Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Don't hit the panic button yet for UMass football
As afternoon became evening on Saturday, Sept. 7, Yogi Berra came to mind."It's like deja vu all over again," the Hall of Fame catcher once said, and watching my laptop screen as the deficit facing the UMass football team grew exponentially against Southern Illinois, I couldn't help but think that I've kind of seen this movie before.
It was three falls ago when Mark Raymond took over the Williams College football program. The Ephs, who had recorded consecutive 2-6 seasons, had a new coach when Raymond replaced Aaron Kelton.
Watching my social media feed fill up with comments like, drop the UMass program back to the Division I-FCS level, Walt Bell and his staff aren't going to be able to get it done, or even drop football, brought me back to the transition from Aaron Kelton to Raymond as the Ephs' football coach.
Nobody was calling for anyone's head two losses into Raymond's first season, and nobody was on social media ripping anyone after the Ephs went 0-8.
It was a somewhat discouraged group of Minuteman players and coaches who met with reporters after last Saturday's game. It didn't appear to be a lot better early in the week of preparation for the game at Charlotte.
It's hard for the Minutemen to think about getting through this rough start. It's not hard to ask someone who went through it at Williams.
"It sounds cliche, but all the great coaches say this — Belichick preaches this a lot — it's day by day. Every day you're out there, you try to have the best practice you have. After practice, you try to have the best meeting that you can have. When you wake up, you do it all again," Chris Hattar said. "That's all you can control. How you prepare is everything. The result is going to be the result, whatever play it is, whatever quarter it is, whatever half. It's one little thing at a time."
Hattar was a junior captain on Raymond's first Williams team. The closest those Ephs had to get on the winning side of the ledger came in the opener, when a touchdown pass with under 2 minutes to play in the fourth quarter helped give the Ephs a 7-6 lead on Colby. The Mules converted on a fourth down and won the game on a 19-yard field goal with four seconds left.
It isn't easy to get through what UMass is starting to go through or what that Williams team went through.
"It's a grind," Hattar said. "Especially when things aren't going your way, when you can't catch a break in any facet of the game, it's definitely easier said than done. But that's why you have teammates, that's why you have culture. Football's supposed to be fun. I think a big thing is finding ways to make it fun. We were 0-8, things weren't too hot, and we didn't have the best practices. I just went out there with my fellow classmates, and we just tried to have fun the best that we could.
"Just play ball. That's what we were taught to do."
Raymond was not in the same place that Bell is in right now, but it does feel similar.
"It was difficult, of course," said Raymond. "A lot of credit goes to the kids and the assistant coaches for never falling prey to losing. Our guys were upbeat, they worked hard, and continued to get better. You can't lose sight of what your goals are."
One can only imagine that Bell had a couple of sleepless nights during the week between Southern Illinois and Charlotte. Does the UMass coaching staff have the courage of its convictions when it comes to what they want to do? Raymond said they should.
"You always tinker and look for better ways to do things. No matter, if you're winning or losing, you're always looking to get better," the Williams coach said. "Certainly, we develop our philosophy, and we have to stick to that."
And as rough as 0-8 could have been, twelve months later, the Ephs were basking in a nearly worst-to-first turnaround.
"You never want to qualify it by winning. You just want to see certain signs that you're getting better, and the score will take care of itself," Raymond said. "If you play well, you don't turn the ball over, you don't make critical mistakes, you have a chance to win games. That's what we've done, and we hope to continue to do that."
And if Walt Bell, his staff and players follow the road that Williams just walked down, things might get better sooner rather than later.
Howard Herman can be reached at email@example.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 4130496-6253.
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