In order for someone to find a time where a Texas A&M-Commerce (or Formerly East Texas State) Football coach came in to the job taking over a Championship program, one would have to travel back to 1953.
Milburn Smith had coached for 3 seasons and had amassed 3 Lone Star Conference Titles, a 30-2-1 record, a 29 game winning streak, and a two Tangerine Bowl Championships. He decided he simply wanted to go back to the High School ranks of coaching, so former Lion Basketball Coach and Kansas Head Coach JV Sikes became head coach of a Championship program.
Sikes coached for 10 seasons before he suddenly passed away in the Spring of 1964. The Lion program was still relatively strong, but was not performing as it had been. A 37 year old Assistant Head Coach named Ernest Hawkins had to come in put the winning and Championships back in Commerce. Before Hawkins won the LSC in his third season, it had been 6 seasons since the Lions had won the LSC and Hawkins had to deal with 2 losing seasons to start, heavy losses due to transfers and players quitting.
Hawkins got the program roaring back with 4 Conference titles, a National Semifinalist finish, and a National title in 1972 established Championship Football in Commerce from 1964-1985. After his retirement though, another young Coach took over in 38 year old Eddie Vowell who had to deal with injuries and the transfer of players and had back to back 2-9 seasons, before he started a fruitful stretch of Football from 1988-1996 that saw the Lions win 64 games, go to the NCAA playoffs 3 times, win an LSC title in 1990, be ranked multiple times in the top 10 nationally, and finish as National quarterfinalists twice.
Vowell’s last two seasons were rough, and he decided to retire at the end of the 1998 season. His replacement was Eddie Brister, a former Division I Offensive coordinator who had a subpar 19-35 record over a 5 year stretch and overall a very disappointing time in Commerce. His time was over by 2003.
In 2004, TAMUC Alumnus Scott Conley was brought in to resurrect the program. Aside from a Conference Division Championship in 2007, Conley was dismissed after a 24-27 record in 5 seasons.
Guy Morriss was brought in. 2009 saw another Conference Division Title and 5-5 record, but after that, Morriss’s last 3 years were a woeful 5-26. Then, Colby Carthel came, and for the first time since the Vowell years, Championship quality football was back in Commerce.
And yet, David Bailiff inherits a program that has won 59 games in the past 6 seasons, 3 Conference Championships, a National Title, and 6 postseason appearances. He also inherits a strong team from the previous year that was starting to hit it’s stride as the season ended.
He has inherited something few of his predecessors ever had. A Championship program with unwavering fan support and administrative backing from the President’s office down to the Athletic Director’s office.
He also has a very supportive and ever growing fan base, administrative support, an athletic department and front office that has created a winning culture.
He also had part of a fan base that was skeptical that Bailiff was the right hire.
His first test was the coaches he hired and the staff he put together.
He Hired some very well known and promising assistants.
First Test Passed.
His second test was if he could recruit.
He signed 52 promising and talented high schoolers, including some JUCO standouts that turned down Division I offers.
Second Test passed.
Now, Bailiff has to put an exciting and most importantly, a winning product on the field. The Lions have started Spring Drills and their annual Blue/Gold Spring Game is on March 30th. There is a lot more interest in this game than in previous games because of the coaching change, because unlike the previous 6 coaches, he is inheriting a Championship team with a situation about as good as any coach can inherit. Bailiff has stressed he is being a gatekeeper of a Championship program and plans to keep it that way.
We will get a preview in the next couple of weeks.