What ASU wants to make of its football program might seem unrealistic to some, but it is not unprecedented.
Boise State University in Idaho broke through to that “next level” in 2007 by beating traditional power Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. It was a mismatch on every level. Oklahoma had the pedigree of seven national championships. Sooners Coach Bob Stoops was paid $3.5 million a year, more than Boise State spent on its entire football program.
Since then, the Broncos have become the standard for a small program doing big things. No college football team has won more consistently the last 15 years. The Broncos boast an 0.819 winning percentage since 1997.
Today, Boise State has a $30 million athletic budget. Football alone tops $8 million, not far from the $11 million that ASU Athletic Director Dean Lee spends on 16 sports.
Lee wants to turn ASU into the “Boise of the South,” a phrase used frequently by ASU’s new head coach, Gus Malzahn.
Former Boise State Athletic Director Gene Bleymaier, who was fired prior to last season in the wake of an NCAA investigation, has encouraged Lee and his staff to think big.
“We saw nothing wrong with setting big, hairy, audacious goals,” Bleymaier said. “We had high expectations. You have to have something to work toward.
“If you can do it in Boise, you can do it in Jonesboro.”
The Red Wolves’ new coach doesn’t blink at the expectations laid out for him. Having gone from Hughes High School to national champion offensive coordinator in 16 years, he knows about improbable success stories.
ASU’s new financial commitment doesn’t add to the pressure, Malzahn said. His motivation to win is high regardless of the money.
“They had a great year last year, but our expectations are higher than that for the future,” Malzahn said. “That’s college football. That’s part of getting to that next level.”