First And… Forever

admin Friday, December 29, 2023 Comments Off on First And… Forever
First And… Forever

It’s been a few weeks since the McNeese Cowboys’ atrocious football season came to a merciful end. The Cowboys had their tenth straight defeat at rival Lamar with another lopsided score of 52-27. That one sentence pretty much capsulizes the entire season. 

We saw a long string of losses with a floundering defense that gave up a ton of points and an inconsistent offense with a carousel of quarterbacks, receivers and running backs never able to keep up or overcome their own mistakes.

The official Southland Conference record book will say the Cowboys went 1-10 by virtue of that forfeit by Northwestern State. All the key players from university president Daryl Burckel, athletic director Heath Schroyer, head coach Gary Goff and the list of high dollar boosters know it was McNeese’s first ever winless 0-10 season.

Head Coach Gary Goff

This all points to a wipe the white board clean and a near complete redo, reboot and rewind for Goff and whichever assistant coaches he brings back.  I tend to believe it won’t be a quick or easy task.

Let’s start with Goff and the coaching staff. The Monday after the season-ending loss to Lamar, Schroyer had a long and detailed discussion with Goff and told him he wanted him back for a third season. The contract buyout would have been upwards of $600,000 but Schroyer said that had nothing to do with his decision.

It’s easily the toughest decision for any AD: who to hire as head coach and who needs to be fired. This was an easy call in my opinion. 

Despite a lackluster 4 and 17 record, Goff deserves the critical third year to right the wrongs and build his roster.   To send Goff packing would mean the program would be seeking its fifth head coach in only six years.

Turnover just for the sake of change is a recipe for disaster and this program is in dire need of many things–near the top is continuity.

Schroyer hired Goff over two years ago, signing him to the longest and richest contract in McNeese sports history. With extensions worth a tad over $1 million dollars, you can bet Schroyer and President Burckel would like more for their money.

That’s why Schroyer made it crystal clear to Goff that 0-10 and the product on the field were totally “unacceptable.”

During that post-season meeting Schroyer said staff changes were needed. Marco Sanchez, a lower-level defensive assistant coach, was cut loose at season’s end. As Goff tries to work around the intense recruiting season this month, you can expect a few more staff change announcements, especially with the opening of the transfer portal on Dec. 4.

The transfer portal is where I peg most of McNeese’s roster and talent problems. I know all about losing invaluable junior and senior classes from that long ago APR probation, the aftermath of Hurricanes Laura and Delta and the complexity of Covid.

A lot of experience and some building block  talent left the program which meant the ensuing classes were void of seniors even though high school recruiting never stopped and the portal was in full swing. The problem has been too many whiffs and mistakes on portal transfers and junior college players. It begins and ends at the quarterback position.

You have to get the quarterback right either through the recruiting ranks or the portal.  If you can’t solidify the most important position on the team for at least two years you are doomed to fail in today’s college game.

I have pointed to Incarnate Word, a FCS semi finalist last year, many times and the way they found a string of talented quarterbacks over the past three to five years to turn their fledgling football program into instant winners.

The Cardinals did it again this season by luring former Texas A&M quarterback Zach Calzada to lead them in an 8-2 record. They should have received an at-large FCS playoff bid, but were dogged by a lousy Southland league this year.

Kamden Sixkiller

Nicholls State did it with first year QB Pat McQuaide, who was good enough to go 6-4 overall but, more importantly, win the SLC title and a playoff berth with a 6-0 league record. He’s a 5’11, 190 lb quarterback they signed out of little Gulf Coast Community College somewhere in the backwaters of Mississippi.

It can be done, but, unfortunately, Goff and his staff have not been so lucky yet. Over the two plus years Goff has brought in upwards of eight quarterbacks, either through the portal or junior college signings, and none have panned out.

Those are huge swings and misses because Goff’s Air Raid, up tempo offense is useless without a triggerman to push the buttons on the field.

He thought he had it last season and put all his eggs in the basket of former JRCO offensive player of the year, Nate Glantz. Top backup, Tre Simmons, another JrCo signee, left the team due to lack of playing time.

