Sunday, September 7, 2014

SHSU FOOTBALL — Meeting expectations: Losing to LSU is not a big deal; getting embarassed is

SHSU athletics director Bobby Williams likes to say, “It’s a great day to be a Bearkat,” and I almost always agree with him. But as I sat inside Tiger Stadium on Saturday night, and even as I drove home Sunday, I was not feeling so great.

Saturday night’s showing by the Bearkats was embarrassing.

As someone who is proud of my university and brags often about the athletic accomplishments of the young men and women who represent our school, I was beyond disappointed at what I had seen.

I was hoping the six-plus hour drive home Sunday would put me in a better mood after watching Sam Houston State get destroyed 56-0 at LSU on Saturday night. It didn’t. In fact, with each passing mile of interstate across Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, I found myself more frustrated the more I thought about it.

I know the reality of FCS teams playing against FBS teams. SHSU is 3-27 all time against FBS opponents, with wins against some sorry squads at Louisiana-Lafayette in 2000, Louisiana-Monroe in 2001 and New Mexico in 2011.

My expectation when SHSU plays a premiere program from the SEC or Big 12 does not include winning. Of course, I always want the Bearkats to win, but I don’t expect to win against a team like LSU. Those schools have players that should be bigger, faster, stronger and more talented — not to mention they have about 20 more of those type of players on scholarship.

I don’t expect SHSU to win, but I do expect the Bearkats to compete. I expect the players to be well coached, to perform at a high level, to play smart, to execute to the best of their ability and give a performance that makes me, as a graduate, proud of our university.

None of those things happened Saturday night in Baton Rouge.

Yes, the Bearkats played hard — especially in the second half when they could have quit. They never did. The players and coaches carried themselves with class and dignity and they displayed good sportsmanship. In those terms they were great ambassadors for Sam Houston State.

But when it comes to the Xs and Os of football, they stunk.

• I still have no idea why the Kats tried a trick play on the opening drive of the game. After two easy first downs in which LSU’s defense was on its heels, SHSU called a flea-flicker. It fooled none of LSU’s defensive backs, and quarterback Jared Johnson should have thrown the ball away. Maybe he was trying to do just that, but the slow-developing play allowed LSU’s pass rushers to get to Johnson for the first time. He was hit as he released the ball, and the pass was easily intercepted. The play call was a foolish and unnecessary self-inflicted injury. After the game, coach K.C. Keeler said the flea-flicker is a standard play in SHSU’s offense and we can expect to see it again several times this season. That’s fine. Hopefully the coaches have learned a lesson and do a better job of calling the play at an appropriate time.

• After the interception, it appeared SHSU’s coaches were the only people in the stadium who didn’t know LSU would attack on the very next play. The Kats called a defense that left a defensive back isolated against a bigger, faster, stronger wide receiver with no safety help. The result, naturally, was an easy 94-yard touchdown pass — the longest touchdown pass in the history of LSU football — and a 6-0 lead less than 90 seconds into the game.

• When the Kats did reach the red zone late in the first quarter, trailing 13-0, they faced a fourth-down decision. Kick a field goal, or go for it? I’m OK with the coaches being aggressive on fourth-and-two, but the play call was horrible — a fade route to the left corner of the end zone, thrown from the right hash mark, requiring Johnson to throw a ball 40-plus yards through the air and drop it on a dime in order to be caught, assuming the receiver could actually get open. It never had a chance. That was the best play the coaches could come up with in such a critical situation?

There were other plays — a dropped pass on third down that preceded the failed fourth-down conversion… a dropped interception in the end zone that would have prevented another LSU touchdown drive… a senseless fumble inside the five-yard line that essentially gave LSU another free seven points — that could have kept the game competitive.

And that’s really what I want to see when SHSU plays a “guarantee” game. BE COMPETITIVE! Execute simple things that you have done hundreds of times in practice. Make plays that matter when the opportunity is presented. As coaches, be aware of the advantages the other team has and make decisions that put your players in a position to be successful.

