Written by Andrew Ottoson Tuesday, 08 December 2009 20:28
Excitement is hard to quantify, but it has been easy to see and hear surrounding the Tabor College football program since the announcement of the return of coach Mike Gardner.
If common sense suggests expectations dipped after his departure, history says otherwise. Recall that in August 2006, the Bluejays were picked fourth in the preseason polls despite a media day presentation by Robert Rubel that one of the other conference coaches called a “snow job”—meaning that, despite Rubel’s attempt to lower expectations, at least one person being paid to understand Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference football believed the Bluejays would continue to excell in the KCAC despite the graduation of many members of one of the greatest teams in the college’s history.
And such beliefs were not uncommon; the headlines on our 2006 Extra Point fall sports preview section were “New coach but same aspiration for Bluejays” and “Tabor College head coach Robert Rubel takes over a KCAC championship squad featuring lots of depth and high hopes.”
When Rubel’s team made headlines for all the wrong reasons in December 2006, his contract was not renewed. As significantly, the excitement that accompanied the prior seasons melted into an uncertain mixture: goals which had been attained barely a year before suddenly seemed unreachable amid mounting uneasiness about the costs of competitiveness.
In my first days on campus (as a freshman in Fall 2000) I became aware of an ongoing dialogue about the apparent contradictions of incorporating football—a violent sport—into the culture and curriculum of a college founded by a religious group who self-identified as pacifists and may be historically recognized as such.
The strains and stresses of this faith-sports dialectic has rarely been more visible than during the days and weeks after the “Turmoil at Tabor.”
All of this was in view when Mike Gottsch was hired to “Restore the Order”—a goal set formally by the 2007 team’s seniors, which was referenced in the headline above the article in that year’s Extra Point.
So part of Gottsch’s challenge was ideological—to provide a proof-of-concept example that Tabor could still field a team capable of meeting the community’s standards of character.
In this Gottsch was unequivocally successful; the off-field behavior of his teams never begged questions of whether football can be integrated into a small-college Christian liberal arts education.
But the fact that Gottsch felt compelled to resign speaks volumes about the state of expectations for the team on the field.
To put it bluntly, losing has been unacceptable to the Bluejays since the days of the championships. So...have expectations dipped during the time Gardner has been away? I don’t think so.
It is my sense that expectations surrounding the Tabor football team have increased every year during my years with the Free Press. You can see for yourself just taking one look at the new stadium.
By hiring Gardner, Tabor completely crushed this coaching change. They got their man, and they got him in a quick, decisive fashion. And Tabor had to get this one right—there was no margin for error.
Now if, heaven forbid, the Bluejays continue to struggle to win for three more years? I think that might lower expectations.
I’m not sure anybody likes facing high expectations, except, maybe, legendary men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski.
He’s a very competitive person, so he probably hates scenes like the one at Wisconsin, where fans recently celebrated a win over Duke like a World War had just ended.
Is it excessive to suggest calling the day after every victory over Duke a “V-D day”?