Jim Gazzolo column: Wishes take time to be filled

Published 12:26 pm Thursday, November 23, 2023

Christmas seemed to come early in 2021.

It was mid-December when Gary Goff arrived in town with all the hype old St. Nick gets during the holiday season.

Athletic Director Heath Schroyer had flown Santa Goff to town, not on a sleigh pulled by any special reindeer, but rather a private jet. The newest and highest-paid coach in program history was expected to fill McNeese State fans’ stockings with goodies and victories.

Email newsletter signup

Footballs were to fill the sky and touchdowns would ignite the end zone cannon inside Cowboy Stadium.

Two seasons later we have gotten more lumps of coal than we could have ever imagined or feared.

It’s not all Santa Goff’s fault. Some of it is ours, and maybe even most of it is ours.

We wanted so badly to believe in miracles. We needed so badly to believe in miracles.

Having been told the game had passed McNeese by, that academic probation, storms, and years of taking for granted our opponents, didn’t matter, we felt McNeese could turn things around as quickly as it had lost its way.

So we wrote our letters to Santa Goff and told him our hopes and dreams.

And, like a good Santa, he promised to deliver.

As if wishing would make it all possible, we sat around the tree and waited for the championship presents to roll in. In a disintegrating league where all the other good teams were leaving, Cowboys fans felt the titles would be gift-wrapped from Lamar, Houston Christian, or even Southeastern Louisiana.

So the band played, the cheerleaders cheered and all was right in the world when Goff first stepped off the plane in Lake Charles.

Yet as visions of championships danced in our heads, we missed the warning signs.

We all missed them, not just one of us or two of us. And the bad part is there wasn’t one sign, nor were there two signs.

Those troubling signs were everywhere.

Senior classes with numbers that could be counted on one hand was perhaps the biggest. We made light of the time three years ago when a total of seven players were celebrated on Senior Day.

We figured that would never happen again.

Yet nobody was really laughing 10 days ago when six Cowboys were honored in the ceremony.

You can’t win football games without older players, that is just a fact. Experience matters and we all missed that which was the biggest of signs.

We also missed how much talent left the program when coaches took off after one or two years. They didn’t go alone, they took some of the best Cowboys with them.

We also didn’t notice as other schools throughout the

Southland Conference began to invest in their programs and improve their coaching staffs.

Also not considered was the entire landscape of college athletics, particularly football, had drastically shifted. The NCAA transfer portal and NIL money have turned even the FCS level into an arms race each fall when players look for new opportunities.

Now some of the same folks who welcomed Goff with open arms less than two years ago are ready to brush him away as if another Santa can fill our wish list. They even promise to be nice to him.

The truth is you can’t magically wish all the problems in the program away.

Schroyer made it official on Monday that Goff will be back for a third season, a move that seems wise. Granted, most head coaches don’t survive a winless season these days and it is hard for some to swallow.

Championship programs are not built on social media or even wishes. They are built by hard work and through painful lessons, and yes, even losses.

Goff may or may not be our Santa, but he deserves at least a full chance to make our wishes come true.

If nothing else, we need to see what he can do with a few of his own full cookies — despite having 57 of his own newcomers in August — to work with and not just the crumbs past Santas have left behind.

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