Trent Miles knows how to turn around a program.
He’s done it twice: once with FCS Indiana State, and now with Georgia State. The Sycamores had gone 1-32 in the three years prior to his arrival, and after finishing 0-12 and 1-10 in his first two seasons, they broke through in Year 3 with six wins. He then won six more in 2011, and posted a 7-4 record in 2012 before accepting the head coaching vacancy with the Panthers.
It was — and still is — a fledging program; Georgia State introduced football in 2010, compiling a 10-23 record in its first three years of existence under Bill Curry as a member of the FCS Independents and the Colonial Athletic Association (2012). Miles was selected to lead the program into its transition to the FBS ranks, as it joined the Sun Belt Conference before the 2013 season.
In Year 1, Georgia State played nine FBS opponents, got outscored 440-225, and finished 0-12. In Year 2, the team won its regular season opener against Abilene Christian, then proceeded to lose 11 straight against its first full plate of Division 1-A competition.
You can imagine what happens next.
Nearing the conclusion of Year 3, Georgia State is sitting at 6-6 (5-3) after winning four straight to become bowl eligible, and the Panthers are preparing to play San Jose State in the Cure Bowl on December 19 — the first postseason appearance in program history.
The outstanding (and timely) turnaround warrants a contract extension and raise for Miles and his staff, which is exactly what athletic director Charlie Cobb would like to negotiate following the bowl game.
“We have had a fantastic season,” Cobb said on Sunday, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “What I think has made this season a success is the coaches, players and everyone involved in the program have stayed in the moment. After the bowl game we will have big-picture conversations about how we make the program better.”
Things got off to a shaky start for Miles and company in 2015, as Georgia State began the season 1-4 with losses to Charlotte (23-20), Oregon (61-28), FCS Liberty (41-33), and Appalachian State (37-3). The Panthers beat Ball State (31-19) in Week 7, but then followed it up competitive losses to Arkansas State (48-34) and UL-Lafayette (23-21).
But with their backs against the wall at 2-6 and the possibility of double-digits in the loss column within range, the Panthers reeled off four straight wins: at Texas State (41-19), vs. South Alabama (24-10), vs. Troy (31-21), and, most surprisingly, the regular season finale at Georgia Southern (34-7) — a dominating performance against the reigning Sun Belt Conference champion.
It was that game that left no doubt, launching Georgia State into the bowl game conversation on Selection Sunday.
“I think the similarities are the type of young men that are playing for us,” Miles said when asked of the parallel resemblances between coaching Indiana State in Year 3 and his third season with Georgia State. “We started 19 true freshmen there our first year, went 0-12, 1-11, and then won six. We started 18 true freshmen here our first year, went 0-12, 1-11, and won six. It has to do with the player development, the guys maturing, and then you add in some transfers — we brought in a transfer quarterback there like we brought in a transfer quarterback here — and then it all started to take hold because of the kind of young men that we’ve recruited into the program,” he continued. “The strength and conditioning part of the taking over, the player development part of taking over; it all goes back to the type of young men that you have.”
Miles will earn $523,500 this year — already 5th-most among Sun Belt coaches — and it’s safe to assume that he will see that number change in the coming weeks after exceeding expectations with another improbable U-turn that has resulted in more good fortune.