The Idaho Vandals Football Head Coach position is not the most desirable job in college football right now. The team has struggled mightily since joining the top level of college football in 1996, making just two bowl games and compiling a dismal .335 winning percentage. Previous coach Robb Akey was fired during the season after managing just a 20-50 record over six seasons.
To make matters worse, Idaho's conference (the WAC) is no longer sponsoring football after this season, and no FBS conference showed interest in having the Vandals join. Thus, they will be forced to play as an independent out of necessity (unlike Army, BYU, Navy, and Notre Dame, who are independents out of choice).
The program's future as an FBS team is uncertain, as they may be forced to drop down to the FCS level and rejoin the Big Sky Conference if things don't start looking up. The team doesn't exactly enjoy great fan support either, averaging just 12,581 fans in attendance per home game this season.
If Idaho wants to remain a viable FBS-level program, they needed to make a big hire to fill their vacant head coach position. The school did just that hiring University of Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino on Monday.
This is not Petrino's first time coaching in Moscow as he was an assistant with the Vandals from 1992-1994 when the team was a Division I-AA power. This time, Idaho is relying on him to turn the program's fortunes around and save them from having to drop back down to the FCS level.
Petrino's expertise is offense, something the Vandals have been severely lacking lately. Idaho averaged only 15.8 points per game this season, ranking them second to last at the FBS level in that category. Their running game was ranked 120th, while their passing game was ranked 68th.
The hiring of Petrino is the smartest decision Idaho could have made. Before becoming Arkansas' offensive coordinator, Petrino was the OC for Louisville and then Illinois. They brought in a coach who is familiar with programs, has a history of success and knows how to put an exciting offense on the field.
For the first time in years, there is reason for hope in Moscow.
Exciting offenses make fans want to come to the games and inspire hope. A team's defense has no shot if their offense is completely futile. The Vandals defense was just as atrocious as their offense this season, ranking 122nd in the country in points allowed. There's nowhere for the defense to go but up, so hiring a proven offensive mind won't hurt the team there.
Petrino's hiring was also wise for recruiting purposes. The Vandals tend to usually only get players who had few or no other FBS offers. With the prospect of a powerful offense, Idaho should be able to attract more mid-level recruits who want the chance to shine.
The Idaho Vandals football program finds itself at a pivotal moment in its history. They must do something to change the culture of losing or be forced to accept being relegated to a lower level, forever abandoning their dreams of being successful in the top division of college football.
They took a major step in the right direction with the hiring of Paul Petrino as head coach.