Gabriel Stovall covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald newspapers.
Stability is the key to success.
This was the mantra my mother used to press into my head when I was tempted to quit at something or whenever I failed to follow through with a goal.
I wonder if new Forest Park football coach Don Williams wouldn’t mind putting Mom’s phone number on speed dial.
Not that I think Williams is a quitter. Nor do I believe he has problems seeing projects through. His track record clearly suggests otherwise.
Whether it is stabilizing the wrestling program at Lovejoy, building a new tradition on the mats at Forest Park —the Panthers won their first region wrestling crown in recent memory during Williams first year as coach — or endearing himself to a fractured football community and fan base that thirsts for success while his players develop that “I’ll run through a wall for my coach” mentality, Williams definitely looks to be up for the challenge of turning around a once proud but now floundering football program.
And, to be honest, based on what I’ve seen so far, I am uber excited about the future of Forest Park football with Williams at the helm.
But I’m also cautious. Here’s why:
Williams is Forest Park’s ninth coach in the last 12 years. During that time the Panthers have won a grand total of 23 games. Last season’s state runner up Lovejoy has won more games (24) in just its past two seasons.
In 2011, the Panthers lost by an average margin of 30.5 points on their way to a 1-9 finish in coach Edmund Coley’s only season.
Whenever a football program gets into that kind of a rut, the reasons for apathy become larger than just plain old X’s and O’s. Just as there is a culture that begets winning, losing is perpetuated by the same phenomenon — culture.
Look at Forest Park’s last five seasons: 1-9, 2-8, 1-9, 2-8 and 1-8-1. That kind of losing will make even the most optimistic coach think about throwing in the towel. Think then about what it does to the psyche of 14-18 year old kids.
I threw down my Playstation 3 controller in disgust after recently losing back-to-back games in my NCAA Football 2013 dynasty. Imagine the frustration levels of real people playing real games with real emotions and passion for their sport of choice when they begin to experience habitual failure.
From my perspective, there are at least three emotional levels involved with consistent losing.
First is the we-can-still-turn-this-around level. This usually happens in the midst of a mid-season losing streak.
Players and coaches begin to count how many games are left and the possibilities if the team can just catch fire or get in stride at the right time.
In this stage, there is an utter disgust for losing and optimism is still high because the team believes it can still be successful. Usually coaches use the phrase: “All of our goals are still in front of us” as a way to keep spirits high in this phase.
Next is the “we’ll be better next season” emotional level of losing. This is where a team won’t just come out and say “we’re tanking this season,” but they are forced to acknowledge that at this point they’re playing simply for moral victories and improvement with an eye on the following year.
Lastly is the “here we go again” emotional level of losing. This usually occurrs after several seasons of consistent losing. Here, any form of optimism is immediately squashed at the first sign of ineptitude — whether that happens in the season’s first game, or first play.
At this stage, getting angry about losing may not even happen anymore because the culture for it has already been established. It is almost an expectation. This is when a team becomes the butt of jokes and potential standout athletes in the school’s neighborhood begin plotting ways to take their talents somewhere else.
This latter level of emotion is where I believe Forest Park football currently finds itself. But my contention is it won’t be here for long.
That’s because Williams is going about changing it the right way —attitude first. Yes he’s installing offense — West Coast. Yes he is working on defense. Special teams too.
But the curse of the culture of defeat cannot be lifted through strategy alone. Hence the reason for Williams’ primary focus on kindling an attitude revival with his boys.
Williams believes, just as many coaches do, that the game of football is won largely between the ears and not just between the hashes.
Larry Kennedy, a long time Forest Park resident who has seen both of his children and two of his grandchildren graduate from Forest Park said as much.
“Coach Williams is rebuilding attitudes around here,” said Kennedy, who’s son Blake is a sophomore linebacker. “He’s building good attitudes. And it’s attitudes that will win.”
Here’s another thing that brings victory: Stability. Also longevity. Something that the previous eight coaches —none of which have remained longer than two years —have been unable to enjoy.
I think Williams will be different. But just for insurance, maybe I’ll slip him my mom’s phone number during our next interview.
Gabriel Stovall covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald newspapers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter? Follow him at @GabrielStovall1.