This is a critical time for the Northeastern A&M football program.

For the fifth time in six years, athletic director Dale Patterson is ramping up a search for a football coach.

Ryan Held stepped down Thursday after two seasons as head coach of the Golden Norsemen to take a job as an assistant at Central Florida of the American Athletic Conference.

Held joins the staff of former Nebraska teammate Scott Frost, who was named the Knights head coach last week.

They will try to get a program back on the right track that was 0-12 in a season that saw longtime coach George O'Leary abruptly retire.

It was a quick dropoff for a program that just two years ago beat Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl to finish 12-1. The Knights were also coming off back-to-back AAC titles entering this season.

But while they are working to rekindle things in Orlando, Florida, Patterson is starting a process he's had to perform too many times during his tenure as AD.

Held was introduced as head coach on Jan. 9, 2014. that was just over 13 months after Sherard Poteete was named the successor to Patterson – who stepped aside to devote full-time duties to being athletic director.

The Northeastern A&M program had been the model of stability, having six coaches from 1945 to 2003.

But since then, the Norse program has had seven head coaches over the last 11 years.

It's hard to build consistency – and it is not easy to convince players to come to a school where it's not known if the man that recruited them would still be around two years later.

One really can't fault Held for making the move.

After all, we're talking an NCAA Division I program in a conference that had four football members ranked in the College Football Playoff rankings at one point during the season.

Tulsa is a member of the league.

And players aren't eating those infamous box lunches on a bus headed to Texas.

Facilities aren't a problem at NEO. The Ivan Crossland Sr. Athletic Complex and the Miami Multi-Purpose Event Complex, a.k.a. Red Robertson Field, are among the best in the state – and NJCAA, for that matter.

Coaches have done a great job of scouring Oklahoma for the best possible talent.

In the past, players would come to NEO because of the NEO brand.

Now, the competition for potential players has grown. There are now 14 football-playing schools in Oklahoma – the newest being Oklahoma Baptist University, which rekindled its program in 2013.

The Southwest Junior College Football Conference has been called the SEC of junior college football. Five times since its launch in 1996, member schools have claimed national titles.

It's tough to win in the league, but Patterson proved it by using Oklahoma talent to win two conference titles and turn in back-to-back No. 2 finishes in the national rankings.

The program is in good hands until a new head coach is on board thanks to assistant coach Zach Allen and director of football operations Chad Davis.

Dale Patterson says he wants to have a successor to Held in place within a month. He noted he has a few names in mind.

His Christmas break will be a busy – and important – one.

Jim Ellis is managing editor of the Miami News-Record. He can be reached by email at jellis@miaminewsrecord.com. Follow him on Twitter @mnrsportsguy.