I will always remember this season for two moments -- one of great heights and one that began a series of extreme lows.
First, the opener against Morgan State was wonderful. The university provided a great atmosphere for tailgating. The pregame pageantry was perfect. The game's outcome was the beatdown we all desired.
Before the next game -- one in which the Zips were hosting their first Big Ten team (and were 4.5-point favorites to win) -- the senior quarterback was suspended indefinitely and later kicked off the team.
Maybe the coaches only found out about Chris Jacquemain's personal struggles in mid-September. If that's the case, it was a stroke of awful luck that sent the team into a tailspin. The more likely scenario is that the team knew something about Jacquemain's issue(s) and hoped it would just go away.
It didn't. But Akron's season did.
Against Indiana, Matt Rodgers started his first college game and threw four interceptions. The Hoosiers came into InfoCision Stadium and stole the show in what was supposed to be Akron's coming-out party. More like a funeral.
The procession continued at Central Michigan, where Akron probably had no realistic shot to keep up with Dan LeFevour's Chips. One had to wonder if the offensive line showed up drunk. They couldn't stop the rush or block for the running backs. It was a pathetic performance that made Rodgers look even greener than he was.
With a three-game road trip looming, Akron had a must-win game on Homecoming against Ohio. Rather, the Zips lost by two scores. It was at that point I realized J.D. Brookhart's time at Akron was through.
After the Homecoming letdown, it was no surprise to see the Zips drop all three games on the road trip. They returned to beat Kent State and spoil the Flashes' ability to control their destiny to the MAC Championship game. (If there is one positive to Brookhart's legacy at Akron, it was his uncontrollable ability to outcoach Doug Martin.)
At that point, however, a postseason opportunity was out of reach. Akron played like it the next week against Temple, who punched the injury-riddled Zips in the teeth on national TV. Bowling Green did likewise the next week. Then Akron won a pillow fight with Eastern Michigan to finish the 2009 season -- a season that began with a triumphant bang and fizzled to a faint hiss.
This was a season where Akron had a chance to pull the community to campus -- to show them that good football at an exciting venue doesn't only happen in Columbus. It's not all Jacquemain's fault, but you can certainly point to his dismissal as the turning point. A more seasoned coaching staff would know how to counteract losing a marginal senior starter -- albeit the quarterback. A roster with more leadership would use it as a rallying point, not a "woe is me" excuse to get outworked. Rather, the event triggered a six-game losing streak.
And thus, InfoCision Stadium's doors are gently closed until next season, when a new coach will attempt to rebuild the program -- effectively using the MAC's best facilities to recruit talented kids, who are also winners, who are also leaders, and who are also good citizens.
The new coach will earn about $379,000, which will mean Akron can attract a better candidate than if it continued to pay $250,000 (Brookhart's salary). Tom Wistrcill is looking for someone who can energize the community. To me, that means someone with national name recognition or someone with oodles of charisma.
I would give the following coaches a call: Glenn Mason, Charlie Weis, Terry Bowden and Mark Stoops. Here is Tom Gaffney's list.
Time is running low for Akron to take advantage of this stadium's novelty. I said Akron must rebuild, but it also must win in the mean time. Wistrcill and President Luis Proenza understand this. I'm comfortable with them calling the shots.