Just once when the Bearkats play a high-profile FBS team, I want to see them play the way McNeese State did against Nebraska (losing 31-24), the way Eastern Washington did against Washington (losing 59-52), the way Central Arkansas did last week against Texas Tech ( losing 42-35) or the way North Dakota State did last week in beating Iowa State 34-14 — and has every time it has played a FBS opponent and beat them the past five seasons. (To be fair, LSU would be at least a 14-point favorite against Nebraska, Washington, Texas Tech or Iowa State).

McNeese State, EWU and UCA — programs that SHSU is every bit as good as — didn’t pull off the upset when the had the chance, but they earned respect from their opponents as well as college football fans across the country.

The only mention SHSU might get on Monday is from radio and TV talking heads as they point out the embarrassing victories by schools like LSU, Baylor (70-6 vs. Northwestern State), Texas A&M (73-3 vs. Lamar) and Arkansas (73-7 vs. Nicholls State) against poor-little nobody schools who were just happy to take home a sizable check.

I like to think Sam Houston State should be mentioned in the converation with fellow FCS Top 25 teams NDSU, EWU, UCA and McNeese, not Southland Conference opponents the Kats have dominated in recent years.

But based on what I watched this weekend, there’s not much room to argue.

If you play poorly, you’re probably going to lose. If you play poorly against a really good opponent, you’re going to get embarrassed.

The Bearkats played awful at LSU, and it was embarrassing.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

One blown call: How SHSU's baseball team saw its Super Regional odds go from a safe bet to virtually no chance in 20 minutes

I’ve known Jason Barfield for almost 20 years. We’ve watched hundreds of games together all over the country, including an untold number of Sam Houston State football, basketball and baseball games and other athletic contests. We’ve been broadcast partners in the past, and since moving in 2006, I’ve enjoyed listening to my good friend provide play-by-play coverage of SHSU athletics.

Barfield would readily, and proudly, admit to being a Bearkat homer on occasion. He’s not afraid to express his displeasure with the decision of a referee or umpire. But something was different Sunday at 2:10 a.m. as he called the action of SHSU’s epic NCAA tournament regional game against TCU.  When second base umpire Jeff Head called Luke Plucheck for runner’s interference in the bottom of the 21st inning, and in the process took away the game-winning run from the Bearkats, the tone of Barfield’s voice was filled with something heavier than outrage, anger or frustration. Bad decisions by an umpire or referee are a part of every sport, but this was more than just an ordinary mistake.

To be fair, Head’s call did not cause SHSU to lose the game. Full credit should be given to TCU for manufacturing a run in the top half of the 22nd inning to take a 3-2 lead. When the Bearkats could not answer, the Horned Frogs walked away winners in the second longest NCAA tournament baseball game ever played.

The controversial call did not cause the Bearkats to lose, but it did, for a fact, take away a victory that was important — almost essential — to their chances of winning the regional, advancing for the first time ever to a Super Regional and possibly even more.

So, how important is it to start 2-0 in regional play? Let's take a look at NCAA Tournament regional results from 2010 through 2014. (That's five of the 16 years in which the NCAA has used this current format. I'm not a math major, but I think a 31.25 percent sample size would be considered statistically significant.)

How many teams, regardless of their seed, started 2-0 and won their regional?  
There have been 80 regional tournaments played from 2010-2014. Teams that started 2-0, regardless of their seed, have gone on to win 65 times, meaning a team has an 81.25% chance of advancing to the Super Regional if it starts 2-0.

Since 2010, of the 65 teams that started 2-0 and won their regional...
— 51 finished with a 3-0 record (78.5%)
— 41 of the 51 teams that finished 3-0 were No. 1 seeds.
— 14 teams started 2-0 and were pushed to a "Monday" winner-take-all game, but still won the regional (21.5%).
— Of the 14 teams pushed to a "Monday" winner-take-all game, seven were No. 1 seeds, meaning 41 out of 48 No. 1 seeds that started 2-0 and won their regional did it with a 3-0 record (85.4%)

(Interesting note: In 2013, every single team that won a regional started 2-0, including 14 of the 16 No. 1 seeds along with two No. 2 seeds. A total of 12 teams won their regional with a 3-0 record.)  

