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No winner in Wolford’s blame game

Originally Published: 09:23 a.m., November 9, 2012 and  Updated 09:21 a.m., November 9, 2012

A football coach gets hired at the local university. When he sits down at his desk the first time, he finds three envelopes in the top drawer, with a note from the previous coach saying, “If things get tough, open them one at a time.”

So, the first year, the coach goes 3-8. He opens the envelope and it says, “Blame me! Tell everyone I let the program deteriorate and it’s going to take some time to rebuild.”

The new coach does. The next year, he goes 2-9. So he opens the second envelope and it says, “Blame the media! They’re too negative! How can you be expected to turn the program around when recruits keep reading about how bad things are going?”

So he does. The next year, the coach goes 3-8. So he opens the third envelope and it says, “Prepare three envelopes.”

It’s an old joke, but it’s a timely one this week. After taking the first approach in his first 21/2 years, Wolford switched to the second envelope at Tuesday’s press conference, criticizing reporters for presenting a “doom and gloom atmosphere” that has led to lower attendance at Stambaugh Stadium.

Criticizing the media is usually a good strategy — in sports or in politics — but this one was a head-scratcher. Wolford has enjoyed overwhelmingly positive coverage through most of his tenure, despite a 14-17 record that includes a 7-15 mark in conference games.

This season, the Penguins went from being ranked No. 3 in the country in late September to squeaking out a three-point victory over South Dakota (1-8) at home in early November. As one reporter said after Tuesday’s press conference, “What does he expect?”

Listen. While there are plenty of people who want Wolford fired yesterday, I’m not one of them. Barring a catastrophe next season, he deserves the chance to fulfill his five-year contract. But criticizing the media for “doom and gloom” is ridiculous.

Before the season, he said anything short of the playoffs would be a failure. That was his standard, which he repeated two weeks ago. So here’s the bottom line: If you set the high jump bar at 7 feet, don’t complain when the media isn’t impressed with a 5-foot jump. And if you want to use the media to criticize the previous coach’s program — which Wolford has — don’t be shocked when that same media criticizes yours.

Two weeks ago, I got an email from an area coach I respect. He lamented that Wolford “has never taken any responsibility whatsoever for the team’s demise.” He pointed to a quote from Penn State’s first-year coach, Bill O’Brien, who said this after a loss to Ohio State: “I could have adjusted better. I could have had a better game plan.”

Since Wolford is giving me advice about how to better do my job, here’s some for him: Show more humility. Take more blame. Even if you don’t believe what you’re saying, say it anyway. People like reading it.

Like any job, there’s a learning curve to being a head coach. This is the third year of a five-year process. He’ll figure it out.

And if he doesn’t? Well, his biggest problem won’t be what’s in the papers.

It’ll be what’s in that third envelope.

SFlbJoe Scalzo covers YSU sports for The Vindicator. Write to him at scalzo@vindy.com.


1Nonsocialist(710 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

Wasn't "no excuses" the team motto this year? The Wolf has been given, as far as I can tell, every advantage a FCS coach could have. The record speaks for itself.

I still believe two mores wins = in. Than despite the October debacle, it will be considered a successful season.

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2PeteGuin(7 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

Joe, you're spot on. Wolford needs to understand that he's the top dog and the ultimate responsibility to perform lies on his shoulders. I love the intensity he brings to the game but the finger pointing needs to stop. Both on and off the field!! If things don't improve, they call him into the office to fire him - not you, the players, the coaches and the fans - just him.

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3prodgodq(169 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

Winning cures all complaining. Expectations are high for the program. He knows that the ultimate responsibility is on his shoulders, because he knows that he'll be gone if
he can't produce winning seasons.
I do think some fans have unrealistic expectations for the team though. The days of any 1-AA team winning four championships in 7 years are over. It's too competitive in 1-AA now for that to happen. But I think 9-2, 8-3, and in the playoffs most of the time is reasonable. The question that the administration has to ask itself is this:
Just how important is the football team to the university? If the answer is "very important", then they're going to have to pay out a lot of money for a coach who can consistently win. I hope Wolford can turn it around, but at this point it doesn't look good.

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