As expected, Gary Goff said all the right things for a 48-year-old football coach who has been around the game for his entire adult life.
Goff emphasized his culture of toughness and discipline, winning the right way, strong leadership, accountability and “firing those cannons” —promising to score a lot of points.
He didn’t get carried away with notions of conference championships and playoff runs on any fast-paced schedule. He was spot on with phrases like “there will be rainy days” and “bumps in the road” and “it will take time.”
I’m not trying to be a Scrooge so soon after Christmas, but any magical rebuild and turn of fortunes for McNeese football will take longer than the Blue and Golf loyalists, and maybe Goff himself, realizes.
This renovation project won’t be like those house flipping shows on the HGTV network that turn the video to turbo speed so that the entire house is magically completed in 20 seconds.
Sorry, folks. Goff and his soon to be assembled staff will need ample time, patience and a dose of luck to revive this once flourishing program.
I’m not as convinced as others of what former head coach Frank Wilson said recently after leaving for LSU, namely, that McNeese’s talent level is high and deep enough to win next season.
Problem 1 is finding a multi-skilled, experienced quarterback who can guide the Air Raid offense that Goff grew up with since his playing and coaching days at Valdosta State.
There isn’t a quarterback like that on the roster. So transfer portal, here they come.
The portal can cure many ills. But this is a pretty big script to fill, and it may take a bit longer than expected to not only coach up a new quarterback but also teach an entirely new offensive scheme and mindset to the linemen, receivers and running backs.
“We are here because this place has a rich tradition and has been a powerhouse in the FCS. I know we have the resources here. If we do it the right way, we will be that again and that excites me. Is it going to happen overnight and be easy? No, I am sure we are going to have our rainy days. But as long as we are doing things the right way and working extremely hard, these young men will buy in and the sky’s the limit for them,” preached Goff at his introductory press conference.
Problem 2 is that this new Air Raid offense will need receivers to throw to and McNeese is thin on proven talent without the speedy jitterbug Mason Pierce. Any version of the Air Raid attack requires three to four receivers running disciplined routes, finding holes in coverages and catching the ball — things the current McNeese receivers had trouble doing last spring and in the fall seasons.
Problem 3 is upgrading offensive line play with the players currently on the depth chart. The good thing is the majority are returning, and several freshman and sophomore linemen got quality reps and experience last season as they were forced into starting roles. The O-Line had some rough days — for example, allowing a record 13 sacks in one game. But if you look closer, some of the offensive line problems were due to Cody Oregon holding the ball too long and the receiver’s inability to get open.
Problem 4 is filling huge defensive holes left with the graduations of All American defensive end Isaiah Chambers and cornerback Colby Richardson. Add the transfer of All SLC safety Andre Sam to Marshall, where he will reunite with his former McNeese coach Lance Guidry.
Problem 5 is restocking the horrendous kicking game from last season, which means recruiting or transferring in a field goal kicker and punter. And let’s not forget a new special teams coach. This is one of the easier flaws to fix, as it can’t be any worse than it was in the fall.
Problem 6 is recapturing the winning mojo. That means restoring a confident, winning attitude to a team that played hard over a 4-7 record last year but couldn’t overcome an assortment of adversities, namely, lack of red zone scoring, a lousy third-down conversion rate, turnovers, penalties, inconsistent offensive line play, injuries to key players, a vanilla playbook and equally uninspired play calling.
Goff may or may not agree with my overall assessment of the Cowboys. But it’s enough to get his attention and a good start on a 2022 to do list.
One of the first things Goff must do quickly is establish an offensive and defensive identity for this program.
The offense is ready made under the heading of Air Raid. Goff intends “to take what the defense gives us,” and that means running the ball when they drop back eight players or passing when they load the box. Anywhere in between, expect Goff’s scheme to rely on plenty of quick passes.
His numbers at Valdosta State last season fell in line with that approach, as his team led the NCAA (all divisions — not just Div. II) in total offense, with 527 yards per game. His offense was fifth in rushing at 267 yards a game and averaged 260 yards through the air. Their 43 points per game was ranked No. 5 in the NCAA.
Goff was 22-3 over his two years at Valdosta State, his alma mater. His winning percentage of 86 over the last three seasons (one at Tiffin University) ranks him 11th in the NCAA stats column, just behind LSU’s Brian Kelly and Kirby Smart at Georgia.
An interesting side note for you NCAA stat geeks: Tony Annese at Ferris State, who clobbered Goff’s Valdosta team 58-17 in the Division II national championship game a few weeks ago, has the highest winning percentage over three years at 95.3 percent with a 41-2 record. So if you are going to lose to someone in the title game, it might as well be the winningest coach in college football since 2018.
If you are wondering where King Nick is on the list, Saban sits at No. 2 with a winning ratio of 92.3 percent.
All those numbers are impressive, and helped Goff get the job at McNeese.
