Twenty-one months ago, when the Southern University System Board of Supervisors approved a three-year contract for Stump Mitchell, one of its members had a question.
Darren Mire, then the board’s vice chairman, wondered aloud why Mitchell’s contract included a $10,000 bonus for winning the Bayou Classic — the same amount Mitchell would receive for winning the Southwestern Athletic Conference title.
Greg LaFleur, then the school’s athletic director, had an easy answer.
“Because if you don’t win that game, you’re liable to get fired,” LaFleur said with a laugh.
Mitchell has coached in two Bayou Classics since then. Last year, Grambling thumped the Jaguars 38-17.
Then there was Saturday’s clunker. Inside a lifeless Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Tigers won in a 36-12 wipeout that could have been a whole lot worse.
Two years into his term at SU, Mitchell is 6-16 overall.
And he still hasn’t earned that $10,000 bonus.
Fans and alumni are steamed. They should be. They remember when the Jaguars practically made the fitting of championship rings an annual tradition.
But before we go too far here, it’s unlikely that Mitchell turns up anywhere but Southern next season.
It’s not impossible. But it’s unlikely.
Mitchell has a year left on a contract that pays $200,000 annually, and although his first two teams at SU were inconsistent (at best), it’s worth noting that this year’s 4-7 squad played with limits on scholarships and practice time — penalties stemming from a low APR score in 2009, the year before Mitchell came aboard.
More importantly, the university declared exigency last month, a move that crystallized just how grim its money problems are.
If Southern attempts to buy out another coach, it faces everything short of a full-fledged revolt from university faculty.
One other thing: Southern is still without an athletic director.
With all that in mind, if SU did indeed make a change, what kind of coach could it attract? What kind of coach would want to step into this mess?
So in all likelihood, Mitchell will return for a third season. And if he does, he’ll be living in Make-Or-Break Land.
Last year’s team was flat-out bad. The 2-9 record didn’t lie. This year’s team was downright schizophrenic, taking on a new personality with each game.
Did it really improve? Or did the occasional bright lights amount to little more than a mirage?
Sometimes, the Jaguars played like superstars, more than capable of contending for a SWAC title.
On other weekends, they collapsed, routinely blowing chances to win close games.
Finally, in outings like Saturday’s disappointing Bayou Classic, they looked wholly incapable of competing at any level.
Mitchell has a decent staff and some promising young players. But from here, his program has to take the next step.
It has to win often, and contend for a title.