Jan. 11, 2007
Many of you have read the latest issue of the "Cat's Paws" in which outlined my thoughts on the football program and mentioned an assessment of the overall program. Excerpts of the letter were printed in the Asheville Citizen-Times as well.
If you have not yet received your copy of the "Cat's Paws", the letter is posted below in its entirety. You can also access the online edition by clicking HERE.
We are proud of all of our Catamount teams, student-athletes and coaches. The majority, if not all, of our sports have achieved championship levels of success. This review is not intended to emphasize football over any other sport, but to look for ways to help that program join the other champion-caliber teams we have at Western Carolina University.
It is said that a "rising tide raises all boats." I truly hope that this effort will serve not only to provide opportunities to improve football, but all of our athletic programs.
Letter in the Winter, 2007 edition of "Cat's Paws":
I would like to take this opportunity to talk about the football program, the past season, the issues it has raised, and what we are doing to address them. There has been a tremendous amount of discussion, and I hope this will answer many of your questions.
First, I am as disappointed as anyone about the record of this year's team. After last season's record and playing for a share of the conference title at Appalachian State, prospects for 2007 were exciting. There was talk of another run at the title and playing the Gators as our "bowl" game. But with athletics, as with everything else, the unknown is always close by.
Instead, we lose several coaches and support staff, experience a number of injuries to key people, never find a rhythm offensively, and have a horrible year. Problems that in past seasons would be considered minor become major, and issues that were significant became almost overwhelming. Losing makes everything worse.
Probably the most controversial action was the extension of Coach Kent Briggs' contract. Questions about his record, the timing and the reasoning were abundant. I said at that time, and still feel, that to be successful there needs to be continuity in football just as in any business. There are several other reasons - among them Kent's dedication to the university, a commitment to retain assistant coaches, and deficiencies within the program that are not of any one person's making. These would not have been corrected by simply hiring a new coach.
We play football in the toughest I-AA conference in the country. Our opponents are regularly in the Top 25. Our biggest rival is the 2006 and 2007 National Champion. Playing and coaching football at Western Carolina is a challenge every week. Yet it has been in only the past few years that the program has started to receive the essentials needed to be competitive. Those essentials include a new facility, beginning the financial support necessary to have football student athletes in summer school, a quality weight room, and a locker room comparable to our peers. While these things may not have been necessary to be competitive 10 or 15 years ago, they are now. They are essential for recruiting, for player development, and for success. And they are a great start.
But we have other issues that any coach would have to address. Our coaches are involved in teaching on campus. In a perfect world, this would be a positive, allowing more interaction with the non-athlete students and enabling coaches to provide the benefit of their experience to others. Today, it serves to increase their load and make a coaching job at WCU less desirable than at other places without that requirement. In terms of our peers in the Southern Conference, our coaches' salaries are the lowest, our operating budget is one of the lowest, our recruiting budget is at the bottom, and our overall operating expenses are among the least.
Not only did we lose assistant coaches, but we lost members of the athletics support staff as well. You may be aware that both the head strength and conditioning coach and head athletics trainer resigned over the summer. These are vital members of our department who have an effect on the welfare of every student-athlete. We were fortunate to have qualified people on staff to move up into those positions. This provided for a level of continuity, but we lost a degree of experience in the changes. In addition, it also was necessary to hire four new assistant trainers and a new assistant strength coach over the summer. The training staff and strength staff are teams, much like athletic teams. It takes time to adjust to each other and the jobs. The quality of care has increased with additional staff, but they have had to work very hard to become efficient and effective units.
These problems aren't limited to football - they affect all sports. But football is one of the most visible sports we have and the most resource-intensive by far. And it is one of the sports for which the Southern Conference is known nationally, so the comparisons of Ws and Ls are constant.
Before the end of the season, we began a comprehensive review of the football program and challenges it faces. By month's end, I will have talked with people inside the athletics department, around the university, in the community, and to alumni and student-athletes. We may possibly ask an outside consultant to evaluate the program as well. There are issues both internally and surrounding the team to discuss. The purpose is not to assign blame but to identify the reasons Catamount Football has not achieved any appreciable level of success for almost twenty years. As a result of this review, I will prepare a comprehensive report for the Chancellor, with recommendations on matters that need to be resolved. Subsequent to that report, a plan will be developed that prioritizes the steps necessary to be successful in the Southern Conference.
The past three football coaches have been hired and dismissed, with no noticeable improvement in the football program during their tenures. It is time to identify and address the problems of the football program. We have to define our priorities and goals. It is essential that we look behind the wins and losses to determine why, for too many years, football has not won. If we don't do this in a thoughtful and organized way, we will continue to settle for the current cycle of bumping along at mediocrity and settling for "one-game-over-.500" seasons.
The past few months have been difficult. I apologize for not having posted my "Letters from the AD" lately, but be assured that I have communicated with many of you individually. There is a great deal of dissatisfaction with our efforts. But while no one wants to have a 2-9 season, it is an opportunity to look at everything, take stock in what and who we are, and decide where we want to be and how to get there. We appreciate your support during the season. Please continue to be involved as we move into a promising basketball season and the spring. Stay engaged with the Catamount Club. Come to the games. There are many successes in the Athletics Department; we need to make the football team another one of them.
-Chip Smith, Director of Athletics