Pride, ego and so many other factors rank high among the reasons football players take losses so hard. So does the fear of what they’ll be put through in the coming week of practice from a cranky coach bent on punishing them as a deterrent to future embarrassing outcomes.
No such fear was evident after Kansas University’s 6-3 loss to North Dakota State in front of a stunned, at-times booing crowd.
I asked junior slot receiver/back Daymond Patterson, the most impressive player on the offense, if he expected to be put through brutal practices in the wake of such a bad loss, in keeping with tradition.
“To tell you the truth, I’m not expecting that at all,” Patterson said. “That’s not the type of coaches we have, and that’s not going to do anything. It’s execution, and just because you’re going out there hitting harder and making practices longer is not going to make you a better team at execution.”
Kansas couldn’t have been much worse at execution while losing to a Division I-AA opponent that looked so out of synch itself it was flagged for 105 yards in penalties in victory.
Disorganization led to the exhaustion of all of KU’s timeouts midway through the fourth quarter. On one special-teams play, Tanner Hawkinson ran onto the field at the last second. At times, KU looked so overmatched it’s worth wondering whether it had only 10 players on the field.
Lack of discipline led to a pair of personal-foul penalties and to Isiah Barfield, after a terrific interception, getting pulled down at the one.
After Terry Allen’s teams showed similar traits, Mark Mangino was hired and ordered to restore discipline. He did and somehow went 12-1 with an Orange Bowl victory and a No. 7 national ranking, only to get fired two years later for being too hard on the players.
Turner Gill’s marching orders: Make playing college football an enjoyable experience. Noble concept, but that only flies if the team wins. Players don’t enjoy losing.
A recent KUSports.com video had a “Curb Your Enthusiasm”-level cringe factor because multiple players in it described Gill as “laid-back.” Football’s a nasty sport. Players must be driven out of their comfort zones to play it well.
Patterson insists the new coaching staff isn’t soft.
“We’re just going to keep our heads up, and the coaches are going to push us the same way they have,” he said. “Our practices have been intense already. This had nothing to do with how our practices have been formatted. It was just simply taking care of the ball and not making mistakes.”
I asked Barfield if he anticipated a punitive week of practices.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Coach Gill’s saying it’s just Game 1. We’ve got to come up next week firing, play hard and get a victory. I wouldn’t expect anything to change.”
The game-day videos had better change. In the fourth quarter of a tight game in which the offensive line was playing very poorly, the new scoreboard showed a light-hearted video skit of the blockers clowning around.
Johnathan Wilson, a receiver, not a yell leader, led the team out of the new, cheesy, inflatable tunnel carrying a flag. Later with that. A harder edge is in order. This is football.