Trying to win is only half the problem at Georgia State

Cheryl Levick hopes Trent Miles can jumpstart program on and off the field. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Cheryl Levick hopes Trent Miles can jump-start Georgia State on and off field. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Georgia State held a news conference Monday.

Or maybe it was more like a pep rally.

There was pre-recorded, whip-up-the-crowd music blaring through arena speakers. There were cheerleaders and a mascot named Pounce and a pep band in the bleachers and maybe 100 folks, many in the employ of the university, who stood up and applauded as if on cue.

Just as well. Because the job facing Trent Miles as Georgia State’s second football coach isn’t merely to win games, it’s to make sure more than just friends and family of the running back and the long-snapper are aware that a game is even being played.

All new programs lose games. They lack athletes, tradition and an identity. The most troubling aspect of the fledgling Panthers is not that their win totals were only 6, 3 and 1 in the first three seasons. It’s that their attendance dropped from just OK to off-the-radar during that same span. The announced averaged during this season’s 1-10 season was 12,312. The actual number of bodies in seats were closer to between 5,000 to 8,000 (that’s being generous), and many left at halftime.

Given that enthusiasm for a college football team drained so quickly, it’s appropriate to wonder if starting the program, given the costs involved, ever was a good idea. Remember, this is a concrete, commuter campus that rarely even has supported basketball well.

Athletic director Cheryl Levick nodded in agreement when asked about the declining fan and student support, then commented: “This is a critical hire. [Miles] has to come in and turn this program around in terms of establishing a winning tradition, in terms of getting the students in the stands, and the fans cheering. So he’s got a job on the field and off the field, and he knows that.”

There’s no turning back now. Not with millions of dollars already invested in startup costs, a new practice facility and the seemingly premature leap from the Colonial Athletic Association to FBS and the Sun Belt. Georgia State officials have no choice but to embrace the build-it-and-they will come philosophy. They don’t want to think of the alternative.

Levick again: “We have to produce a winning, exciting product on the field. If we do that, the students will be back in the stands.”

Enter Miles. He has been in worse situations. He came from Indiana State. His predecessor went 1-32 in three seasons. Miles was told, “Fix it or we’re shutting it down.”

No, seriously. The school was going to shutter the football program.

Miles didn’t do any better in his first two seasons: 1-22. But he was viewed as Lazarus-like for going 19-14 over the next three.

He’ll have to raise the dead again. He wanted this job so badly after Bill Curry’s retirement that he sent Levick a bound 42-page plan on how he would fix every aspect of the program. He knows what he’s getting into.

“I’m not a head football coach — I’m a CEO of a football department,” he said. “That’s just the way it is. I’ve got to fund raise. I’ve got to raise attendance. I’ve got to recruit, put together a staff, educate young men.”

Referencing fans leaving games early, he added: “We have to give people something to be interested in. We have to get them to buy in and take ownership and stock in the team. When you do that, it’s hard to get up and walk out.”

He’ll bring in a new staff. Don’t be surprised if one of the assistants is former Falcons wide receiver Terance Mathis, a long-time friend since their days together at New Mexico (Mathis was a senior and Miles a graduate assistant in 1989). Mathis is an assistant at Savannah State but the future of that coaching staff is tenuous. It’s not just a coincidence that Mathis attended Monday’s news conference.

“I think he’ll do great,” Mathis said of Miles. “He’s not a high-profile name where people say, ‘Oh, I know him, he’ll win.’ But he’s a coach who has won and does it right way. I’ve seen him recruit. We’ve been after the same kids before. He’s come to Atlanta and taken kids out of our laps.”

Win games. Build a program. Grow the fan base. It’s the same mission statement as three years ago. It doesn’t look any easier now than it did then.

By Jeff Schultz

109 comments Add your comment

Not Disappointed

December 3rd, 2012
3:44 pm

Just say what you really feel!
I cant wait for your opinon on KSU and their new program!

mike

December 3rd, 2012
3:46 pm

Jeff,

Are you suggesting they just shut down the team and close up shop? You seem to have made that case.

itpdude

December 3rd, 2012
3:55 pm

As a GSU alum, undergrad and grad, I agree. GSU should not have gone into football and concentrated on some of their advances in basketball. Unless. Unless they were able to attract a high profile coach with instant name recognition not only in Georgia but in the region, if not nationally. I hoped Reeves would have been the first coach because he brought that kind of recognition, but his involvement was in only setting up the program. Reeves didn’t have much to do with recruiting or being the face of the program and nothing to do with the coaching.

