San Jose State football followers should take a deep breath.
The departure of Mike MacIntyre, who is leaving the Spartans for an industrial-strength reclamation project at Colorado, is a blow for the school. But it does not have to be a knockout blow.
It also isn't a shock. The pattern of football coaches at San Jose State is consistent. Any youngish coach who succeeds there has always left for something better.
It happened with Darryl Rogers in 1975 when he left for Michigan State. It happened with Ron Turner in 1992 when he left for a NFL assistant job with the Chicago Bears. It happened in 1991 when Terry Shea left to be Bill Walsh's top assistant at Stanford. All were under 50 years old when they left the SJS campus, as is the 47-year-old MacIntyre. Jack Elway was 52 when he left San Jose State in 1983 to become head coach at Stanford. But the principle still applied.
MacIntyre was never going to be a lifer with the Spartans if he could turn around things and put together a winning team or two. The big surprise was that the turnaround was so dramatic and so quick, going from 1-12 two years ago to 10-2 and a bowl trip this season. The milder surprises were that MacIntyre apparently did not receive an offer from Cal after Jeff Tedford was let go — and that MacIntyre then chose to accept a different Pac-12 invitation from Colorado, where the football program's state has been described as a roaring dumpster fire after the recent ugly firing of Jon Embree.
Still, the Colorado job is in a BCS conference with BCS economics. And whether it was this year or next, some school in that weight category was always going to come along with a proposition to to triple or quadruple MacIntyre's roughly $500,000 San Jose State salary, as Colorado apparently has done. How can you blame the man for saying, "Yes, where do I sign?" San Jose State does not have the resources to match that sort of loot.
Yet in a weird way, the exit of MacIntyre is a sign that Spartan football back in good shape. The challenge of athletic director Gene Bleymaier will be to hire someone who won't lose the program's muscle tone.
That can happen. And with Bleymaier's background as athletic director at Boise State, he should have plenty of names in his Rolodex (sorry, in his cell phone directory) to start making calls. He probably has started punching the buttons already.
In general, his options are threefold:
Option A: Bleymaier can go find an older coach who has had success in the past and is looking for one more stop and one more round of thrills before retiring. A previous example would be Dick Tomey, who took San Jose State to its last bowl game in 2006 and then struggled before abdicating to his Hawaii residence in 2009. Another example would be John Ralston, who replaced Turner in 1993 and had less success than Tomey — but who stayed on to serve as a valuable Spartan athletic department advisor.
Option B: Bleymaier can go find a younger man who has done well as a head coach at a lower tier of college football (as Stanford did when it hired Jim Harbaugh from the University of San Diego) or who has been a winner in the past at the top tier but has fallen by the wayside for various reasons. One coach in that category would be Dan Hawkins, who won a bunch at Boise State when he worked with Bleymaier there but then flopped at (ironically) at Colorado. Another coach in that category would be Tedford, out the door at Cal. Hawkins has done some work for ESPN since leaving Boulder. He's obviously available, as is Tedford, who might have motivation to prove a point at another Bay Area school. And here's a wild thought: Ty Willingham. He's been living in the South Bay ever since his ouster at Washington. He'd have to be worth a phone call, wouldn't he?
Option C: Bleymaier can scout the ranks for a bright young assistant coach from a BCS school who would roll into town and try to duplicate the path of MacIntyre — who came to SJS as a bright young defensive coordinator from Duke. There are two worthy prospects just up the road in Palo Alto — Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton and defensive coordinator Derek Mason. There are equivalents at other Top 25 schools.
The danger in choosing Option C, of course, is that the coach might well depart for better things after just a few years as MacIntyre did. It would be less of a danger with Option B and probably not at all with Option A. But the choice here would still be Option B or Option C.
Why? With the Spartans moving into the Mountain West Conference next season, alums are supposedly ready to step up with enough money to support the move with new facilities and a larger salary pool for assistant coaches. But rest assured, those alums will be even more ready to kick in the money if the winning continues. The price for that might be another coach who wants to showcase his talent at San Jose State for three or four years and then take a more glamorous gig. That's no crime. It might well be the best way for San Jose State to do business.