Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Another SideByrne

by Tom Byrne

I want to give a well deserved “well-done” to one of my Delaware football pre-game show compadres, the News Journal’s Kevin Tresolini, for his excellent piece last week on Delaware’s struggles in CAA. Great story and, in case some people missed them, terrific online stats and information to supplement much of what he discussed in the paper.

I wonder if some of the same commitment issues Kevin discussed might also eventually apply to football. That possibility never seems far from head coach K.C. Keeler’s mind. On Wednesday night’s “K.C. Keeler show” on the River 94.7, the coach again talked about the arms race recruiting has become and Delaware’s need to upgrade facilities. He says a consulting firm is coming in to assess where Delaware stands and what it should do. Hopefully, it will lead to some action… soon. You have to keep building and improving on what you have or you will eventually fall behind. Continuing commitment is necessary. James Madison coach Mickey Matthews made a critical point in his conference call with UD media this week. When talking about what JMU’s facility upgrades have meant to recruiting, Matthews said he’d forgotten (from his days at Georgia) the power showing a recruit top-notch facilities can have. Delaware has solid facilities, but they need to start getting ahead of the curve. They need to be proactive, not reactive (like with the field situation last year). I realize there’s only so much money to go around and plenty needs (athletics and otherwise), but it is wise to get the balling rolling on things sooner rather than later. Yes, Delaware will always have its tradition and his large fan base to fall back on in the recruiting wars (as Coach Keeler points out regularly), but I believe those things tip the scale when all other things are equal. If the other guy has you beat with facilities, tradition and a full stadium may not be enough to sway a player.

I’ll give you an example from down the road at DSU. I admit it’s an “apples and oranges” comparison, but bear with me. The Hornets were successful under head coach Bill Collick up until the early 90’s as Collick and his crew did “more with less”. I wish I had a dime for every time Coach Collick would pull into another school, bemoan the differences in what he called “amenities”, and then go win anyway. But the school seemed to feel that if Collick could win with less, why spend more? Well, that caught up with Del State in the mid to late 1990’s and we know what happened. Now, they are just starting to recover on the field and are still trying (and usually failing) to address their meager facilities. If they had made a commitment when the team was doing well, even just incrementally, they might have avoided 0-11 in 1998 and 1-10 in 2003. Clearly, the two schools are different animals on any number of levels. Certainly, Delaware will never fall off to the extent DSU did, but the expectations at UD are also a significantly higher and fans will not suffer quietly though even a small dip in success. You don’t want to lose those fans. Remember, that full stadium is one of your recruiting advantages.

Another example can be found at Wesley, the emerging Division III powerhouse in Dover. As the program there got stronger in the mid to late 1990’s, the Wolverines, led by the astute Mike Drass, started doing little things each year to build the program’s infrastructure. It culminated a couple of years ago with the instillation of field turf at Wolverine Stadium. You may not know, but Wesley not lost at home since that turf was laid, going to the NCAA semifinals last year (thanks to a couple of home wins). This year, the Wolverines are undefeated and ranked 4th nationally. They’re also a good bet to have the top seed in the South region come playoff time, which means, you guessed it, a bunch of home games in the D-III tourney. Again, comparing Wesley and UD is definitely a case of apples and oranges, but I believe idea of commitment does translate. You’ll be better off if you keep building as you go and make the occasional big splash, rather than waiting until you have to make major changes. That leaves you behind the curve and usually with a bigger bill to pay.

One other quick hit this week… a pat on the back to DSU coach Al Lavan and his staff. I had a chance to watch a tape of their game against South Carolina State we shot for TV 12. Here’s what jumped out to me. Trailing 9-7 in the fourth quarter and seemingly stagnant offensively, they went to their “go-to-guy”, wide receiver Shaheer Mc Bride. On the 13 play, 66 yard drive that led to the go-ahead field goal, six plays were designed to go to McBride, including a nifty middle screen that netted 29 yards and a pair of reverses that totaled 21 yards. In all, McBride accounted 62 yards on that drive. Lavan and his staff deserve credit for finding way to get their best player the ball when it counted the most. It keeps their MEAC title hopes alive for at least another week or so.
Tom Byrne is a Sports Anchor for WHYY-TV, Sports Director of WILM Newsradio, and Sideline Reporter on University of Delaware Football Broadcasts on The River 94.7

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