January 05, 2017
We could write a whole book about how godawful this year has been from a number of viewpoints. If you were a fan of music, you lost industry legends Prince, Merle Haggard, David Bowie and Leonard Cohen -- not to mention three of top five Billboard 100 songs this year were Justin Bieber tunes.
In the realm of film and television we lost Oscar nominee Alan Rickman, beloved TV dad Alan Thicke, emmy nominee Abe Vigoda and all-time great funnyman Gary Shandling. And somehow, some way “The Big Bang Theory” is still the highest rated network television show.
In even more serious matters the world saw the outbreak of the Zika virus, the Orlando nightclub shootings and the siege of Aleppo amongst other international tragedies.
Don’t even get me started on the damned election.
In short, 2016 just sucked for about everybody. Including sports fans like myself. No, not even the wretched witch that was 2016 could keep her hands off America’s greatest escapism.
She took Gordie Howe, Muhammad Ali, Dave Mirra and Pearl Washington from us. All of them grouped with greatest athletes to play in their respective sports – and will never see this world again.
As if that wasn’t enough, beloved figures like John Saunders and Craig Sager left behind their legacies in broadcasting. Never again will Saunders’ silky baritone voice grace our Saturday afternoons, nor will the flamboyant suits or casual, everyman charm of Sager grace NBA sidelines ever again.
This year’s inadequateness was felt just as hard here in Statesboro, albeit on not so much a morbid level as the rest of the world. Outside of losing Nate Hirsch – longtime beloved Georgia Southern broadcaster – things here in Statesboro were bad for other reasons.
The year 2016 stunk in Statesboro because Georgia Southern’s football team – for lack of a better word – stunk.
On a macro level, what happens in southeast Georgia seems insignificant to the rest of the country. No, Georgia Southern isn’t Alabama, Ohio State or Texas in terms of size, money or media coverage – but their supporters are just as rabid, passionate and demanding of excellence.
Six national championship flags fly over Paulsen Stadium, still an FCS record now safe for one more year after North Dakota State fell to James Madison in the FCS semi-finals this year. Sure, those titles didn’t come in “big boy football” as the Twitter trolls would call it but it doesn’t delegitimize the accomplishments of Georgia Southern’s program in its short 34 years of recent history.
So with all of that in mind it’s understandable why fans’ feathers were so ruffled when their beloved Eagles fell to 5-7 following back-to-back nine win seasons following a move up to D-1 FBS. Only two seasons have seen worse and the men in charge of those teams – Brian VanGorder and Frank Ellwood – were relieved of their duties after one season.
So you could say current boss Tyson Summers is thankful his team was able to pull out a big win against Troy on the last game of the season to douse the cou d'eta of boosters who were ready to give him the heave-ho – because the failures of 2016 can be attributed to his crack coaching staff.
We all knew going out to hire a coach who had no experience running the option style of offense was going to be a risk. The option – not even necessarily the traditional wishbone style – is what has worked at Southern since the days of Erk Russell.
Anyone who’s come in to try and fix it has been run out of town. So why did Summers try it? Why did Apple take the headphone jack out of the new iPhone? Why did Coke try to change their formula to New Coke?
Sometimes, rich and powerful people can be stupid. It happens.
It was clear from the opening game against Savannah State whatever new offensive coordinators Rance Gillespie and David Dean were drawing up was a far drop off from last season’s offense run by Doug Ruse.
Explosive runs? Gone. Offensive continuity? Non-existent. Offensive identity? Never heard of it. What was a top 25 offense from last year fell to the bottom 30 this season with essentially the same cast of characters.
Look no further for evidence of offensive ineptitude than Matt Breida, Georgia Southern’s do-it-all running back. After averaging around 1,550 yards, 17 touchdowns at 8.3 yards a carry in 2014 and 2015 – he rushed for 646 at 3.8 yards a carry with three scores this year.
Brieda didn’t forget how to run, the offensive line didn’t forget how to block – the offensive coaching staff forgot how to scheme.
To Summers’ credit he is not an offensive coach, so he wasn’t the one scheming things. But he made the hires, and as the head man that ultimately falls on his shoulders.
After a disappointing season in a disappointing year, Summers needed something we all look forward to in the new year: a fresh start.
He did himself a favor by going out and hiring Bryan Cook, the quarterbacks/B-backs coach at Georgia Tech, to run the offense the way most Georgia Southern fans have come to know and love. What Erk Russell would call: “The right way.”
So it looks as if Summers has done what we all hope to do in the new year – learn from his mistakes to try for a better new year. Fans should appreciate that, because it’s something we all try to do in the new year.
So let’s all do like Summers as fans and as people. Learn from our mistakes and move on from the crapshoot that has been 2016.
As the cliche goes, in a year as bad as 2016 there’s only one direction to go – up.