Friend of mine called me today, asking why I haven’t tackled the topic of the football team’s problems. You can’t go anywhere and not hear different opinions. Second-guessing is rampant. He said I was avoiding the obvious, that he knew I had strong opinions, and this was not a time for keeping quiet.
I have followed U of L football for five decades, been through the bad old days when you could sit almost anywhere you wanted to at Fairgrounds Stadium, to the joy of being able to reserve seats at a sparkling new Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. In fact, the first date with my eventual wife was at a U of L-Memphis State football game in 1972.
We laughed at the antics of Lee Corso, endured the whiney voice of Vince Gibson, imitated the gruffness of Howard Schnellenberger, jeered the ineptitude of Ron Cooper, growled at the parting remarks of John L. Smith, shivered through the frozen tundras in Memphis and marveled at the incredible success of Bobby Petrino, and watched in awe the acceptance of the Orange Bowl trophy in Miami just a few months ago.
So, yes, I do have some strong opinions about what is happening. There are no easy answers to what’s troubling this team. More than likely, it’s an accumulation of a number of factors. I will focus on a few of them here.
First and foremost, I have a real concern about the lack of candid communications from the current coaching staff and no confidence that any of my questions will be answered anytime soon. When Steve Kragthorpe addresses questions, you get the feeling that he’s holding something back or, worse, that he might not know the answers. I hate it when he starts with the “no excuses” cliches; I want him to tell us what went wrong.
There is obviously a problem with discipline. You see it in the mounting number of players who are being dismissed or suspended. You see it in the disorganization on defense, when so many opposing receivers scamper untouched to the end zone. You see it when a U of L player throws a football at a tackler and when another player gives an obscene gesture to the opposing crowd.
You have to wonder what effect the Orange Bowl title, the top 10 poll rankings and all the media coverage had on the team. My gut feeling is that too many players were unable to manage all the adoration that came their way. They knew they were good, listening to the media, their fans and buddies telling them how great they were for eight months.
The afterglow of all this success is a major part of the problem. Here comes a new coach with a different coaching philosophy. The new sheriff does things differently. His offensive and defensive schemes are not quite the same. He threatened the players’ comfort level, moving people around. He may have been likeable, even a “player’s coach,” but evidently the players aren’t receptive to changing very much. Did he not watch us play on TV last year, they wonder.
We believe Kragthorpe also has different expectations, not only for team members as football players but as individuals, students and citizens. The old coach, Bobby Petrino, never seemed to have any discipline problems. But we have to wonder whether Petrino was just so demanding and kept such a close watch on kids that they never had time to get in trouble. On the other hand, could it also mean Petrino saw them only as football players and overlooked troubling incidents?
Since his arrival, Kragthorpe has dismissed or suspended players for questionable behavior. Their activities did not have to make the police blotter or the newspaper before the coach took action. Maybe they were accustomed to getting away with things under the old coach, especially if they had talent.
College kids can react negatively or positively to change. After all, they are still teenagers, in many cases. Unfortunately, what we are seeing appears to be a negative reaction. Are they being developed in an environment where they can mature or have they just resorted to pouting?
You had better believe that discontent translates into trouble on the field. While they are being expected to embrace the new playbook, too many of them may doubt the system. They don’t respect their opponents. They line up wrong on offense or defense. They draw penalties and they make a gift of lots of points to opposing teams.
Disenchanted fans will get off Kragthorpe’s back when the team pulls out a few wins, of course. But if the bleeding continues, he is going to have be more forthcoming about some of the challenges confronting the team. Poor communications and secrecy only invite second-guessing.
Do you agree or disagree with this analysis? Please leave comments.