Ed Gotwals: Trojan football needs total buy in
By the end of September last fall, it was pretty clear that Mark Saunders would not be back in 2016 as the Chambersburg football coach, either by him resigning or by the school moving on.
So after Central Dauphin administered a 42-7 beating on the Trojans that night, I asked CD coach Glen McNamee a question: Do you think Chambersburg will have any trouble getting good candidates to apply here?
McNamee smiled, raised his arms and did a little twirl, looking up into the stands of Trojan Stadium, and said, "With this facility? No. Look at how many fans were here tonight (even if they are losing). There is a lot to work with here."
Chambersburg now has its new coach, Mark Luther. I've met the man one time and was impressed. He seems to have an understated confidence about him and he seems to understand that turning the program around so that it's at least competitive every year will not be an easy task.
CASHS athletic director Jeremy Flores said he received a little over 20 applications for the position, and that's not bad.
So now the Trojans have their man.
But what has to happen for this often downtrodden program to get some legs under it? Saunders carved out a pair of winning seasons in his 5 1/2-year stint, though even he would admit that the last of two 6-5 seasons should have probably been 8-3 or better. But those are the only winning seasons in the last 17 years.
What is it that enables teams like Central Dauphin and Cumberland Valley to be contenders every year?
From my spot on the couch, I can see three things that have to happen, and none are likely to happen very quickly. It's not that Luther doesn't know these things, but he could use some help achieving them.
SUPPORT: Can we please get behind this coach and let him do his job? And I'm not talking just for next year, I'm talking for three, five, 10 years. Give him time to get his assistants in place, to put his philosophy to work, to build up the numbers, and to teach the players how he wants things done.
It's called community support. Too many Trojan coaches have not had that luxury. It makes a huge difference.
Flores said, "We need a team effort for this program to get turned around. From kindergarten to 80- and 90-year-old taxpayers, we're all Trojans, and we need to get behind what we're trying to do."
THE BUY IN: Let's go back to that conversation with McNamee in September. I asked him a question that I expected would be hard to answer: What is it about programs like yours at CD that make it different than one like Chambersburg?
He thought for a few seconds, clearly wanting to say it the right way, and what he said was, simply, "The kids - and this is important: the parents, too - buy in all the way."
To paraphrase: The players know early on in their careers that they really want to be on the Rams' football team, and they know what it will take for them to achieve that goal - a lot of hard work and dedication. And the parents support that by getting them to camps and making sure they do the work (i.e., lifting weights). And, just as important if not more so, the parents back up the coaches.
At Chambersburg, there always seems a small core of players who are dedicated, but not enough. If there are five or six Trojans doing the work needed, there are 20-30 CD players doing the work. Which team do you think will win?
THE YOUTH ISSUE: One of Luther's priorities is to get the local youth football programs to buy in, too. He's got a head start, because he has coached locally at the youth level, so he's seen the problem first hand.
The emphasis locally has, for the most part, been to win games. Instead, it should be about developing players. Make the game fun and teach the players good skills and fundamentals. Winning should be last on the list.
I had a discussion with former Cumberland Valley coach Tim Rimpfel about this problem. At the time, CV had youth teams playing in three or four different leagues, but the one constant was that every youth coach taught the same system on offense and defense. So by the time those players reached high school, they knew exactly how to run Rimpfel's wing-T offense and its basic defense.
How much more time could a high school coach spend on technique and game planning if he didn't have to worry about teaching the system?
Luther said he's been in contact with former Trojan player Matt Bender, who has been on the coaching staff at Wilson - a perennial District 3 contender - for 15 years. He asked him what what the keys to that program's success were and Bender said two things: staff longevity and getting kids involved in a season-long lifting program, even if they are playing other sports.
The answers are out there, and Luther seems to have a good grasp of what they are.
But he's going to need help to implement them.