That was a mistake. Nothing against Coach Curry, but he lacked that name recognition. And nothing against Miles, but I’ve never heard of him. He coached at Indiana State for a total record of 20-36. sure, he went 7-4 last season, but who cares? It’s Indiana State.

No offense to Miles, I wish him the best, but GSU is setting him up for failure.

5150 UOAD

December 3rd, 2012
3:56 pm

Best of luck to the Coach but GaState should have joined the HBCU.

Not RocketScience

December 3rd, 2012
3:57 pm

5 Steps for GA State Football to survive:

1. Get GA State in Conference USA…..like this week. Sunbelt is DOA and CUSA needs ATL market
2. Pimp your non conference games(multiple each season) out to anyone anytime anywhere like USM did for years(Fla State, Nebraska, Auburn, etc…)
3. Make sure Chuck Oliver attends all coaches press conferences
4. Hire Jerry Glanville for your Defensive Coordinator…..He is looking to get back into coaching right now
5. Do mobile coaching caravan clinics for recruiting and practices at every high school in the atlanta area

DesignerJacket

December 3rd, 2012
4:06 pm

Take it from a Tech fan that this is not the harshest this writer can get on a team. But, yes, it’s definitely not the “hometown paper” feel either, is it?

Anyway, I’m curious if G-State is going to try to put some residence halls nearer to the dome at some point. I think if that’s where they’re going to play football (read “promote the school”) then having your students close enough to take away excuses not to go seems like one big way to ensure you get an uptick in attendance. I’m not familiar with State’s space planning initiatives, so I’m just kind of wondering out loud about that.

Moobs Johnson

December 3rd, 2012
4:10 pm

Any chance they can play Tech? We need all the guaranteed W’s we can get with our high school offense.

The real GSU is in Statesboro

December 3rd, 2012
4:14 pm

Truest column ever written!

GStateBen

December 3rd, 2012
4:27 pm

Good, honest write up Jeff. These opinions have been uttered not only by fans but by detractors since the announcement of football.

BTW, Terance Mathis was OC and WR coach at Savannah State. Definitely a local guy (Redan HS/Atlanta Falcon) who can help.

GT Dude

December 3rd, 2012
4:39 pm

This is a difficult job, maybe a job better left to Bardem and Bailey

Panther in College Park

December 3rd, 2012
4:45 pm

The truth hurts, but it is needed to try and keep our AD honest. I love GSU so much, but what Schultz wrote is something I have thought about many times. I hope that Coach Miles can help right the ship and make me proud that GSU has a football team.

Go Panthers!

Mel in Midtown

December 3rd, 2012
4:50 pm

I’m an Indiana State alum living in ATL. Here’s the dope on Trent Miles. He took over a program that had the longest losing streak in the country – 33 games. At Indiana State, football just killed time before the beginning of basketball season (see: Larry Bird). Talk about tough recruiting!!! Yet, he turned it around in 4 years, and this year beat the then #1 ranked FCS division school. I agree that I think that GA State should have concentrated on basketball, ad I doubt the wisdom of another college football program succeeding in ATL, but, if it IS going to succeed, then Trent Miles is the guy that can do it!! Ironically, the head coaches of bot GA State’s football and basketball programs came from Indiana schools.

Buckeye

December 3rd, 2012
4:50 pm

Shhh.

Perhaps tom brown won’t come around.

Stinger2

December 3rd, 2012
4:53 pm

Give Trent Miles a chance to do what most may think impossible before throwing
Ga.State out the window. If he has a 48 page plan to revive the program, at least
let him show the alumni, .fans and students 24 pages

Nativebird

December 3rd, 2012
4:56 pm

Build? Fund raise? Raise attendance? CEO? Blah blah blah. Just win baby…….everything else will take care of itself.

Falcon228

December 3rd, 2012
5:04 pm

If the “U” and Pitt can contend as a commuter campus bring it on.

KSUgrad

December 3rd, 2012
5:19 pm

GSU made a big mistake jumping to FBS/Division I. They should have ground out at least another four or five seasons in Division II, try to establish a winning tradition. At this point all the team is good for is to run padded scrimmages for teams like Alabama (granted, the school gets fairly well paid for doing this, but the kids that have to take the a$$ whipping don’t see a cent…). What recruit wants to sign up for that? I sure wouldn’t. I’d rather go play for UT-Chattanooga or App. State or something, play teams that are the same caliber. They’re just setting themselves up for getting crushed by almost every D-I school they play.

