Over the years, coaches have built up a repertoire of explanations for humiliating defeats: Every loss counts the same. We’ll learn from this and get better. Give the other team credit. We’ll be ready to play next week.
The intent is to isolate the loss as a single event, something that can be rationally explained in a way that it does not carry a deeper meaning about the state of the program.
A team’s fans, an increasingly impatient collection, are finding it harder to accept such coach speak. Disconcerting defeats penetrate the superficial veneer of sports cliches and reveal the true state of things.
WVU’s 31-19 loss to Kanas Saturday confirms a program in decline. What was supposed to be a rebuilding year–one where fans would give the coaching staff some latitude–is, in fact, a year of regression.
The victory over Oklahoma State, and the near misses against Oklahoma and Texas, are the aberrations; Maryland, Baylor and Kansas are more the norm. And among the seven defeats this season, the loss in Lawrence stands out.
As Metronews WVU beat writer Allan Taylor phrased it: “Needing only to beat the dregs of the Big 12 to salvage the program’s 11-year bowl streak, WVU mustered neither enough emotion or discipline to warrant a postseason invite. Let some other team practice in a Brooklyn hotel ballroom… this one isn’t deserving.”
A weepy Charlie Weis celebrated with the exuberant Kansas fans who stormed the field, their nightmare conference losing streak of 27 games was over. The coach sold their remaining contests as their bowl game, and the team bought it.
That’s what a coach in rebuilding mode does; he sets attainable goals and then finds ways to reach them. WVU has no such direction. The free-fall cannot be slowed in two weeks by beating an Iowa State football team whose only victory this season is against Tulsa.
It’s darkly appropriate that these two teams should meet in a merciful finale of the regular season. Let’s put an end to the misery so the seniors, who have dedicated thousands of hours to football, can get on with their lives.
When asked after the game to put the Kansas loss in perspective, a shaken Dana Holgorsen said. “I guess this would be an all-time low.”
Credit the coach for his candor, but the unanswered question as this season limps to an end is whether this is the lowest point of the Luck/Holgorsen era. If it is, then 2014 can be about clawing back toward respectability.
But then again, we thought this was a rebuilding year.