Based on their seed, how did teams that started 2-0 finish in their regional? 
— No. 1 seeds started 2-0 53 times, and won their regional 48 times (90.6%).*
— No. 2 seeds started 2-0 14 times, and won their regional 8 times (57.1%).
— No. 3 seeds started 2-0 11 times, and won their regional 8 times (72.7%).
— No. 4 seeds started 2-0 two times, and won their regional one time (College of Charleston in 2014).

* — Since 2010 only five out of 53 No. 1 seeds have lost their regional after a 2-0 start (9.4%): LSU to No. 2 Houston in 2014, Indiana to No. 3 Stanford in 2014, Clemson to No. 2 UConn in 2011, Georgia Tech to No. 2 Alabama in 2010, and Louisville to No. 2 Vanderbilt in 2010.  

How did lower seeds (2, 3, 4) that started 2-0 fare in the championship round vs. No. 1 seeds? 
— The No. 2, 3 and 4 seeds have collectively gone 2-0 at 27 regional tournaments over the past five seasons, and those teams have gone on to win their regional 17 times (63%).
— Lower seeds played a No. 1 seed from the loser's bracket 11 times in the championship round, and won six times (54.5%).

Which seeds were able to come back from the losers bracket to win their regional? 
Since 2010, 15 teams have come from the loser's bracket win a regional. That's a total of just 18.75% of all regional winners over the past five years, or about three each season that come through the loser's bracket.
— No. 1 seeds have done it six times.
— No. 2 seeds have done it six times.
— No. 3 seeds have done it two times (Stanford vs. No. 1 Indiana in 2014; Cal vs. No. 2 Baylor in 2011).
— No. 4 seeds have done it one time (Stony Brook vs. No. 2 Central Florida in 2012).

That’s a lot of number crunching to prove some things most college baseball fans already knew, but with a shocking level of statistical certainty to back it up.
— Teams that start 2-0, regardless of their seed, win more than 80% of the regional tournaments, and the "lower" seeds who do it win most of the time as well even when they have to face the No. 1 seed in the championship round.
—When a No. 1 seeds starts 2-0, forget about it. They almost always win the regional (90.6%), and they usual do it by going undefeated.
— In the past five years, less than 20 percent of the regional tournaments (15 of 80) were won by a team that started 1-1. It’s hard for the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds to pull off the five-games-in-four-days comeback, and virtually impossible for the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds to do it.
— Only once in the past five seasons (Stanford vs. Indiana in 2014) has a No. 3 seed come through the loser's bracket to knock off a No. 1 seed that started 2-0.

Yes, the Bearkats were going to have to find some offense. It’s hard to believe they would have knocked off TCU in the championship round while averaging less than one run every nine innings. But TCU would have faced its own set of challenges — returning to the field on virtually no rest to play Sienna in the heat of the day, using more pitching and expending what little energy they had before turning around 90 minutes later to play a well-rested and supremely confident SHSU squad. Even if TCU pushed the series to a Monday winner-take-all final game, history indicates the Bearkats would have had a better than 50-50 chance of coming out on top.

For a brief moment Sunday at 2:10 a.m., as the Kats were storming the field in celebration with what they thought was a 2-0 regional record, SHSU's chances of advancing to the Super Regional were about 80 percent. Twenty minutes later when the game ended with TCU winning, SHSU's chances of winning the regional with a 1-1 record had dropped to less than 2 percent. 

Let those numbers marinate on your brain for a minute.

Now, consider this: the Fort Worth Regional winner is playing Pepperdine in a Super Regional this coming weekend. The Waves, also a No. 3 seed, do not have lights at their baseball stadium, meaning there was an excellent chance SHSU could have been hosting a three-game series with a trip to the College World Series in Omaha, NE, on the line.

Heartbreak. That was the extra layer in Barfield’s voice as he described the chaotic scene unfolding in front of him. It was the agony every SHSU fan that sat at Lupton Stadium or listened on the radio for nearly seven hours was feeling.

 A regional championship, a Huntsville Super Regional, and a trip to Omaha. All of it was in the palm of Sam Houston State’s hands, until Jeff Head raised his in the air.

Yeah, this one is going to hurt for a while.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

SHSU basketball: Marlin's move is right move for career

The day all Bearkat basketball fans knew would eventually come finally arrived Friday.

