Sideline Slant

You’ll have to excuse Tabor College football coach Tim McCarty and his team if they aren’t thrilled with a 5-5 record. That’s as it should be.

Show me a coach who says, “If we win half of our games, I’m satisfied,” and I’ll show you a coach who is about to be a former coach.

One hopes, though, that Coach McCarty and the players appreciate how far they’ve come. Two years ago Tabor was winless-by a mile. Last year Tabor won three games. This year Tabor won five. Most Tabor alumni are ecstatic.

On one hand, Coach McCarty has enjoyed the benefit of almost nonexistent expectations. If he won a game or two and was respectable in any others, he would be viewed as a miracle worker. On the other hand, reaching even that modest level would be no easy feat. Others had tried and failed. A culture of defeatism, where everyone expects failure, can’t be reversed just by declaring it to be ended.

If-and it’s a big if-Tabor is able to win six or more games next year, they may top the incredible turnaround by Bill Snyder’s Kansas State Wildcats in the 1990s.

The comparison isn’t perfect, but there are striking similarities between the NAIA program in Hillsboro and the NCAA Division I program in Manhattan.

Both programs were perennial losers. There were exceptions, but losing was expected and usually achieved.

Both programs have lost numerous football games by large margins.

Before Snyder, the head-coaching job at both schools best resembled a revolving door.

There are some differences, too.

K-State put significant resources into rebuilding its program. Outside of a new weight room, I don’t believe Tabor put many new dollars into football.

K-State invested heavily into the salaries of its coaching staff. I don’t know how much Coach McCarty is paid, but it’s probably little more than Bill Snyder’s ball boys.

K-State’s success translated into a huge increase in attendance and revenue. Tabor’s recent limited success has translated into better student-athlete retention, which is a financial benefit for the school.

In recent years, K-State fans were wondering if Coach Snyder would leave KSU for greener pastures. Tabor football fans should be legitimately concerned about Coach McCarty’s future.

I have never talked to Coach McCarty about his career goals, but if the Tabor football program continues to improve, he’ll be in a great position to climb the coaching ladder if he wants to.

Tabor has long benefited from the dedication of its faculty. Tabor wouldn’t exist today if money were the sole motivating force for teaching or coaching.

Having said that, I hope Tabor understands what it has in McCarty-a coach who believes in the school’s mission as a private Christian liberal arts college. And if the first three years are any indication, it has a coach who knows how to recruit and retain very good student-athletes who are a good fit for Tabor.

One challenge for Tabor is how to show Coach McCarty appreciation. A significant salary increase would be nice, but that may not be feasible when a number of other underpaid faculty also merit significant increases.

Tabor caught a break with Don Brubacher. The college hired a basketball coach who has been successful and devoted to the college. Maybe the same will happen with Coach McCarty.

But the odds are that Coach McCarty won’t spend the majority of his career at Tabor. And the time may come when he’ll choose to move on for any number of reasons.

One thing is for sure-if Tabor treats him right now, he’ll be more inclined to stay longer than if Tabor says a hollow, “Thanks for all you’ve done and good luck next year.”

From what I’ve observed, Christian colleges aren’t always the most Christian when it comes to how they treat their employees. I’m not sure what Tabor can do to encourage Coach McCarty, but the college would be wise to do something significant.

Not that long ago, Tabor lost football games and student-athletes year in and year out. Not that long ago, Tabor alumni and administrators couldn’t wait for the football season to end.

There’s no guarantee that Coach McCarty will complete a football program turn-around. But here’s one sports columnist and Tabor alum hoping that he’ll give it a try.

As Tabor administrators take some well-deserved time off to enjoy their Thanksgiving dinners, they should be thankful that their football program is no longer a turkey.

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