately, relatively speaking, taking home the conference championship in a magical 2007 season.
The Tigers would finish no worse than third in the SWAC East the next six campaigns, including three additional December championship game appearances all sandwiched between two seasons – 2009 and 2011 – where the team won just three games and were banned from postseason play due to APR failures.
But, in the final few years of this relationship, it seemed Comegy lost his luster among the administration.
Former athletic director Bob Braddy was non-committal to Comegy, refusing to extend the coach past the desired number of years during contract negotiations at the conclusion before he departed.
Reports later surfaced that Comegy applied for the vacant job at Florida A&M in 2012.
It was not until current athletic director Vivian Fuller took over did Comegy receive a two-year extension through 2014.
The deal wasn’t the long term commitment Comegy had been hoping for, but long enough for him to prove his coaching worth. Fuller, on the other hand, could evaluate a coach she didn’t hire without him under the strain of lame duck status.
Comegy wouldn’t be measured by seasons in which they almost won or achieved moral victories. He would be judged by the scoreboard, its judge, jury and unforgiving executioner. And the scoreboard was not kind to Comegy in back-to-back championship games.
Against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, it was a late-game defensive breakdown that cost them the title. Two weeks ago versus Southern, the Tigers were wrought with turnovers, poor execution and an inopportune lack of awareness in overtime.
JSU was heavily favored in both games. They were expected to win. They underachieved instead. And failing to secure victories in the midst of those expectations will find even the most respected coaches in the unemployment line. That’s where Comegy finds himself just a week before Christmas.
Moving forward, the Fuller and Co. must make immediate plans to find a head coach who has a resume that is more sterling than the previous one.
High-level meetings must take place today and in the future. Whatever Fuller’s desire – retread or up-and-comer – it needs to be fulfilled soon, as there are staffs to be formed and recruits to be had.
This will be Fuller’s first major hire in her role as queen overseer of JSU athletics. Who she decides will be the next head coach has ramifications that will impact future seasons, including the one in which the program plans to move into a state-of-the-art domed crib in the heart of Jackson in the not-too-distant future.
She was hired to make big decisions. One has already been made. The next will shape a legacy.