Charlie Partridge knows Broward County. Hey, the Florida Atlantic University football coach is a Broward guy himself – several months back, he attended his Plantation High School 25th year reunion. And he knows that if he wants to build FAU football into a winning program, he doesn’t have to travel far and wide to find the talent to do it.
“The kids in Broward County compete at such a high level every week,” he says. “There’s such a high talent per capita that we invest a lot of time in Broward.”
That’s true of a relatively young team – football came to FAU in 2001 – trying to build up both talent on the field and a fanbase in the stands. In both areas, the Owls are looking to Broward. Which is why you might have seen them around.
Earlier this year, the team held a spring practice in Fort Lauderdale’s Carter Park. And the FAU athletic department has become a familiar site at events around the city – it’s common now to see young people in FAU shirts handing out FAU sunglasses or football schedules in front of a giant inflatable Owlsley (the FAU mascot, of course). There’s the fun online presence (hashtag #OwlIn). There’s the fan-friendly stadium. (Check out the sand-and-beach-chairs seating area in one corner of an end zone.) There are the fun little details, many of which come from Partridge’s understanding of what it takes to recruit talented 18-year-old athletes. (A sign on the sideline explains how far the stadium is from the beach – assume it’s there for the benefit of visiting recruits.)
“That’s one of the fun things,” Partridge says of planting a Beach: This Way sign on the sideline. “Our football program is only 15 years old. We do work to be creative. We do work to embrace modern ways of communication.”
And, he says, that’s not just for the football program. It’s a well-documented fact that a football team’s exposure – national television appearances, a big bowl game – can have an effect on a university’s overall marketability. Schools that win on TV get more applicants. Partridge saw that as a young assistant coach at Iowa State University, where a perennially losing football team had some winning seasons and saw it translate into more incoming freshmen.
“We function in some ways as a front porch for the university,” he says. And he’s happy to sell the entire university, not just the football team. “There are really some amazing things happening here.”
Off course, those amazing things are happening in a tough and a crowded market. The University of Miami, with its storied modern history, its national championships and this year, hiring of big-name alumnus Mark Richt as new head coach – Miami remains a big draw. And while they might both be a long drive away, the reach of the Florida Gators and Florida State Seminoles is statewide.
Partridge understands all this. As a coach who was known for his recruiting skills before coming to FAU, he also understands that part of what it takes to construct a successful program is to create a buzz and a brand that compete with those more well-established brands. However it also requires wins. And while the Owls have drawn praise both for talented recruiting classes and competitive football, they have gone 3-9 in the last two seasons.
Last year’s season included several highlights, notably a convincing home win over local rival Florida International University. But it also contained some heartbreaking losses – none more so than a game that would have been one of the upsets of the year, and the biggest win in FAU history. The Owls went into Gainesville as 31-point underdogs to the no. 8 Gators – and lost 20-14 in overtime. Of course, that was a game where nobody expected anything of the Owls. Perhaps even more disappointing were close-but-not-quite-there losses to Tulsa (47-44 in overtime), Rice (27-26) and Middle Tennessee State (24-17).
Partridge arrived at FAU knowing that building a winning program would require a multi-year schedule and, while close losses last year were disappointing, he says that the program is still progressing as he’d hope.
“We’re working on building a program of consistent stability and success,” he says. “That takes time.
“It’s exciting to see our third class coming into the program. It’s exciting to see the constant growth.”
And much of that ongoing growth will continue to come from Broward. When he meets with potential Owls from Broward, Partridge sometimes mentions his own roots here.
“It’s a good icebreaker,” he says. “It does make people feel comfortable when you’re talking about local neighborhoods. The kids recognize that you do have time invested here, and that it’s a personal investment. I do care about Broward County.”
2016 Owls Home Schedule
09/03/16 vs. Southern Illinois, 6:00 p.m.
09/24/16 vs. Ball State, 6:00 p.m.
10/08/16 vs. Charlotte, 3:30 p.m.
10/29/16 vs. WKU, 3:30 p.m.
11/12/16 vs. UTEP, 6:00 p.m.
11/19/16 vs. Old Dominion, 6:00 p.m.