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Sports

October 25, 2012

Best of West: Lessons of history on Lamar football can't be forgotten

PORT ARTHUR — Editor’s note: The following column from the Best of West collection was first published on April 22, 2009.

One of the things you learn from authoring a sports column is that readers sometimes overreact based on what they think they read, instead of what was actually written. Such was the case with last Friday’s Best of West column on apathy toward Lamar football.

The column, first published in 1985, delved into the ongoing pathetic state of the Cardinal football program, discussed how the continued losing translated into thousands of empty seats and suggested the mounting financial losses couldn’t be ignored. Turn it around or shut it down was the conclusion.

Four years and 30 losses later a controversial decision was made to drop football. Since I was pretty much the only one in the media advocating such a drastic move, there was a lot of flak directed this way from the die-hards. To hear some folks tell it, I was at least partially responsible for the end of LU football.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. As one who was regularly roasting key decision makers at Lamar, not only over football but over lame-brained choices that were eroding a once-terrific basketball program, I was basically persona non grata and had zero influence.

Nobody in what I once described as “The Kingdom of Lamar” was listening to me. If they were, Tim Floyd would  have been the Cardinals basketball coach in the late 1980s and there would have been more magical NCAA moments.

Anyway, to get back on message, the Best of West column re-opened some old wounds. Even one of my staunchest supporters said it was “a little harsh.” Others wondered why I was back to hating on Lamar football and questioned if the column was a sign that I was against bringing it back.

Fact is, I’m all for bringing back football at Lamar, and have made that point repeatedly in columns and on my radio show. I like what I see of new coach Ray Woodard, think he’s done a good job putting together a staff and have been impressed with his efforts to build relationships with schoolboy coaches in Southeast Texas.

Beyond that, the two main reasons I’ve been supportive are the wisdom and leadership of LU president Jimmy Simmons and what athletic director Billy Tubbs brings to the table. Billy’s a basketball guy but he understands the problems coaches deal with and, as an alumnus who dearly loves the school that gave him a chance to be a success, is committed to a first-class approach to football.

That said, my favorite quote is: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” My second favorite quote is: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Let’s take a quick look at Lamar football history and how it turned from good to disastrous.

Once upon a time the Cardinals had a very good coach named Vernon Glass who won games, put people in the stands and captured Southland Conference championships. Success, however, beget an attitude of “we can do bigger things,” which led to more ambitious schedules and ultimately to Glass’ downfall.

Bottom line, he was asked to take a step up but to do it without the necessary financial boost. Equipped with the same short stick, he was no match for bigger dogs. The day Glass was fired and replaced by one of his long-time assistants marked the beginning of the end.

Four coaches followed Glass over a 14-year period. During that stretch, Lamar had one winning season — 6-3-2 under Larry Kennan in 1979. The overall record during those 14 years was 43-106-42. In the decade of the ‘80s, the Cardinals were 31-77-1. Many of the losses were blowouts.

I didn’t blame the coaches nearly as much as the people who hired them. While it’s true that hiring coaches is an inexact science, that wasn’t Lamar’s excuse. With the exception of Kennan, the coaching choices were so blatantly and obviously bad it was almost like somebody had a death wish for the program.

To make matters worse, they were all handed Vernon Glass’ short stick.

So what does all that have to do with Ray Woodard and a program that won’t play its first game until 2010? Nothing for now. And, as long as Jimmy Simmons and Billy Tubbs are around, it won’t be a factor. But both are over 70. They won’t be in their current positions forever.

Nor will Walter Umphrey’s checkbook.

Times do change and history does repeat. All too often it’s because people didn’t learn from that history. What better example than the lessons America failed to learn from a foolish, costly war in Vietnam?

Working in Lamar’s favor in the near future is the new mindset Simmons has created as president. What he’s accomplished in four months shy of a decade, in all areas of the university, is downright mind boggling. Some folks are difference makers and this man clearly falls into that category.

If Jimmy Simmons were 50 years old and calling the shots for the next 20 years, there would be little reason to worry about Lamar’s history repeating. Ditto for Billy Tubbs. Hopefully, their successors will be history students.

Meantime, the biggest obstacle I see for Lamar football is selling  and marketing it in an area of divided college loyalties and suspect sports passion. Depending on the school’s ticketing plan, fan numbers should be pretty good for a year or two. But will Southeast Texans support Cardinal football if it doesn’t do the next-to-impossible and become a big winner overnight?

History — there’s that word again — says no. Other than Nederland and PN-G football, I don’t see too much sports passion on a grand scale. High school stadiums in Beaumont certainly aren’t anywhere close to being packed. Beaumont, in fact, is a crummy sports town.

If LU football makes it attendance wise, Mid-County, Port Arthur, Orange, Silsbee and other outlying areas will be the backbone.

Factor in how much quality football — Big 12, SEC, Pac 10, etc — is now available on TV and Lamar’s fan challenge may be even tougher than it was 20 years ago. So it’s not like this is going to be a slam dunk, even if it’s being done right.

Watching the process unfold, however, should be fun and could be rewarding.

Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at rdwest@usa.net.

    

    

    

    

    

    

 

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