10/19/12 — Unrealistic expectations, unfair criticism can cause harm

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Unrealistic expectations, unfair criticism can cause harm

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on October 19, 2012 1:48 PM

Ruffin McNeill's words were subtle and perhaps lost in the shuffle of a post-game press conference, but their truth can never be underestimated.

"I'm proud to get the win, wins are hard in this business. Wins are hard," McNeill said following East Carolina's season-opening 35-13 win over Appalachian State.

If only we as fans, parents of players, athletic boosters and others associated with various local football programs fully understood just how right McNeill was in his comments.

In recent weeks I have sat in two different high school press boxes and listened as those who claim to be "supporters" of a pair of local teams openly criticized their respective head football coach or the entire team.

As I sat there and listened to four quarters of complaining, I could not help but wonder how these "supporters" would feel if a head football coach showed up unannounced at their place of employment to perform a job evaluation. Perhaps we would think twice about ridiculing a head football coach if he got to sit in our office and observe us for three hours once a week.

Regardless of your profession there is a time when a failure to perform up to reasonable standards warrants a fair and honest evaluation of your abilities. However, the performance of head football coaches on the high school level should be measured against the amount of talent they have to work with and their impact on the lives of their players.

The schools in Wayne County and the surrounding areas are like those in any other part of the country in that there are some who are blessed with more football talent than others. Talent, especially on the high school level, is cyclical. Even those schools that historically have an abundance of talent go through phases where the cupboard is not always full.

Expecting the current coach or Vince Lombardi to magically transform one of the area's "have nots" into a perennial state championship contender is wishful thinking.

Blaming a head coach for failing to win consistently with minimal talent not only adds unnecessary negativity to a struggling program, but it also displays ignorance. There is a responsibility that comes with being a fan and part of that responsibility is having a realistic view of where your favorite team fits on the high school football totem pole.

One of the press boxes I recently sat in is at a school that has a first-year head coach. This particular person has invested in the lives of his players and established a routine of team devotions. He speaks to his team frequently about the importance of character and determination.

Six games into the tenure of a head coach who places priority on turning boys into men is entirely too early to begin questioning his ability to win football games.

Yes, winning does matter and it instills pride into athletic programs and communities. Success is a goal every football team or local business should always have.

The problem starts when rational thinking and emphasis on building character in young men are exchanged for unrealistic expectations and unfair criticism.