After 12 seasons in Huntsville, coach Bob Marlin’s tenure at Sam Houston State has come to an end. Marlin announced his resignation, and will be introduced next week as the new head coach at Louisiana-Lafayette.

I know, I know; it’s not the sexiest program in America, and certainly doesn’t have the name recognition of Auburn, Houston or UTEP — all programs Marlin’s name was connected to in the past week as the annual college-coaching carousel started to turn. At first glance, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. The Sun Belt Conference is, like the Southland, a mid-major conference, and Marlin’s most recent SHSU squad was as good, if not better, than every team in the Sun Belt this season.

As difficult as it may be to swallow, the truth is this does constitute a step forward in Marlin’s career. It was the right opportunity at the right time, and was a smart decision. Under the circumstances, it was a move he had to make.

First, and always important when anyone looks at changing jobs, is the paycheck. A significant five-figure raise can’t be brushed aside as a non-factor.

Part of it comes down to the reality of college basketball coaching. You have to make a move when the opportunity presents itself. Marlin was a hot commodity, having won his third SLC championship and taking SHSU to the NCAA Tournament for the second time. Auburn and Houston interviewed Marlin, and UTEP was interested (if you believe the internet rumors). Other programs called as well, but the first school that was smart enough to step up and offer Marlin an opportunity to advance his career was Louisiana-Lafayette.

History played a role in the decision. Marlin watched one of his mentors, Mike Vining — the only coach with more career wins in the SLC — miss his window of opportunity while coaching Louisiana-Monroe. Universally recognized in college basketball circles as a great coach, Vining didn’t leave Monroe early in his career when he had the chance, and unfortunately he got stuck.

While everyone associated with SHSU basketball is excited about next season, there is no guarantee the Bearkats will win the SLC again. As good as Marlin was over the last decade, it still took seven years to put all the pieces together again and return to the NCAA Tournament.

History also shows the Southland Conference hasn’t been fertile ground for young coaches. The SLC could more accurately be described as a coaching wasteland where dreams and careers go to die. In the past 15 years (since I started following the SLC) prior to Marlin’s move, Ron Everhart was the only head coach to move his career forward, parlaying back-to-back SLC titles in 2001-02 into a job with Northeastern (he’s now at Duquesne). Former Southeastern Louisiana coach Billy Kennedy took advantage of his 2005 tournament championship, but the best offer he got was as an assistant coach at Miami (he’s now at Murray State and led the 13th-seeded Racers to a first-round win over fourth-seeded Vanderbilt last week). Ronnie Arrow decided his best bet, after taking Texas A&M-Corpus Christi to the Big Dance in 2007, was to go back to his old job at South Alabama — in the Sun Belt.

So what makes coaching in the Sun Belt different? In the past three years, three coaches — Buzz Williams (New Orleans), Darrin Horn (Western Kentucky) and John Pelphrey (South Alabama) — have moved directly from their job at a Sun Belt program to schools in the country’s premiere conferences (Williams at Marquette, Horn at South Carolina and Pelphrey at Arkansas).

If Marlin can do in Lafayette what he’s done in Huntsville, the opportunity to coach at college basketball’s highest level with come. There’s no guarantee it will happen, but staying too much longer at SHSU might have assured that it never would.

The bitter taste Bearkat fans cant quite shake right now should not be considered a knock on Louisiana-Lafayette. When we say, “Why them? Why there?,” it’s that part in us that selfishly was hoping a higher-profile program would steal Marlin away and solidify our belief that we had been holding onto the best-kept secret in college basketball for the past decade. Congratulations to the Ragin’ Cajuns. You have a fantastic head coach, probably one better than you deserve. That’s a credit to your athletic department and administration for aiming high and recognizing one of the best in the business.

And for those of us who know him, we were hoping Marlin would get his shot on the big stage now. Instead, we will wait. If Marlin’s history is any indication, his time will come.

Friday, December 18, 2009

BEARKAT FOOTBALL: This time, Williams got his man

So here we are, standing in almost the same place Sam Houston State stood five years ago. It feels all too familiar and somewhat uncomfortable.