I hope my Kennesaw State team, whenever it is they decide to get going (I guess we’re aiming/hoping for 2014 right now), makes the wise decision to hang out in D-II for a while and establish a tradition, as well as play with teams we actually have a shot at beating. I for one would love to establish a new in-state rivalry with the real GSU down in Statesboro. Our men’s basketball programs only met for the first time in history just last month, so we’re already working on that rivalry…

Hope

December 3rd, 2012
5:35 pm

Thanks Mel in Midtown,

Go Panthers !

GSU

December 3rd, 2012
5:36 pm

“I for one would love to establish a new in-state rivalry with the real GSU down in Statesboro.”

I guess that small school mentality is hard to shake.

blackbird13

December 3rd, 2012
5:38 pm

Winning solves a lot of problems, but wins are going to be tough to come by for years. The move to Sun Belt is premature, especially given the game-day attendance requirements GSU will have to meet to avoid probation. A big part of the problem is that the Dome is a sterile, uninspiring venue when only half-full, much less when it’s only 20 percent full.

Go Tech

December 3rd, 2012
5:52 pm

You watch. The dogs will be adding Ga. State to their schedule soon.

BariBlue

December 3rd, 2012
5:54 pm

As a current student, I have seen what having a football team has done for this school. When I arrived at GSU in 2008, school spirit was almost nonexistent. Once the football program kicked off on 09/02, our students seemed to finally come together to support OUR school. Even with our losing record, school spirit is way better than what it once was. Where once the campus was dominated with GSU students wearing SEC school shirts, you now see way more Panther shirts. Are we perfect? No. Do we have a lot to improve on? Heck yeah! So please excuse me, Shultz, but I believe you are completely wrong in questioning whether GSU should have ever fielded a football team. This is what our school needs in order to be a competitive in-state option. Why else do you think schools like Mercer and KSU are following our lead? If similar schools like Pitt can make football successful, then so can we. Rome was not built overnight…. a winning tradition will take some time, especially now that we are in the FBS. Football at Georgia State can succeed… we just need the right leadership in charge… and Coach Miles is exactly that. Go Panthers!!!

Skeptic

December 3rd, 2012
6:17 pm

Should’ve hired Petino–looks like she’s his kind of “boss”

Skeptic

December 3rd, 2012
6:18 pm

I meant, “PetRino”, but you know, either one apply

Mikey D.

December 3rd, 2012
6:29 pm

“All new programs lose games. They lack athletes, tradition and an identity.”

Not all, Jeff. Georgia Southern brought in the late, great Erk Russell to start a football program completely from the ground up. He won, and he won big and fast. Granted, Southern was the exception, but with the right coach it can be done. Good luck to G State and Coach Miles. Wishing you guys luck in the future (unless you’re playing Southern, of course…)

panama

December 3rd, 2012
6:54 pm

Schultz only shills for Power 5 conference schools. What else is new. Someone should sack him…really…they should

R Reagin

December 3rd, 2012
7:23 pm

Thank you Mr. Schultz for speaking truth. G-state (GSU is Georgia Southern) doesn’t need a football team and you folks at Kennessaw need to take in at least two games at the Dome before you jump in. The Signal (State student newspaper) had a recent series where they broke down the student fees. I, and my other Panthers, currently pay $86 per full term semester for the football team. That’s not the full athletic fee, that’s the cut of the athletic fee that goes to the football program. Next year its supposedly going to $95. So, for the glory of having “school spirit” and a bookstore that is clothing students in Panther regalia, a student is looking at payments of over $700 for 8 full semesters (we’ll round to $90 per semester) MINIMUM. Takes you five years to graduate because you have something else going on…like a JOB. That’ll be $900, enjoy the band.

I’ve so often been told that it’s a “great tool for recruiting students”. As I said, I am a student at State (only 4 semester hours to go after Thursday), I know the student body: The last thing State needs is students who choose their institution of higher learning based on a football team. They need to recruit the best students available to balance out the 20% of the student body (thanks HOPE scholarship!) that has no business in college, much less a major research university. Truth hurts.

This was never anything but the fevered dream of some poor alumni who felt left out of the water-cooler discussions where co-workers regaled others with tales of victory forged by their alma mater. Meanwhile, 3 miles away, a school that has won national championships, was the first college team (maybe still the only) to win the Orange, Cotton, Sugar, and Rose Bowls, a team with the best fight song in all of football (sorry Notre Dame and Wisconsin) cannot fill its stadium. What were they thinking? Did they not realize that no matter how nice the G. Dome is, with 40,000 people in it, it’s still empty and you’ll be playing your home games in a abandoned cave?

…one more class, just one more!