Athletic director Heath Schroyer says Goff was tops on his list the whole time, even while he was also talking with West Florida’s Pete Shinnick.
McNeese President Dr. Daryl Burckel approved Goff’s hire and called him the coach that will put the Cowboys back in the national spotlight.
Goff’s recent record of wins and losses, his offensive prowess and production, his defensive unit’s stingy play the last two years at Valdosta, with his player development, should help give you an idea of what exactly he brings to the table as a head coach.
But he still has things to prove at the higher FCS level.
Lance Guidry came in with FBS coordinator and interim head coach experience. Sterlin Gilbert’s resume was filled with FBS coaching experience from South Florida, Texas and Tulsa. And you know about Frank Wilson’s FBS past and his time at LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee and UTSA.
The fact that Goff is moving up from the smaller Division II level should not be held against him or give the fan base concern. Years ago, Brian Kelly went from Division II power Grand Valley State to Cincinnati before becoming Notre Dame’s winningest head coach.
What Goff must learn and navigate quickly is re-recruiting current McNeese players. (He has begun that task.) He will need to establish quick relationships with high school coaches and understand the grind of recruiting the talent-fertile landscape of Louisiana and Texas and do so against the likes of pretty much every Power 5, Group of 5 and top FCS team in the country.
I’m not sure how much time Goff has spent immersed in the minefield that is the NCAA transfer portal while at two Division II schools. But he realizes the portal is a tool he must use at this level to keep up with the Joneses in the Southland and across the FCS.
“We are behind the 8 ball a little bit because we missed the early signing day. 100 percent we have to get into the portal and find some guys to come in here and help us win. And we will be able to do that. But at the same time, I do believe you have to recruit a good class of high school students as well. I don’t think you can live strictly out of the portal,” contends Goff.
He believes you can’t build or sustain a true culture with one-year wonders from the portal. You have to recruit and cycle in prep players who remain in the program for four to five years.
That’s easier said than done when you are talking about top tier talent who will always wonder if the grass is greener somewhere else and use the transfer portal to jump the fence.
A move up from Division II Valdosta to FCS McNeese will not be that extreme, according to Goff, when it comes to overall talent. The former Valdosta State receiver says there is not much of a talent and skill gap between a Gulf South Conference starting lineup and one in the FCS or the Southland Conference.
Goff’s timing for entering the Southland Conference’s arms race could not have been any better. The league’s top three starting quarterbacks won’t return next season, leaving a talent void and bringing the SLC’s top teams back to the pack.
Southeastern’s Cole Kelly has graduated, as did Lindsey Scott at Nicholls State. Incarnate Word’s Cameron Ward made the decision to enter the transfer portal after his head coach Eric Morris left to become Washington State’s offensive coordinator.
And speaking of offensive coordinator, I do wonder whether Goff’s intention to also serve as McNeese’s HC and OC will be the best approach, considering the scope of the rebuilding job needed with the Cowboys and the varied details he must contend with, such as a new coaching staff, an increased roster size, personnel management, ongoing recruiting cycles, three booster clubs, community, media and PR demands, along with game planning for a higher level of competition, not to mention the demands of in-game decisions, clock and time-out management, player substitutions, offensive, defensive and special team situational tactics and half-time adjustments.
I realize Goff feels he is the best man and play caller to oversee his Air Raid offense. I know he has held dual roles at two Division II teams with success. I get it that coaches are creatures of habit and Goff is no different and many head coaches act as OC and call offensive plays.
But with this McNeese team at this time, and with the extent of the head coach’s job at hand, I would have thought Goff might change his approach and hire an offensive coordinator, with the caveat of sitting in on game planning sessions.
If Goff goes through with the dual role to the degree that he says flat out, “I am the offensive coordinator,” then he should hire a full-time quarterback coach.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out why some college teams do not have a full-time coach for the most important position on the team, which is quarterback.
With all that said and the immense job ahead of him, I said two weeks before he was hired that Gary Goff should have been McNeese’s top candidate to replace Frank Wilson. And he was —for a school record 5-year deal worth over $1 million dollars.
Instead of forming a search committee to see what coaches were interested in the job and waiting on formal applications, Schroyer and associate AD Tanner Stines hit the road to the tune of 7,000 miles to seek the head coach they wanted to lead the program back from two straight losing seasons with the goal of one day moving up to FBS.
That road led them to Valdosta, Ga., and to Goff, who will now handle the reins as the Cowboys’ fourth head coach in five years.
For it to work and work well it will take time, patience, and, as I said earlier, a little luck.
Throw in a good quarterback for good measure.
Catch Rick Sarro’s sports com- mentary Soundoff on CBS Lake Charles Tuesday and Thursday nights at 10:05 pm and Saturdays at 6:30 and 11 pm. It also airs nightly at 9 pm on SuddenLink Cable.