MOBILE, Ala. – When it comes to quick turnarounds, Miami of Ohio has already pulled off a stunner.
Just one year after a dismal 1-11 season, the RedHawks are Mid-American Conference champions and facing Middle Tennessee in the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Thursday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
But one goal remains. If Miami beats MTSU for its 10th victory of the season, the RedHawks will be the first team in Football Bowl Subdivision history to go from double-digit losses to double-digit victories the next season.
"Now that you look at it, these kids know what's at stake," Miami interim coach Lance Guidry said. "By no means is there pressure — they want to win the bowl game because it's a bowl game. But that would be nice, especially considering everything these kids have gone through."
The RedHawks have endured plenty of adversity over the past month, beginning when coach Mike Haywood left to take the Pittsburgh job. Haywood has since been fired from Pitt after being arrested on a felony domestic violence charge. On Monday, a magistrate entered a not guilty plea for Haywood on the felony charge.
Guidry — the RedHawks' defensive backs coach the past two years — has had the task of holding Miami together.
He's never been a head coach in college, but said his days multi-tasking as a high school coach make this assignment seem like a life of luxury.
"I've had to line the field, get the meals all prepared and do some taping of ankles, so this is great," Guidry said with a wry grin. "Now I've got a director of football operations, so I just follow a schedule."
Guidry said his staff's toughest challenge during the past two years has been building a winning culture. Though the RedHawks do have several freshmen contributing, they've engineered their turnaround mostly through the improvement of players already on the roster.
"It's been both — mental and physical," running back Thomas Merriweather said. "We worked extremely hard physically, doing things we haven't ever done before and pushing ourselves to get stronger and faster. But it was also a mental change — the coaches wanted us to be dangerous and relentless. We had to believe we could win."
The results have been obvious. Miami is on a five-game winning streak as it prepares for its first bowl since 2004.
While the RedHawks' turnaround could be historic, Middle Tennessee (6-6) is on its own rebuilding mission.
The Blue Raiders couldn't have started the season much worse, losing star quarterback Dwight Dasher for four games after the NCAA ruled he received an improper loan.
Even when Dasher returned, MTSU struggled, dropping to 3-6 in November after losing four of five games. But the Blue Raiders rebounded, winning their final three games to become bowl eligible for third time in coach Rick Stockstill's five-year tenure.
Stockstill said much of the team's early pain was self-inflicted.
"The worst thing we've done this year is we haven't protected the ball very well," Stockstill said. "We've done a much better job these last four weeks."
Dasher has struggled through a tough season, throwing just six touchdowns compared to 14 interceptions, but the team's improvement has mirrored his own.
"What I want Dwight to do is to just play within himself," Stockstill said. "He didn't do that after the suspension. He didn't play within himself. He tried to do too much and consequently didn't play very well and he turned the ball over. The last four weeks of the season, he's played more consistently and done a better job protecting the ball."
Dasher said a bowl win would go a long way toward making this season a success."
"Man, it would be big," Dasher said. "Not only would it make me happy, but it would be huge for all my teammates. We've all worked really hard to turn this thing around."