Glantz was eventually benched and Goff turned to third string QB Ryan Roberts and, as the losses stacked up, it turned into a waiting game to insert freshman QB Kamden Sixkiller. He could only play in the final four games so the young Oklahoma native would not burn his redshirt year.

Goff thinks he has found his starting quarterback in Sixkiller, who showed flashes but had a knack for missing reads and throwing bad interceptions.  Chalk that up to inexperience and shouldering a heavy load for an offense void of play makers and explosive plays.

If Goff is smart, which I know him to be, he will dip into the portal once again for more quarterback options. But his winning percentage from that pool of talent has to improve exponentially. There have been far too many portal misses on critical receivers, running backs, offensive lineman and defensive backs.

If that sounds like pretty much across the entire roster, you’re right. No coach will get every portal pickup right, but I’m thinking you need to hit on 70 percent in some form or fashion as a plug-in starter or key backup. McNeese has been nowhere near that mark with the portal.

The most successful transfers to date have to be placekicker Garrison Smith from Ohio State, offensive lineman Cole Leclair from Valdosta and running back D’Angelo Durham out of Savannah State.

Another concern for Goff comes the week of Dec. 4 when the transfer portal opens for all players (only graduate transfers were able to officially enter the portal before then). He has been working diligently to re-recruit and retain a few of his most important starters including first team, All SLC sophomore linebacker, Micah Davey, and sophomore receiver, Jon McCall.

By the time you’re reading this both Davey and McCall may already have announced their intentions. I put both at 50/50 either way. Losing Davey, a Buck Buchanan Award finalist who is the team’s leading tackler and most consistent and best player, would be a huge hit to the defense and Goff’s program.

Micah Davey

When you go winless for the year with the Southland’s worse defense and not much better on offense, there is a lot of work ahead and across the board.

I think Goff has the foundation of his culture in place even though the team is void of strong team chemistry and he’s had player leadership problems with players leaving and being booted off the team.

But that goes back to better vetting of the transfer players and their backgrounds and finding the collection of talent that’ll build the locker room with a strong bond and team-first mentality.

Pay close attention to the best college and pro teams. You’ll hear players and coaches say they love their teammates, play hard for each other, support one another and cheer them on to personal highs. That was clearly lacking in the McNeese football team.

The talent rebuild starts with the offensive and defensive lines first and foremost. They could neither protect the quarterback well enough, nor could they disrupt opposing quarterbacks.

The defensive secondary gave up a ton of explosive plays and didn’t help in the turnover ratio as the Pokes were last in the conference.

Goff played a lot of freshmen and sophomore  receivers because his potential portal starters flamed out. He may have found four pretty interesting prospects in Jon McCall, Makhi Paris, Jihad Marks and Cory O’Bryant, who came on late in the year.

I am still scratching my head over why speedy, shifty freshman running back, Joshon Barbie, was buried so deep on the depth chart. When he finally got his chance late in the season Barbie was nothing short of spectacular.

Which leads me to one of my favorite sports acronyms concerning players’ talent: R.C.D.

Recognize, cultivate and develop. This program has to first find potential starters and evaluate their skills much better than they have over the last two seasons. It sounds simple, but it’s not. You have to have a system of metrics and analytics you believe in with proven success. From that point, it’s a lot of scouting, film work and old fashion grinding.

Once they are convinced the talent is worthy of their time coaches have to cultivate it in body, mind and spirit.   The last piece is a continual development of the talent to get the most out of them. The finished product has no end date.

Alabama quarterback, Jalen Milroe, says it best when he repeats their mantra of “getting one percent better every day.”

I believe every coach should have at least three years to recruit, build and install his entire system before they’re deemed a failure or success. Goff will rightfully get his third season, but Schroyer has lit the fire under his seat saying only three or four wins is not the expectation in 2024.

Nothing short of a conference championship contender will do.

Catch Rick Sarro’s commentary and latest opinions on Soundoff on CBS Lake Charles Tueday and Thursday nights at 10:05 pm and again Saturday at 11 pm and Sunday at 10 pm. Follow Rick on Twitter @ricksarro. 

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