Last Saturday, the Mustangs pulled out what would be generously termed a thrilling victory over Tulsa to lock up a bowl game of little significance. After yet another season that saw the Mustangs cling to their status as a mediocre football program, it's time for a change at the top for Dallas' Team.
At the center of the middling program on the Hilltop is the man once heralded as its savior, June Jones. Coming off a year in which he took a Colt Brennan-led Hawaii team to the Sugar Bowl, SMU lured Jones to Dallas with a hefty contract and anointed him the program's savior. Five years in, he's been as much a savior as he can be.
Much has been made of Jones' 4-year bowl streak and how far the program has come to consistently win around 7 or 8 games, but the luster of his accomplishments is not so bright. The hard truth is that Jones has ridden a schedule padded by a mediocre at best conference slate to his 6th and 7th Hawaii Bowls as a coach during his time in Dallas. If that's not enough to get you excited, he also managed to sandwich trips to the less scenic Armed Forces and BBVA Compass Bowls in between.
That's not to denigrate what Jones has accomplished during his half a decade at SMU. After a 1-11 first year on the job, he's made the Mustangs consistent bowl participants and a competitive outfit in the conference. He took what was left from Phil Bennett's 1-11 group and took them to a bowl in two years. But since then, the program has leveled off.
The reason the program is stuck in neutral, and more importantly why it will remain there, is simple: recruiting. As with all college sports, winning is more about talent than coaching. Jones' 2011 class was headlined by 11 3-star recruits, followed by a 4-star and 16 3-star players in the 2012 class. But after continually mediocre results and Jones' failed attempt at the Arizona State job, the incremental improvement came to a screeching halt with the 2013 class that boasts all of 9 3-star recruits.
But the numbers aren't the most troubling part of the story. While Jones has centralized his recruiting efforts to Texas, he hasn't done much in the city of Dallas. If the Mustangs want to live up to their self-proclaimed title as "Dallas' team," that would be a good place to start. The talent in the Mustangs' back yard is their best, and likely only, place to begin cultivating an elite program to compete with the BCS conference schools throughout the state. Scouring the rest of the state for hidden gems is far from a surefire way to build a top-tier program when you share that state with Gary Patterson, Mack Brown and Art Briles. In order to make it happen, they need a coach who can recruit the area, not a guy who had a cult following in Hawaii.
In a tough transition period, it's time to bring in a coach that knows how to recruit the area as well as coach. Jones has done an admirable job returning SMU to respectability, but he has consistently demonstrated he can take a program no further. Throughout his career he has done a phenomenal job taking teams from the gutter to the street, but aside from a single year of glory at Hawaii, he hasn't taken a program to the penthouse of college football. For a program with deep pockets in the heart of talent-rich Dallas, struggling against Tulsa and Rice for bowl bids cannot be good enough anymore.