The Dukes of JMU played impressive football before head coach Mike Houston arrived in Harrisonburg in 2016, but his presence has transformed James Madison into an FCS powerhouse team.
Houston led his team to a 37-6 record over three seasons at JMU — including an FCS National Championship-winning season in his first year in 2016 over Youngstown State. Unfortunately for Dukes fans, his time with at James Madison has come to an end after losing to Colgate University in the second round of the FCS Playoffs.
MORE: FCS Coaching Carousel
Of course, the atmosphere surrounding the campus has been abysmal since speculation of his departure arose just a few short days ago.
It began when Charlotte AD Mike Hil offered Houston the head coaching position for the 49ers. Upon his offer from Hill, Houston said, "We had a great conversation, I listened to him… I told him I was interested in the job."
This was when all of Harrisonburg took a deep gasp. Not one person, student, fans or administration expected the offer to arise before our game at Colgate. Yes, that's right, Charlotte offered Houston the head coach position prior to the biggest game of the season for the Dukes — which so happened to be his last game with the purple and gold.
As a fan, I was appalled at the audacity of Charlotte to offer coach Houston a position before he even finished the season at JMU. They could've at least showed some courtesy and waited till the season came to an end. That way, it wouldn't have been on the mind of all the players, fans, administration and even coach Houston as they traveled to New York for a do-or-die game at Colgate.
Now, everyone here at JMU understands that coach Houston is truly one of the best football coaches in the country. There is no speculation behind this. He has proven time and time again that he deserves to be a head coach on the highest level of collegiate football. But coming to grip with his departure will be difficult for this whole community to digest.
But it gets even more outrageous. Just two days after Charlotte's AD offered Houston the position to be head coach, freshly appointed East Carolina AD Jon Gilbert wasted no time in making moves with his new school — he offered Houston a contract as well. Soon after ECU's position was offered to coach Houston, Charlotte withdrew their offer for reasons unexplained.
After losing to Colgate, Houston's future with JMU was being questioned nonstop by players, students, fans and the local media. We just all needed to know whether our leader was going to leave or not. In less than one week after Charlotte's initial offer to Houston, ECU hopped on the bandwagon and tried their luck at bringing Houston to the Pirate ship — Charlotte then rescinded their offer and the choice was completely up to Houston. Take the job at ECU, stay with JMU, or wait until more offers, if any, were to arise.
On December 3rd, Coach Houston publicly announced that he was going to continue his coaching career at the head position at ECU. Houston said, "Being born and raised in the state of North Carolina, I've known ECU football for a long time, the opportunity professionally at East Carolina coupled with the opportunity to be back in North Carolina and being very close to Charleston, S.C., there's a lot of things that make it right for Amanda, and the boys and I."
The following day, ECU publicly announced that Houston was going to be the 22nd head coach in ECU history.
Houston speaking at ECU of his decision to become new head coach. (Walter Powell, Hoist the Coulours)[/credit]
Obviously, his decision was made because he feels it was the right decision for himself and his family. ECU will pay Houston $1.3 million to be its head coach in 2019, and his salary will rise to $1.67 million if he stays employed through the length of his five-year contract through 2023.
To be completely honest, I know that Houston has created a team that is more prepared to win now than ever before. For this reason, I feel that JMU shouldn't be upset over his decision to leave. We know that he is doing it for his family, and probably a little bit for the money, but if he was offered a opportunity that he cannot refuse, we cannot fault the head coach that has led the Dukes to being one of the most successful FCS programs in the country for the past three years.