Tabor College played in a nice, brand spankin’ new football stadium this fall, but the challenge to produce a winning team on the field is as great as ever.
There was some misguided sentiment that a new stadium would magically produce a winning football team. But the last I checked, new facilities don’t score touchdowns or tackle anyone.
Tabor managed to win two KCAC football championships earlier this decade with a below-average stadium. While it’s convenient to say the new stadium should translate into more wins, the truth is it will still take a lot of work by coaches and players alike.
Joel H. Wiens Stadium levels the playing field and removes some of the excuses for not being able to recruit. It compares favorably with most facilities in the KCAC. That said, recruiting college football players to Hillsboro isn’t a picnic.
Following the resignation by coach Mike Gottsch, one wonders how much time Tabor would have given him to turn the program around. Typically it’s reasonable to assume that a coach should get four to five years, but Gottsch apparently decided three was enough.
One also wonders if Tabor had won a couple or three games if Gottsch would have seen enough improvement to continue for another year.
I’ve lived through Tabor’s entire football history, so I’ve seen the highest highs and the abundant lows surrounding the football program. Most of us have been conditioned to think it’s unrealistic for Tabor to compete for a championship every year. But we’ve seen enough to know that Tabor shouldn’t settle for being a bottom feeder.
Evaluating a program is complicated. It goes beyond wins and losses.
You’d like to see a stable roster of 80 or more. You’d like to see a nice representation of local and area student-athletes. You’d like a minimum number of off-the-field problems. You’d like to have a good retention rate along with a good academic record and graduation rate. And, of course, you’d like to see some success on the field.
During the tenure of Coach Gottsch, there were some positive developments.
Tabor has maintained a roster of 80 or so players. That’s respectable and necessary for the school’s overall enrollment.
Although Tabor’s record has been disappointing the past three seasons—three wins, 27 losses—the team has usually conducted itself well on the field. Some past Tabor teams were embarrassing not only because they lost, but because of the way they lost with frequent personal fouls and unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties.
Gottsch and his assistants did a respectable job of recruiting local and area student-athletes, but more than half the roster was mostly from faraway places—California, Florida and Texas. Problems develop if you load up with guys who are only here for one reason—football—and that doesn’t change over the course of their stay.
It’s difficult to retain student-athletes the farther they are from home, especially when you lose frequently. High turnover is a natural end result.
The football program experienced its greatest success when a large enough contingent hailed from Kansas and surrounding states to ensure continuity and stability and to increase the likelihood that the student-athletes from faraway places would want to stay for four years.
The biggest concern, beyond wins and losses, is the number of games in which Tabor wasn’t competitive. In the first nine weeks, Tabor had an opportunity to win three games (Bethany, Bethel and Southwestern). On two occasions, Tabor was competitive (Kansas Wesleyan and Peru State). And there were four games in which the outcome was never in doubt by early in the second half if not sooner (Friends, Ottawa, Sterling and McPherson).
Winning covers a multitude of problems. Losing exacerbates them.
Make no mistake, Tabor has some talented football players, but maybe there’s a lack of overall talent. Either that or the coaching staff didn’t get the most out of the existing talent. Or, maybe it’s a little of both.
Winning football games at Tabor isn’t impossible, but history has shown it’s difficult.
I wish Coach Gottsch all the best in his future endeavors.