Keeping the Faith in Akron and Beyond
By Paul Myerberg // Mar 2, 2011
Months of time spent away from your team have made you soft. Given time to reflect on the year past and optimistically consider the future, you’ve started the process of raising expectations to a unhealthy level: you actually think your team — your overwhelmingly mediocre team — can compete at a high level. No, you’re not crazy. Well, maybe you’re a little crazy, especially if you live in one of the following cities: Akron, Albuquerque, Buffalo, Memphis, New Orleans or Ypsilanti.
At least a program like Akron can take solace in the fact that it is still in the opening stages of what seems to be a longterm rebuilding project, one piloted by Rob Ianello, the former Notre Dame assistant. It may be premature to say that Ianello laid the groundwork for future success a season ago, when only a win over Buffalo — more on the Bulls in a moment — saved the Zips from a winless season.
Only time will tell if 2010′s lowly finish pays dividends down the road. What a 1-11 finish does do, however, is lower expectations for 2011: now, after posting only a single victory last fall, 4-8 doesn’t look too bad. At least Ianello has time, one would think, though tempers and leashes grow short when improvement proves hard to come by.
There are few stages in big-time collegiate sports: as one successful sports figure once said, you’re either rebuilding for something special or you’re on the verge of something special — there is no in-between. The hope for Akron is that Ianello is rebuilding for something special; again, time will prove this out.
Likewise at places like Memphis, Buffalo and Eastern Michigan: as at Akron, there is hope that Larry Porter, Jeff Quinn and Ron English have their teams on the verge of breaking through. Each enters the 2011 season under the microscope. The only saving grace for this entire quartet is this: it can’t get much worse.
It can’t get any worse in Memphis. It’s one thing to struggle, as Porter did in his first year as an F.B.S. head coach; it’s another thing to nearly lose your team, as Porter seemed in danger of doing near the end of last season. Geoff Calkins of The Memphis Commercial summed up Porter’s debut campaign thusly:
When the Tigers lost to Central Florida on Saturday, 37-17, Porter became the first coach in Memphis history to lose 11 games in a season. His play-calling was mind-numbingly conservative. A disturbing number of players fled the program. Worse, Porter managed to alienate much of the already dwindling Memphis fan base.
Calkins does stress that Porter deserves another year to prove his worth, which is only fair both to the program and its coach — as disappointing as 2010 might have been. Same for Ianello, even if both may be damaging their short-term futures by forcing such a large number of incumbent scholarship players to flee the program.
You’re either rebuilding for something special or on the verge of something special. Don’t get caught in between. Is it too early to close the book on Memphis, Akron and Buffalo? Of course: Buffalo’s Jeff Quinn might have inherited a program confident in its ability to win football games, as it proved under his predecessor, but work remains to be done nonetheless.
It could be worse: the above programs have nothing on New Mexico, which is stuck firmly in that purgatory between rebuilding and something special. Porter, for all his faults, has nothing on Mike Locksley. Ianello may have run off a portion of his roster, but at least he can sell that attrition to potential recruits. New Mexico’s Mike Locksley can only sell a smile and a tiresome refrain about turning things around, though I can’t imagine how that pitch still works on the recruiting trail.
Keeping the faith in Akron, for example, merely involves getting a good night’s sleep: if cheerful enough, an Akron fan can easily convince himself that this coming season will be better than last. Keeping the faith in New Mexico might involve a priest — some sort of higher power, at least — or the aid of adult substances.
On the other hand, if there’s a time for raised expectations it’s now, before any team even takes the field for spring practice. Maybe my team will be improved, you’ll say to yourself, looking through the projected depth chart and the talent added in February. Maybe this is the year, you’ll say. Then your team takes the field for spring practice, rapidly changing your tune.
You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.
Tags: Akron, Buffalo, Eastern Michigan, Larry Porter, Memphis, New Mexico, Rob Ianello, Tulane
Leave a Comment