Looking Back On An 0-8 Season

If you had told me last summer that the team for which I was about to be Offensive Coordinator would go 0-8, I would have thought you were crazy. Yet when the final play was run on our 8th loss, I had become that coach. There was plenty of regret to go around. I couldn’t even manage to get these boys a single win. We’d had our moments throughout the season, but not enough moments in a row to pull out a “W”.

This was not the first winless season for me. In the first one (my son’s first season of football), it was an absolutely incompetent and disfunctional coaching staff with enough talent to be a contender.  This one was different. The cupboard was truly bare, so to speak. We had a group of parents like none I had ever seen. We started out with 18 players, picked up a 19th in week 3 and finished with 12 in our last game. Some games, we only fielded 11.  Some of these parents would think nothing of being a “no show” to games. Some even banded together to “boycott” games. I’ve never experienced anything like this. We even kicked a kid off the team because he failed to show up for 2 straight games without letting anyone know. One quit because his dad (one of our ACs) was worried that we weren’t preparing him to be a HS center AND he had friends on the other team AND Dad got into an argument with the HC AND he felt the HC’s son was picking on his boy AND . . . Whatever. Good riddance. Another quit because his mom felt he was a WR and we didn’t throw the ball to him enough. Another quit after the 2nd to the last game because his mom felt we didn’t let him run the ball enough. She was the team manager, BTW and took another kid with her. Another broke his arm in our preseason jamboree and never made it back.

A winless season offers a great deal of lessons. I think I qualified for my Bachelor of Science in Humility.  I’d like to share a couple of those lessons.

1) Coach what you know.  This isn’t just about X’s and O’s, either. I’ve been a double wing coach for a long time and decided to go with single wing because none of my players had any experience handling the football. I probably would have been more successful coaching the offense that I knew like the back of my hand. We also coached 100% from “The Book”. Part of that author’s approach was to limit contact in practice so that the players craved it by game time. I had always ran practices with the idea that if you can survive practice, games will be easy. In retrospect, I should have kept to that.

2) Be yourself and coach your way.  Another thing “The Book” instructed was to coach at lightning speed and keep to a strict schedule. That’s fine if you are a good enough coach to pull that off. If you’re like me, you may  need a little more time to get the job done. You can focus on moving quickly, not lecturing and not wasting time without being a slave to the clock. I think we left a lot on the practice field because of that.

3) At some point, no offensive or defensive system will make up for a “talent gap”. This is not an excuse, believe me. We still coached these kids like our backsides were on fire. We demanded a high standard from all of our players and never gave up on them. The reality of some situations is that Jimmy’s absolute best may not be enough for Joey, even if Joey is giving 50% effort. We did our best to give our Jimmies the tools they needed and tried to give them help when we could. That would work sometimes, but wouldn’t work more often than not.

4) Winless seasons can happen to good coaches. I still believe that I’m a good coach. I’m better now than I was 3-4 years ago. I’m pretty sure of that. I’m also pretty sure that I wasn’t as good then as I thought I was.

5) In a season like this, everything you do transcends football. Some of these kids, based on the number of quitters, were entitled by their parents. They are raised to believe that they have every right to expect life to meet them on their terms. They will grow up to walk away from any challenges, or any situation that isn’t ideal for them. For the ones who stuck it out, there are important lessons to be learned. You can’t fall into the trap of letting those lessons get lost in the fog of a blowout loss. I’ve never been more proud than the day we started a game with 11 players and finished with those same 11. Just one of those kids taking a play off would have meant a forfeit, yet none did.  11 players, 88 plays, no rest. I hope they are as proud of that as I am.

Submitted by Larry Gombos

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