Jim Gazzolo column: Do the right thing comes to Cowboys

Published 10:05 am Thursday, January 13, 2022

Gary Goff has picked up a quarterback, added a kicker and has others ready through the NCAA transfer portal and on the McNeese State campus.

It’s a good start, but far from the finish line.

The new head football coach of the Cowboys has promised to bring an exciting offense to town.

Great words to hear, but players come and go. Assistant coaches come and go. Playbooks can be changed with the turn of a page.

None of those are Goff’s biggest challenge anyway, as he continues in his first month as the program’s 18th football coach.

There has been a lot that’s gone wrong since the last time McNeese won a Southland Conference championship in the fall of 2015. That’s all been well documented and discussed.

While opinions vary from fan to fan as to what is McNeese’s most pressing need, we have to remember players and coaches, X’s and O’s are just the symptoms of McNeese’s recent demise. You still have to cure the disease.

Most casual fans don’t really know what it is that ails the Cowboys. Goff needs to figure that out with a quick diagnosis.

To those who have followed the program, it seems simple: the culture needs to change.

The past should be embraced, but as times have changed McNeese football was caught flat-footed. Just because it was good enough before doesn’t make it good enough now.

So change is welcome, but it goes deeper than that.

Without pointing fingers, McNeese lost its way. It lost its identity on the field and lost its standards off it. This fact was swept away in the aftermath of the storms of 2020.

Hurricanes did massive damage that was noticeable, but the program had slipped long before they ever started forming in the Gulf. The warning signs were clear as those announcing oncoming storms along the highways.

Washed out of the minds of most was the academic troubles that put the program on NCAA probation. That started the exodus of talent by transfers and seemed to mark the program unstable.

But it even began before that, when coaches forget to make their players accountable in the classroom. Without that, discipline on the field fell apart as well.

Accountability is the standard by which all winning programs are built.

Players have to be accountable to each other, and must be held accountable by coaches.

This will all have to start with Goff, who must build around what is important. A program can’t survive when players are being arrested or involved in gun play.

Playing the right way on the field starts by doing the right thing off it.

It also means doing the right thing when nobody else is watching. Only when that is the standard do teams not jump offside in critical moments, not grab a face masks on a key third down and not hold at the end of a long gain.

Goff says he is the type of guy who picks up paper off the floor when he comes across it. That’s the type of players he is looking for, the type of program he wants.

More often than not in the recent past trash has been simply swept under the rug and left for others to clean up.

Goff says he wants to run a program that does the right thing when nobody is looking so it will do the right when everybody is watching.

That’s the type of change needed to make McNeese elite again.

That’s the challenge for Goff.

Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese State athletics for the American Press. Email him at jimgazzolo@yahoo.com