Jim Gazzolo column: Strong finish could help change culture

Published 9:00 am Thursday, November 10, 2022

From the moment he stepped off the plane in Lake Charles just before last Christmas, Gary Goff had a clear theme to this season: change the culture.

By all accounts a lot of that has taken place, the Cowboys are accountable and practice better and play harder than in recent years.

Still they have won two games and lost seven.

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Maybe changing the culture is a nice way of saying we need a lot more talent.

However, with two regular-season games remaining McNeese State could still prove that the culture truly is changing.

After knocking off Eastern Illinois last weekend the Cowboys have a shot at ending the season on a run. Their remaining foes have combined to win three games with one of those against the other.

That starts Saturday at Houston Christian, the site of McNeese’s last road win a year ago. The 44-3 thumping was a season-best for a team that won four games.

This group would love to match that 4-7 record. While it may not seem like much, winning in Houston and then finishing the next week at home with a victory against Lamar would feel much better.

It would also signal the culture change Goff is looking for. A strong closing is not what the Cowboys have done of late.

In three of their last four seasons McNeese has limped to the finish line, seemingly having lost interest weeks before.

Last year McNeese lost three of its last four, including an embarrassingly poor effort at home against Northwestern State in the season finale. That left a sour taste in the mouth of every Cowboys fan who witnessed or heard about it.

Players showed their disinterest through their effort, or lack of. The coaching staff seemed to have checked out as well.

That spring McNeese lost three of its last five and while the Cowboys won their last three in 2019, they lost their last three the year before, finishing 6-5 after starting 5-1.

So Goff and his players do have a real chance to change the last part of the culture over the next couple of Saturdays. They can end the season on a high note, showing they played the season out until the end.

“The thing I have been most proud of this year is that these guys have come to practice and play every day,” Goff said. “They have worked hard no matter what the adversity.”

The players have said the same of their coaches, who seem to be teaching right down to the last moments.

There is nobody kidding themselves into thinking one good win over another struggling team suddenly means McNeese has turned the corner.

Nor will winning the last two games meaning anything more either.

But if the Cowboys play as hard over their next eight quarters as they have over the previous eight then they will have indeed proven the culture is changing.

A four-win season won’t mean the Cowboys program is back, nor is it really an improvement on last year, but by winning the last three games things will feel like they are starting to go in the right direction.

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