GStateBen

December 3rd, 2012
7:27 pm

@MikeyD Southern had far less market competition and NCAA regulation. He could win because there were only three teams in the state at all. I commend him but the fact that Southern has not been nationally relevant in more than a decade.

FCS football does not move the meter outside of Statesboro. It just doesn’t. Recruits believe it is D2 football.

Good luck to the Eagles this weekend but ODU is simply amazing on offense.

GStateBen

December 3rd, 2012
7:31 pm

@R Reagin Interesting post. So if the program was wining, would this change your perception? What about beating those folks who you enjoy the first song so much in every sport? Would the money be worth it?

It’s okay to root for other teams as you obviously have an affinity for the trade school. Universities are far more successful garnering support through athletic endeavors rather than $100 per plate dinners for the Biology Dept.

Congratulations on your near graduation and I would be interested to see how you feel in ten years Vs. Right now.

Hairy Dawg

December 3rd, 2012
7:38 pm

Georgia State will be alright. It’s a large university with ample resources. Having a younger coach who sees himself as being on a mission is important, too. As great a man as Bill Curry is, I don’t think anybody can say that he’s a great football coach. Trent Miles, especially for his own career track, has all the incentive in the world to do a good job in Atlanta. I’d love to see the Dawgs and Tech schedule Georgia State. Sure, we’d both whip the Panthers, but the point is that we’ve got another FBS school in this state. Georgia Southern has never shown the guts to move up. I’ll never understand that.

I like Bill Curry, but...

December 3rd, 2012
8:11 pm

Shultz, calling GSU a commuter school is dated now. Over 90% of freshman live on campus now. Nearly 70% of all undergrads are in the “traditional” college age range now–as opposed to 35% just 8 years ago.

werty

December 3rd, 2012
8:27 pm

coach miles,

if you are ever trailing by 4 pts on the opponents 5 yd line with 18 seconds left and no timeouts, SPIKE THE BALL!

trust me on this

FootballTopFan(c)

December 3rd, 2012
8:37 pm

Football Top Fan would like to welcome Trent Miles to Atlanta as Head Coach of the Georgia State Panthers football team.

We wish Coach Miles and the Panthers the best of luck and success.

Georgia State football program has unlimited potential !!!

Panthers

December 3rd, 2012
9:37 pm

You’ll eat your words schultzs.

Anyone can kick us when we are down… Coward.

Bobby

December 3rd, 2012
9:45 pm

I like this guy’s attitude. I’ll have to renew my season tickets next year just to see what he can do.

Bobby

December 3rd, 2012
9:51 pm

Don’t worry Georgia State Alumns and fans. Schultz is always somewhat of an unprofessional jerk when writing about any team except UGA. Why he wasted space in the AJC for his diatribe and scorn of GSU is beyond me other than maybe he had nothing else going on today after Saturday’s loss by his beloved Dawgs. He has to pick on someone.

R Reagin

December 3rd, 2012
9:57 pm

@ GStateBen: you probably wouldn’t want my opinion in ten years because then I’ll be 61. And no, I wouldn’t care if the panthers were beating Tech, Alabama, or Georgia (well maybe ugag). I do pull for the Jackets, which is only slightly better than pulling for State, but I used them as an example because they have 100 years of football tradition and can’t fill a 50,000 seat stadium in downtown Atlanta. And they, like almost every major school, have a campus and college atmosphere right there at the stadium. None of that exists at the Dome. Going down to the Dome on a Saturday afternoon with 8000 of your fellow students is just depressing. It’s a hideous venue for college football UNLESS it’s full and the fans are there for a championship game with a split crowd.

And about those $100 plate dinners; You honestly think that money goes to the university? Heck, they could have just raised tuition $10 per student per semester and brought in more money than they will EVER see via the banquet route and each student would have the other $80 bucks of their football payment back to put towards a $150 text book. College football is a saturated market. Like the NBA, we already have too many teams.

And I’m curious about how this Sun Belt minimum attendance penalty works. Not sure how they’re going to avoid having to pay it, because sending the students 5 emails a week during the season hasn’t made a dent in attendance yet. They joined a conference they’re not ready to compete in that has a minimum average attendance number State has met maybe 3 times in 3 seasons. Because not enough people care, State will end up raising athletic fees so students seeking an education (some still believe that’s at college is for) will pay the “empty-seat” penalty for what the first huge fee hike didn’t buy, a program that can compete for the sports-entertainment dollar in Atlanta.

Let’s not wait 10 years. You tell me how good it feels in 5 years when they have won 15 more games (that’s probably generous) and the lack of attendance in their massive home stadium has become a national joke. Then you can tell me if your $700 was worth it. Meantime, I’ll be watching Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Florida State, and two dozen other tradition-rich programs I’ll always care more about than G-State regardless of how many degrees I get there.

