Football: the case for keeping head coach Charlie Partridge

The football team’s slow start to the season should not put Partridge’s job in risk.

Head+coach+Charlie+Partridge+puts+up+owl+fingers+to+fans+after+FAU%27s+20-14+overtime+loss%0Aat+the+University+of+Florida+last+season.+Mohammed+F.+Emran+%7C+Staff+Photographer

Head coach Charlie Partridge puts up owl fingers to fans after FAU's 20-14 overtime loss at the University of Florida last season. Mohammed F. Emran | Staff Photographer

Brendan Feeney, Sports Editor

Editor’s note: FAU Athletics has not said that Charlie Partridge’s job is in jeopardy.

Florida Atlantic football is off to a 1-6 start, causing a number of fans to call for the firing of head coach Charlie Partridge.

Partridge is in his third season as head coach and currently holds a career record of 7-24. Despite this, he should remain as the head coach.

Here are five reasons why Partridge should keep his job.

No time for recruiting impact:

Partridge will tell you he loves every one of his players, but the problem is that they really aren’t his players.

The team that is on the field on Saturdays is a combination of juniors and seniors that were recruited prior to Partridge’s arrival and freshmen and sophomores that Partridge persuaded to come to Boca Raton.

Yes, the school hired him in December 2013, but a coach needs more than two months — each recruiting period ends in February — to put together his first recruiting class.

Any coach should be given the chance to let his roster be filled with his recruits before being let go for failing to produce with players he didn’t recruit. Especially at a program like FAU that isn’t exactly expected to put together eight or nine win seasons every year.

Partridge’s 2015 recruiting class — which ranked the second best in Conference USA according to 247Sports — included four players who earned a spot on the freshman all-conference team.

One of those players, sophomore linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, was named a freshman All-American by USA Today and Scout. He became the second consecutive freshman to earn All-American honors under Partridge, following in the footsteps of junior offensive lineman Reggie Bain.

In that 2015 season, the Owls started 16 true freshmen, the most in the NCAA. While those first-year players gained valuable playing experience, they are still just sophomores and that is going to cause plenty of growing pains.

This season FAU has started five freshmen, 11 sophomores and only six seniors.

The offense is being led by one of those sophomores, Jason Driskel, who only attempted 151 passes prior to the season.

Defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni believes the players need time to grow.

“Quite honestly, and no one wants to hear it, the truth is they’re still really young. I know the sophomores played last year, but they’re still sophomores and they’re still 19-year-old bodies and not 22-year-old bodies,” Bellantoni said. “But that’ll continue to come with development in the weight room and eating and year round and having more than one offseason under your belt. I think it’ll get more consistent as they keep playing.”

Here’s an example of what firing Partridge this quickly would be similar to.

A man and wife decide to buy a house knowing that in four or five years time, they will have built a swimming pool, an indoor movie theater and a tennis court. After two years, the movie theater is running smoothly and the swimming pool is envied by the couple’s neighbors.

However, even though she was aware it would take four or five years to finish, the wife leaves the husband for not having the tennis court finished.

Strong relationship with players:

Partridge is building the program in a way that may seem backwards to some, but in a way he feels is right — each individual’s success as a person comes before their success as a player.

Prior to the season, he explained what building a program meant to him.

“It means building one that can sustain success on and off the field. One that players make good decisions in all aspects of their life,” he said.

Hanging on the walls in the football classrooms is a reminder of what the coaches want of their players and not all are related to football. Mixed in with the football messages, the signs tell the players how to become better people off the field.

His message can be felt by his players, whose trust in their coach hasn’t wavered. It also has been felt by recruits — such as freshman running back James Charles — before ever suiting up for him.

“You can call him a family man, and a family man is the most dangerous man because he’ll do anything for the family to protect them,” Charles said after officially committing to play for Partridge.

Partridge has taken on the role of a father who makes sure his kids do well in school. Since becoming the head coach, FAU’s players have elevated their GPA from 2.50 to a program record of 2.96.

He also has made the team tighter as a group.

Senior defensive end Trey Hendrickson, who under Partridge collected the second most sacks in the nation last season, noted before the season how the team atmosphere has changed under Partridge.

“It’s more like a family now than it ever was before,” he said.

Players don’t blame Partridge:

Following the Owls 33-31 loss at Florida International on Oct. 1, Partridge went into the locker room to address his team that had just lost its fourth straight game.

“I walked in there and I told them, ‘Listen fellas I love you to death. I have to find a way to coach you better and motivate you better,’ but I couldn’t finish the sentence before the kids said, ‘No it’s on us, we need to play better.’”

A coach always warrants some blame for a 1-6 start, however the players do have a point. Several times throughout the season, the defense was on the brink of making a stop until a missed tackle or blown coverage killed the momentum.

The defense ranks 103rd out of 128 teams on third-down defense, meaning it struggles to get off the field.

One of the biggest problems getting off the field comes with consistent play, which Bellantoni has noticed is lacking.

“There’s plays where some of our players look like the best players in the conference and then there’s plays where they don’t do as well, so I see inconsistency across the board,” Bellantoni said.

The team has also allowed eight touchdowns in the final two minutes of a half this season. Hendrickson thinks it is because of a lack of focus.

“I don’t know what goes on in the minds of the guys that, almost seems like they’re laying off the pedal, their minds are already in the locker room,” Hendrickson said. “But that’s just from an outside perspective, so your answer is as good as mine, but it has to be a lack of focus in doing their job.”

Al-Shaair backed up Partridge’s comments after the FIU game.

“It’s on us,” Al-Shaair said after the game. “Coach is going to call plays, but it’s on us to execute out there.”

Close calls:

The Owls have nothing to brag about with a 1-6 record, but it can be misleading.

In four of its losses combined, FAU has only been outscored by 17 points. The team finished all four games a touchdown away from a win or tie.

Two of the other losses came against Miami and Kansas State — both of which were highly expected.

Last year’s final two losses were also by a one-touchdown margin, including an overtime loss to the Florida Gators, which were ranked No. 8 in the country at the time.

Despite Partridge being somewhat responsible for his team’s inability to collect victories, the Owls have already taken the next step as they have been in position to win just about every game they have played in. That is not something that used to be the case for FAU football.

If the players execute at the right time, the Owls could potentially avoid finding themselves on the wrong side of these close games.

Driskel has placed the blame on his play after multiple losses.

“That’s a good defensive team we played out there but we left a lot out there. It came down to execution and we didn’t execute and that starts with me,” he said following the loss to Miami.

After the Ball State game, Driskel said he wasn’t good enough and didn’t give his guys a chance to make plays.

If the Owls can make those one or two key plays per game, they could very well find themselves on the winning side of the situation.

What’s the alternative?

Remember, for Partridge to be named the head coach, there had to be plenty of other candidates who weren’t on his level.

If FAU fires him now, there is no guarantee that the replacement will bring any improvement. In fact, there is a good probability the team would actually be backtracking by hiring a new coach.

Think about it, the new head coach would be coaching Partridge’s recruits. FAU would have to wait another two or three years until the replacement can get his recruits.

Then should the school fire him for being in the same situation? If so, it would start a never-ending cycle.

Hate to break it to you FAU fans, but firing Partridge will not bring a Les Miles-type coach to Boca Raton.

The team has struggled and even disappointed, but firing Partridge now would only extend the suffering.

Here is the case to fire Partridge.

Brendan Feeney is the sports editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @feeney42.