A three-peat that no coach wants on his resume may be the final whimper of the Charlie Partridge era at Florida Atlantic.
FAU fell to MTSU 77-56 in, at times, embarrassing fashion on Saturday, giving the Owls their third 3-9 record in as many seasons under Charlie Partridge.
That’s a record that has some in authority considering a coaching change.
Over the past few weeks FAU administrators pledged support for Partridge, who told the media the week of the win against Rice that his job was secure.
That support shifted earlier this week when FAU president John Kelly told OwlAccess.com that, “There hasn’t been any decision made, yet.” That was the first time anyone with the power to affect a decision publicly admitted there was a decision to be made.
If Partridge is let go, the ax will likely fall on Sunday, sources told OwlAccess.com.
Partridge expects to remain FAU’s coach.
“I’ve got to look hard at everything we’re doing and look at what I can do better and what we as a coaching staff can do better – that’s where it starts,” Partridge told ESPN West Palm’s postgame show.
If athletic director Pat Chun was waiting to see what the Owls would do on Saturday before making his decision, the performance couldn’t have swayed the choice in Partridge’s favor. Playing against an MTSU squad that used wide receivers and running backs at quarterback following an early injury to backup quarterback John Urzua, the Owls surrendered 757 yards on the evening.
FAU actually cut the MTSU lead to seven, at 49-42, but the Blue Raiders responded with two quick TDs to put the game away.
Hired in December of 2013, Partridge still has two years remaining on his original five-year contract. He’d make a little more than $1 million over the next two seasons should he coach through the remainder of his contract.
It was widely believed that cash-strapped FAU couldn’t afford to pay that $1 million to buy out Partridge’s contract, but the agreement contains a clause stating that the university would only have to pay 20 weeks of severance, roughly $200,000, should Partridge accept a job with another program. Partridge’s personality and strength as a recruiter make it likely that he would be able to land another job quickly should he want one.
During the three years under Partridge the FAU football program made tremendous advancements off the field in recruiting, grade point average and, to some extent, fundraising.
On the field, the Owls continued to make the same mistakes week after week and, statistically, the Owls entered the season finale as one of the worst teams in the nation – and that comes while playing one of the easiest schedules in the nation.
FAU dropped to No. 122 (out of 128 teams) in total defense after allowing 623 yards of total offense to Old Dominion the week prior and could fall further following the debacle at MTSU. The Owls had allowed 36.4 points per game, No. 113 nationally. The 269 passing yards per game FAU allowed over the season’s first 11 games placed the Owls at No. 111 in the nation. The 222.7 yards on the ground was only good enough for the No. 107 ranking. All of those averages expect passing yards will be worse following Saturday’s game.
In 2014, Partridge’s first season, the Owls ranked No. 111 in total defense and No. 110 in scoring defense. A defense that featured three current NFL players and another invited to Baltimore’s fall camp in 2016 improved to No. 74 in total defense and No. 82 in scoring defense last season.
Partridge’s critics consistently complained about the Owls being ill-prepared and out-coached, particularly after halftime. Coming into Saturday’s game FAU had only scored 96 points in the second halves of games, while allowing 184.
Offensively the Owls didn’t score their third fourth-quarter touchdown of the season until Week 9 against Rice – a victory in that game snapped FAU’s seven-game losing streak.
Partridge never defeated the same team more than once during his tenure.
The constant losses robbed FAU fans of their enthusiasm. The Owls barely averaged more than 10,000 fans per game this season – easily the lowest of the Partridge Era. A game delayed one day because of Hurricane Matthew didn’t help that number, but an announced attendance of 5,843 against Old Dominion in the home finale may be as telling a number as there is – and that came with the Owls riding a two-game winning streak.
If dismissed, Partridge would leave FAU as the program’s second-winningest coach. His nine wins are three more than Carl Pelini won in a little more than a season-and-a-half and five more than Brian Wright won as a four-game interim coach in 2013.
Program founder Howard Schnellenberger won 41 games in 10 seasons as the Owls’ coach and led the FAU to its only bowl appearances – the last one coming in 2008.
Partridge came to FAU following one year as the defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator for Arkansas. Prior to that he spent five years as an assistant at Wisconsin. He had never held a coordinator or head coaching position prior to accepting the FAU job.
GameBrowser: MTSU (8-4, 4-4) 77, FAU (3-9, 2-6) 56
Fast starts are nothing new to FAU. The Owls once again scored on their first possession and once again let their opponent immediately tie the score. MTSU scored, and scored and scored. After that first possession the Blue Raiders never looked back.
- Saturday marked the final game for 14 FAU seniors. Only about half of those seniors started even one game this season. Offensively, the Owls lose senior center Dillon DeBoer, the only offensive lineman to start every game this season, along with tight end Tyler Cameron and tackle Kelly Parfitt, the latter of which missed most of the season with a knee injury. Defensively, tackle Shalom Ogbonda, who committed to FAU while Howard Schnellenberger was still coach, played his final game as did Trey Hendrickson, the Owls’ career sack leader with 29.5. FAU will also lose Dalton Schomp, who led the nation in punting last season.
- It’s certainly fair to wonder how differently this season would have gone had the Owls not incurred so many injuries along the offensive line. FAU started the same group for the final four games, winning twice. And while the offensive line issues frequently meant the defense spent an inordinate amount of time on the field, it can’t be used as a crutch to explain why the defense played so poorly – especially against MTSU.
- FAU played without linebackers Jacob Douglas and Rashad Smith, and did not immediately provide a reason as to why the duo didn’t play – but Douglas did exit the prior week’s game against Old Dominion with an undisclosed injury. Limited to three scholarship linebackers on the day, FAU spent much of the afternoon in its nickel package while MTSU ball carriers shredded the defense.
- Nate Terry and Henry Bussey each caught a touchdown on Saturday. They end the season tied for the team lead with two TD catches. Development of the wide receiver position will be a priority in the off season.
- As expected, Jason Driskel started the final game of the season at quarterback. FAU elected not to give backup Daniel Parr the third possession, which had been part of the game plan for the second half of the season. Parr, more than any other other offensive player, may benefit from a coaching change.
9 – Consecutive losses to MTSU
11 – Total of wins by Southern Illinois, Rice and UTEP – the three teams FAU beat this season.
13 – Total rushing TDs for Buddy Howell on the season, a program record.
77 – Points scored by MTSU a Blue Raiders program record and the most points ever allowed by FAU.
133 – Combined points, tying the record for most ever in a Conference USA game.
235 – Rushing yards on the night for Devin Singletary, who eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark for the season.
467 – Total yards surrendered by FAU in first half alone.
495 – Rushing yards for MTSU in the game.
757 – Total yards by MTSU a Blue Raiders program record and the most ever allowed by FAU.
Instant Message: “I knew it was going to take some time. It’s taken a little bit longer, certainly, than I and the fans want it to, but we’ve just got to have faith that these young kids are going to continue to get better and we are going to continue to recruit quality young men from Florida that will grow up in front of our eyes and become a great team.” – Partridge discussing FAU’s lack of success in his tenure.
Probably a coaching search. FAU’s season is complete. Partridge should learn whether or not he is returning as the Owls’ coach either Saturday night or on Sunday.