…and werty is right. I’ve seen a team get off four, yes four plays into the end zone in 14 seconds…SPIKE THE BALL..unbelievably dumb!

Moobs Johnson

December 3rd, 2012
10:25 pm

I remember when Reggie Ball had a chance to beat the Dawgs at the end of the game. On fourth down he decided to throw the ball out of bounds. That Sir, is unbelievably dumb!

Pantherfan93

December 3rd, 2012
10:33 pm

So wait… @Reagin, you would rather cheer for a team with tradition, but when it comes to your school trying to start that tradition… you think they shouldn’t. As an alumni, who also has season tickets, I would rather help start a tradition, even if it started on the losing foot, than just attaching myself to what may be more mainstream. Just my opinion.

MadDog

December 3rd, 2012
10:36 pm

@Hairy Dawg, are you serious? Ga Southern doesn’t have the guts to move up? There’s been discussions for many years and fortunately they’ve been the school smart enough to not do it until now. Traditions, unreal winning record, and a perrenial power in D1 FCS is ready-made for FBS football. Can’t wait for those extra scholarships. Sure gave Ga and Alabama a run with those 63 scholarships! Wish Ga State the best but unfortunately they are throwing a ton of money into this. Sunbelt is one of the cheapest conferences to exist in. CUSA costs much more. Not a bad thing when ESPN is televising GSU vs ODU on Saturday.

Dawg Bite

December 3rd, 2012
10:48 pm

Again, just why is GSU playing their home games in the Dome rather a smaller, more cozy venue such as Grady stadium or the like? The Dome must really be a tomb with only 8-10k in there! Good luck to GSU, but I think you are on the same track as UAB. B’ham has never embraced that program, and they have floundered for years. Atlanta is a UGA town 1st, then has a huge UT, UF, UA, AU following and with GAT having trouble filling their stadium GSU will never be embraced by Atlanta. I would guess that most GSU students could not care less about them having a football team. JMHO

Pantherfan93

December 3rd, 2012
10:49 pm

Now, i am not questioning the history and tradition of Southern football. Y’all are champions at the FCS level time and time again. But why did you only draw 8,888 for the last playoff game?

WhatyoutalkingaboutWillis?

December 3rd, 2012
11:17 pm

Instead of a football program can the staff just get raises??? It’s going on five years now… come on!! I also wish that GSU didn’t play in the dome.. they need a smaller place….

Go Panthers!!

December 3rd, 2012
11:36 pm

Kind of a cheap shot at the fan base in regards to declining attendance when it’s admitted at the very start of the article that our win totals went from 6 to 3 to 1.

There is no history to fall back on. No family legacies to get us going.

To be frank, I’m proud of the thousands of us that have stuck around through all this mess.

Erk Russell's Barber

December 4th, 2012
12:01 am

as a State Alum, I was stunned when it was announced State was gonna have a football team.
its pointless, as is being borne out by attendance. look at basketball. sports at State have always been a rat hole to throw money into.

this was an ego thing by State. a school which made its bones by financial education should have been able to do market research and come to the conclusion the rest of us already knew. it ain’t gonna fly.

the only, and I mean only team in the area which draws well all the time is UGA football.

BariBlue

December 4th, 2012
12:09 am

R Reagin is a Southern Troll… it’s too obvious. For one, what sane person would be against supporting their OWN school creating a winning tradition, which will in turn increase the value of their degree?

462 JC Camp Student Center

December 4th, 2012
12:15 am

GSU will be fine. Very good academics, large alumni base and a very large, traditional student population just dying for something to rally around. Miles is the man to bring it all together.

Stop with this “G-State” nonsense. Georgia State University has been GSU since 1969.

Billy Ray

December 4th, 2012
12:21 am

8,888 fans at a playoff game? Could it be that Georgia Southern’s program is just not capable of playing at the FBS level? There just isn’t any support down in little ol’ Statesboro. Perhaps the FCS is as good as it gets for our little cousins down I-16.

It certainly is possible that Georgia State will one day be bigger than UGa in enrollment and in football.

john

December 4th, 2012
1:20 am

Ga State needs to be merged back into the school a couple miles north and become Georgia Institute of Technolgy and Georgia State University..

BravesFan79

December 4th, 2012
4:24 am

I just dont understand the point of being a fan of a team with NO…0 percent chance of ever winning a national championship. I went to Ga State for a semester back in 2003, those artsy kids (the ones who actually live in the city) could care less about sports!