After years of poor performances, the University of Windsor apparently has finally decided to move on without head football coach Mike Morencie. The path it took to get to this point was a long and circuitous one, involving everything from potential contract grievances to rumours that Morencie had received an extension. Even Morencie's son Matt got in on the action, grabbing a reporter's notebook and ripping several pages out; the Tiger-Cats traded him to Winnipeg shortly thereafter.
In the end, though, it seems likely the decision to move on without Morencie (pictured above addressing the team at a 2006 practice) was probably driven as much by the Lancers' on-field struggles as it was by the off-field zaniness. Windsor went 34-68-1 in Morencie's 13-year tenure with a single playoff win. They had one winning season in that time, a 6-2 campaign in 2006 where they lost to Western in the first round of the playoffs. That performance, on the back of Hec Creighton winner Daryl Stephenson (currently a Winnipeg Blue Bomber, potentially a free agent in 2011), was good enough to earn Morencie a four-year contract extension. Things soon went downhill, though, and the team was 9-23 over the last four years, including 2-6 seasons in 2007, 2009 and 2010.
The key question now is where Windsor goes from here. Continuous losing is far worse in the college game than it is in the professional ranks, as there's no draft-pick advantage; there's also no salary cap or free agency to theoretically balance out teams. We still see struggles to turn bad franchises around in the CFL and NFL, but they're magnified far more in college. It also hurts in CIS where the overall exposure is so limited. The good teams win, get the lion's share of the limited publicity and national attention out there, and tend to pick up the best recruiting prospects as a result, paving the way for future success. The bad teams lose games, then see their players transfer and new local prospects go elsewhere, making it even more difficult for them to win down the road.
We don't have quantitative data on this effect in Canada, but we do in the NCAA. Yahoo!'s Matt Hinton has been running a great look at the benefits of recruiting well this past week over at Dr. Saturday, using Rivals' recruiting rankings to look at such elements as individual success, team success in the final polls and team success on a game-by-game basis (or how teams tend do against teams that outrecruit them). He's found that sure, there are overacheiving and underacheiving teams, but even in a year where several notable recruiting powers stumbled, recruiting rankings still predicted the winner of a game over 66 per cent of the time.
At first glance, those results would seem likely to hold up in CIS, too; we don't have quantitative data on how "well" teams recruit, but it's notable that the four conference champions in 2010 (Laval, Western, Calgary and Saint Mary's) are all schools with significant national profiles, regular television exposure and past track records of success. Their 2010 rosters linked above show that they also all recruit well outside their immediate geographic area; Laval pulls in players from all across Quebec and a few from outside, Western has athletes from all over Ontario and a few from Western Canada, and Calgary and Saint Mary's both draw players from all over the country. A recruit isn't necessarily "better" just because he's from farther away, but recruiting on a national scale has been cited as a key component of success in all CIS sports before, and it does suggest that schools have more players to pick and choose from.
Bringing this back to Windsor and Morencie, I'd argue the school's key focus in choosing a replacement should be on finding someone who can recruit well. They have one tremendous advantage over many other CIS schools in that they're located in one of the country's biggest football hotbeds, but as I wrote last year, many Windsor-area players are heading to the NCAA these days. The ones who decide to stay north of the border usually aren't suiting up for the Lancers, either, but instead opting to head to more successful CIS schools.
There are some interesting candidates who might be able to turn that around, including former Guelph head coach and current Blue Bombers special teams coach Kyle Walters, who's been linked to the job before. He's renowned for his recruiting prowess and knowledge of CIS, and his CFL experience certainly wouldn't hurt either, but he does seem to be playing a larger role in Winnipeg these days on the scouting front, so he might not want to jump back to the CIS ranks. There are also rumours that Windsor might go with a local high-school coach, which would be an unusual move but one that might well pay off in such a recruiting hotbed. The usual suspects among hotly-sought OUA assistants, including Queen's Pat Tracey and Western's Mickey Donovan, also might be worth considering. Whichever way the Lancers go, if they wish to reintroduce "the scoreboard as evaluator", they'll have to start with someone who can turn in a solid recruiting effort if they want to have any hopes of rebuilding their program.