In December 2004, Todd Whitten’s name was the first to come out in SHSU’s search to replace the retiring Ron Randleman as the next Bearkat head football coach. We were promised it was not a “done deal.” A thorough nationwide search was held, some excellent candidates came forward, yet in the end Whitten was still determined to be the best choice.

Upon further review, the call on the field has been reversed.

Four weeks ago, Willie Fritz was one of the first names to pop up on the radar to replace Whitten. Again, there was a detailed search. Once again, some potentially exciting candidates were in the mix, yet the job has again been given to a moderately successful Division II head coach with ties to the SHSU program.

I know I’m not the only one who was thinking, “here we go again.”

I have to admit I wasn’t bouncing off the walls with enthusiasm when I learned Fritz had been named SHSU’s next football coach. I partially blame myself. It’s so easy to see the untapped potential of a new face or think about what a veteran coach with success at the FBS level might be able to do at the helm of a FCS program.

I partially blame Turner Gill. Five years ago, Gill was the hot name with no head coaching experience on his resume that was almost too good to resist. The Bearkats passed and went with Whitten. Since then, Gill has seen his career skyrocket, culminating in his recent appointment as the head coach at Kansas. Is it possible that SHSU has once again overlooked the next big thing?

I partially blame Whitten, because on paper Fritz looks a lot like SHSU’s former head coach. Despite an impressive 97-47 overall record in 13 seasons at Division II Central Missouri University, Fritz has only one conference championship, one playoff appearance and a whole lot of middle-of-the-pack conference finishes to show for his work.

The biggest knock on Whitten was his inability to win big games and beat the best teams in the Southland Conference. Northwest Missouri State and Pittsburg State are Division II titans and conference foes Fritz faced every year. The Mules were 5-21 against those two teams during Fritz’s tenure.

That explains the sinking feeling in my stomach.

I’ve been assured that Willy Fritz is not another Todd Whitten (keep saying it until it sinks in — Fritz is not Whitten… Fritz is not Whitten… Fritz is not Whitten…), but on paper, that’s a tough argument to sell.

Time will tell if the right decision was made. Fritz will have every opportunity to succeed as SHSU’s next head coach, and despite my initial concerns, I believe he will.

The biggest reason I believe Fritz will be successful is because Bobby Williams believes in him.

Williams does an excellent job of maintaining his poise in carrying out his executive duties as SHSU’s athletics director. But underneath the calm, cool, collected demeanor is the soul of a football coach. He hates losing, can’t sleep following defeats and, unlike the coaches who have to move on to the next game, losing eats at him for days.

Five years ago, Williams went against his instinct — the same gut feeling that moved him to hire an unknown basketball coach named Bob Marlin over the wishes of the selection committee. He hired the committee’s pick (Whitten) over his personal preference (Fritz).

It is a mistake he wasn’t going to make again.

This time, Williams was not looking to hire a coach he thought might have the ability to help SHSU to reach its full potential. He wasn’t after someone that he hoped could possibly place the Bearkats permanently in the national FCS picture. This time, Williams hired the guy he believes at his core will win at a championship level for years to come.

This time, Williams got his man, and that’s good enough for me.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

BEARKAT HOOPS: Digesting the disappointment of another empty postseason

After simmering for 24 hours, I found myself parked in front of the TV tonight watching hoops with my laptop in hand and decided to see if I could make any sense of the latest postseason disappointment. I'm not sure what I learned from what I'm about to present, but it helped pass the time.

Here's what I think I now know:
• SHSU has been better than just about every team in the SLC postseason since 2000 with the exception of NW State.
• We're 1-3 in the past 3 seasons, and I think that leaves a bad taste in my mouth, the "what have you done for me lately" factor.
• Tournament play is as much about luck as it is skill; the track record of every team in the SLC supports that evidence. Even NW State for all of its impressive success has seen its season end in disappointment 8 of the past 10 years.
• All things considered, I'd damn proud to be a SHSU graduate, I still believe BM & Co. have the best program in the SLC and I'm excited about what the future holds.

Chew on this for a while, digest it and please flush when you are finished...

