The team played crappy…blame the coach.
That’s a typical leap among sports fans, and in many cases, it has merit. After all, the coach – particularly on the college and professional levels – is paid a significant salary to produce results. And if those results are, well, crappy, the coach MUST be to blame…right?
Knowing that, it was not surprising that many Colorado State fans jumped all over Rams coach Steve Fairchild and his staff following last week’s 49-10 loss to BYU. The Rams were, in almost every way, awful, and fans were more than justified in heading for the exits long before the final cannon blast. It was one of the most disheartening efforts I’ve ever seen by a CSU team.
That said, and knowing what I do about college athletics after 28 years in the newspaper business, I’m not going to pile on the coaches. Sure, they have to shoulder the blame because their contracts say they must. But in this case, I think a good portion of the blame has to got to the players.
Here’s why: What I witnessed Saturday was a classic example of one team (BYU) coming out of the gates intent on setting the tone for the game by hitting the other team (CSU) with everything they had in the opening minutes. The Cougars not only scored a touchdown on their first drive with a trick play, they physically beat up with Rams with aggressive tackling and fight-to-the-whistle aggression.
Sadly, the Rams never responded to this physical challenge. Instead, they played more passively as the game progressed, which inspired the Cougars to get even more aggressive. The result was a 35-0 halftime advantage for the Cougars, who never looked back.
Now, I can guarantee you that CSU’s coaches were doing everything in their power to get the Rams to wake up and respond to the Cougars with physical play of their own. A few Rams did so, but for the most part, they looked flat and uninterested as BYU piled on the points. The effort was eerily similar to that of the Denver Broncos a couple of games ago when the Oakland Raiders took them apart 59-14.
At some point in every game, an athlete has to take responsibility for his own play. The greatest, most impassioned speech in the history of athletics will have no impact if the athletes haven’t mentally prepared themselves for the challenge at hand. For some reason, very few Rams had themselves ready to play that day.
As a result, the Rams head into their season finale Saturday against Border War rival Wyoming in great danger of losing to a bad team and finishing 3-9 for the second consecutive season.
I know how coaches operate, and I can guarantee you that Wyoming’s coaches lit up when watching film of the CSU-BYU game. They saw the uninspired play and the lack of a response to BYU’s physical challenge, and they are now telling their players what they saw. “These guys are soft,” they will say. “If we come out and hit them in the mouth early, they will wither away and we will dominate.”
So, the challenge ahead of the Rams is simple: get yourselves mentally prepared for a battle. The Pokes, who are winless in the Mountain West Conference, are desperate for a victory and would love nothing better than to close their season with a rout of their hated rivals.
One of the hallmarks of the great CSU teams in the 1990s was that they set the tone, both physically and mentally, in pretty much every game they played. Other teams knew they were in for 60 minutes of in-your-face football, and most of them folded.
If the Rams want to take a step toward greatness, they must take on that personality. Otherwise, we haven’t seen the last of those 49-10 games.