TERRE HAUTE —
As Trent Miles leaves Terre Haute, this community now knows almost nothing here is impossible.
In the 2012 college season, the Indiana State Sycamores — coached by Miles — beat the nation’s No. 1-ranked Football Championship Subdivision team on the road. Miles’ program also secured its third consecutive winning season.
The idea of such accomplishments would have been laughable in the bleak era between October 2004 and August 2010. In that stretch, Indiana State won just two of 62 games, and racked up America’s longest Division I losing streak under four different head coaches. Some of those defeats were epic blowouts. Crowds dwindled to parents and friends. Aside from the annual Terre Haute North-vs.-Terre Haute South high school football game and assorted tailgate parties at the ISU homecomings, the community basically abandoned Memorial Stadium.
Miles changed those circumstances and validated the existence of Sycamore football. He turned a dreadful program into a steady winner. By national standards, the records posted by his teams in the past three seasons — 6-5, 6-5 and 7-4, with no Missouri Valley Football Conference championships or FCS playoff berths — probably seem modest. But at ISU, those records likely will earn Miles a spot in the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame someday. Along with the victories, he managed to build a long-lost connection between the program and local businesses and organizations, ex-players, alums, the ISU administration, and Midwest high school coaches and their recruits, while also keeping his Sycamores in class. Game attendance and community interest improved, too.
Not surprisingly, a higher-level program lured Miles to perform a similar reconstruction job. Georgia State University introduced Miles as its new head coach on Monday in Atlanta. The GSU Panthers are hardly a household name in college football; the school launched the program in 2008, and the team finished this past season 1-10. Yet, Georgia State plans bigger days ahead and will jump from its current FCS level to the top-tier Football Bowl Subdivision next season by joining the Sun Belt Conference. It won’t be easy; the Sun Belt sent four of its schools to bowl games last season.
Still, at his introductory news conference Monday, an optimistic Miles assessed the task and gave Georgia State fans hope.
“You are going to the Sun Belt, which is an up-and-coming conference. It’s got four teams in bowl games,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “You are in the greatest recruiting area in America. You are in a great city, and it’s a great university. You can take this and take off with it. We’ve got big plans.”
Thank goodness, he also had big plans for his alma mater, Indiana State, and his hometown, Terre Haute, and stuck it out through a 1-22 record through his first two Sycamore seasons. As a result, a premier FCS conference (the Missouri Valley) now respects ISU, talented recruits seriously consider ISU, and the city and campus communities believe in ISU. Armed with that rediscovered potential, Indiana State can now search nationally for its next coach from a long list of strong candidates.
The focus is now on possibilities. A few years ago, higher aspirations seemed impossible. Obviously, they’re not.