SLC TOURNAMENT STATISTICS (since 1999-2000 season)

SLC Tournament appearances

8 — UTSA
7 — SFA, McNeese, NW St., Texas St.
6 — SE La., Lamar
5 — UL-Monroe%
3 — Nicholls St.
2 — A&M-CC#
% — Not a member of the SLC after 2005
# — SLC member since 2007

SLC Tournament Games Played & Record (listed in order of most games played)

NW State (19) 14-5 (6 finals appearances — 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008; 2 titles — 2001, 2006)
SHSU (16) 8-8 (2 finals appearances — 2003, 2006; 1 title — 2003)
SFA (13) 7-6* (2 finals appearances)
UTSA (13) 7-6* (1 finals appearance; 1 title — 2004)
Lamar (12) 7-5 (1 finals appearance; 1 title — 2000)
McNeese (12) 6-6 (2 finals appearances — 2001, 2002; 1 title — 2002)
UTA (12) 4-8 (1 finals appearance; 1 title — 2008)
SE La. (9) 4-5 (1 finals appearance; 1 title — 2005)
Tx. St. (9) 2-7
UL-M (6) 1-5 (1 finals appearance — 2002)
A&M-CC (5) 4-1 (1 finals appearance; 1 title — 2007)
Nicholls St.(4) 1-3

* — will play Sunday in 2009 title game

Some other random facts about SHSU in the tournament…

• Record at Johnson Coliseum — 7-0
• Record at Road/Neutral site — 1-8
• Avg. margin of victory: 5.25 pts (7 wins by 6 points or less; 4 wins by 3 points or less; 1 win by 10+ points 88-70 vs. McNeese in 2005)
• Avg. margin of defeat: 11 pts (skewed by 32-points loss to SFA in 2004; 3 losses by 6 pts or less)
• 7 consecutive tournament appearances (tied most w/ UTA)
• Top 3 seed 7 times; No. 4 in 2001; lowest seed was No. 5 in 2004
• Record as favorite (higher seed) 8-4
• Record as underdog (lower seed) 0-4
• Kats are 4-0 in overtime games
• Kats are 1-4 in last 5 games

SHSU results by seed
No. 1 (2001, 2003): 3-1
No. 2 (2006, 2007) 2-2
No. 3 (2005, 2008, 2009): 2-3
No. 4 (2002): 1-1
No. 5 (2004): 0-1

SHSU results vs. opponent seed

vs. No. 1: 0-2 (L 99-82 vs. McNeese 2001 semis; L 85-87 NW St. 2006 finals)
vs. No. 2: 1-1 (W 69-66 OT vs. SFA 2003 final; L 71-62 @ SLU 2005 semis)
vs. No. 3: 1-0 (W 78-72 vs. SFA 2006 semis)
vs. No. 4: 1-1 (W 64-58 vs. McNeese 2003 semis; L 85-53 @ SFA 2004 1st round)
vs. No. 5: 1-1 (L 70-64 NW St. 2000 semis; W 103-98 2OT vs. UTA 2001 1st round)
vs. No. 6: 2-1 (W 88-70 vs. McNeese 2005 1st round; W 64-62 OT vs. McNeese 2008 1st round; L 83-74 vs. UTSA 2009 1st round)
vs. No. 7: 1-2 (W 86-64 2OT vs. UTA 2006 1st round; L 99-98 vs. Lamar 2007 1st round; L 72-66 vs. UTA 2008 semis)
vs. No. 8: 1-0 (49-48 vs. Nicholls in 2000 1st round)

SHSU result vs. opponent

vs. McNeese: 3-1
vs. UTA: 2-1
vs. SFA: 2-1
vs. Nicholls St.: 1-0
vs. NW State: 0-2
vs. UTSA: 0-1
vs. Lamar: 0-1
vs. SLU: 0-1

Sunday, November 23, 2008

BEARKAT FOOTBALL: Is Whitten the right man for the job?

The fourth season of the Todd Whitten era at Sam Houston State came to a bitterly disappointing end Saturday evening. At the same time, it was a fitting end.

The 2008 season was a microcosm of Whitten’s tenure at SHSU.

— A potentially explosive offense that looked unstoppable depending upon the week, and sometimes from series to series within a game.

— A bend-but-don’t-break defense that too often snapped when it mattered most.

— An ultraconservative special teams strategy that gave up more game-changing plays than it ever tried to produce.

— An inability to win the big game, whether it was an outstanding effort that came up just short (Central Arkansas) or a disheartening no-show performance (McNeese State).

Whitten’s overall record at SHSU is 20-22, with a 13-13 mark in the SLC. Nine of those 13 conference losses and five of the wins have been by 8 points or less, including four setbacks this season. Those close calls show that more often than not, the Bearkats have fielded a competitive team under Whitten. But they also show a disturbing ability to be not quite good enough.

I’m not a statistics or polling expert, but I understand the concept of using statistical samples to prognosticate long-term trends and anticipated results. After four seasons under Whitten’s leadership, SHSU is a sub-.500 program. The Bearkats have consistently failed to beat the top programs in the Southland Conference, and have lost numerous games to teams they shouldn’t — most recently two home losses in overtime to finish the season, including a blown 21-point lead that allowed Texas State to celebrate a conference championship on the Bowers Stadium turf.

Based on those results, we have a more focused picture of what probably lies ahead for SHSU should Whitten remain the head coach. The Bearkats will continue to be a middle-of-the-pack SLC program. There’s little evidence to suggest SHSU will close the gap currently held by traditional power McNeese State and impressive newcomer Central Arkansas. We can expect a team that has some winning seasons mixed with some losing seasons depending upon the outcome of regular nail-biters against the rest of the SLC, and possibly an occasional season where everything falls into place and the Bearkats make some noise on the national landscape.

The decision to fire a head coach is never cut and dried. SHSU director of athletics Bobby Williams has numerous factors to consider. Some of them, such as on-field results are out in the open for all to see and draw their own conclusions, but many more involve issues that Joe Public will never know or fully understand.

The decision will not be easy, but the choices are clear.

If you think Whitten is capable of improving and building SHSU into a program that regularly competes for the SLC championship and national playoff appearances, keep him.

If you don't believe Whitten is the right man to lead SHSU’s program to the next level, it’s time to let him go.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Gundy's rant finally makes sense

Winning a national championship might not be enough to help Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy ever live down the, “I’m a man! I’m 40!” post-game rant he famously delivered a little more than one year ago.

But after watching his now 8th-ranked Cowboys travel to Missouri and knock off the then No. 3 Tigers last weekend, it all makes sense. What Gundy knew then, and college football fans across the country are learning this season, is OSU has a super-talented quarterback in Zac Robinson.

Personnel decisions are always tough, and the Cowboys had a quarterback controversy last season. The talented but erratic upperclassman was Bobby Reid. The young, unproven, potential superstar was Robinson.

Gundy made his choice, and today it’s obvious he made the right call. What made it so difficult, though, was that Reid was by all accounts, and in his coach’s opinion, the epitome of a student athlete. He was role model to his teammates in the classroom, graduating in less than four years. He never once found himself on the wrong side of the law. He was polite and well spoken.

Reid was also a good quarterback, but Robinson was better.

Imagine how difficult it must have been for Gundy to take the ball away from a young man he considered the most prized, high-profile recruit of his tenure in Stillwater. The decision had nothing to do with Reid, and everything to do with Robinson. It all finally made sense to me Saturday night after watching Robinson pass for 215 yards and rush for another 34, leading the Cowboys to a 28-23 victory over Mizzou.

Consider all of the above factors, and put yourself in Gundy’s shoes one year ago when he learned that a local newspaper columnist wrote a story insinuating that Reid was bench for being a sissy momma’s boy.

Reid was benched because Robinson was better and that’s all there was to it. It wasn’t an easy decision, but in hindsight, it was the right one.

During his tirade, Gundy described Reid as a kid who had “done everything right,” but that point, and almost everything else of substance he said, was overlooked because of how he said it. I’m sure, or at least I hope, that if Gundy had it to do all over again, his post-game reaction would have been handled in a more professional manner.

If Gundy and the Cowboys can continue winning, football fans will have plenty of good memories to replace a one-minute sound bite. And hopefully Gundy will become known as a good, 41-year-old coach.