by Kent Sterling
I had an interesting conversation with ESPN’s Jason Whitlock a couple of years ago about whether he, or anyone, really needs to attend the games to cover a team. His point was valid, watching a game from a press box is not nearly as revealing as what you can see on television, and you can get the quotes during the postgame via the internet. My sense was that Whitlock didn’t like to travel for reasons of convenience rather than being in the best position to watch the game, but I get his point.
Watching the behavior of the people involved immediately following the disappointment of a loss or joy of a victory is very instructive. Going to Bloomington for the games these past two weeks, and then observing the players and coaches made available gives context to words that would be otherwise inaccessible.
The Hoosiers players and coaches appear to believe that the most important play is the next one, and that their season will be defined by the effort made from this point forward. There are a lot of athletes and coaches who pay lip service to that philosophy, but few actually buy into it.
I played high school soccer a lifetime ago, and our most hated rivals were the Trinity (Louisville, KY) Shamrocks. I detested those bastards. Every single time we played them, I could not wait to get tangled up with one of their wings and put him on his ass. Beating Trinity was the best – only slightly ahead of beating Indianapolis Heritage Christian, St. Xavier, or any other team we played. The two times we played Trinity my senior year, a play I made led directly to the winning goal being scored for Trinity. I remember exactly where I was for both plays, what specific physical movement I made to cause them to be able to score, and I still feel the pain. It’s like the games ere yesterday. Putting a loss behind you is hard work requiring discipline.
After talking to three players (TE Ted Bolser, K Mitch Ewald, and WR Cody Latimer), and listening to three coaches, including head coach Kevin Wilson, I believe the Hoosiers are more focused on looking ahead to Bowling Green Saturday than looking back on a disappointing loss that was a good bounce or two from being a historically weird win. I’ve never seen a team win a game without a defensive stop, have you?
Wilson’s demeanor specifically is very interesting. When he was hired, Wilson appeared to be completely bereft of a sense of humor or ability to see a moment in life as anything more than motivation to work even harder than he already did. The thought that Wilson might allow the players to blow off some steam during yesterday’s practice, less than 24 hours removed from a disappointing loss, was an impossibility.
It wasn’t as though the game was forgotten, but the discussion of what went wrong was very forthright and clinical. There was a complete acknowledgement of the corrections that need to be made, but they didn’t carry the loss as unnecessary emotional baggage.
Now Wilson is not a stand up comedian. He looks like a coach, talks like a coach, and walks like a coach, but he seems to be completely minus the anger that lesser men would indulge.
I’m not that telling the team in the locker room as Wilson claimed today that they would score every possession and make a play on an onside kick to win imbued his defense with the confidence needed to get a stop, but what Wilson lacked in optimism he made up for by being very close to correct.
Not only do I like what Wilson and his coordinators have to say, but the way in which they say it. It would be very easy to see what happened Saturday night to a team that was a double digit underdog and go fire and brimstone, but this is a long season, and the behavior exhibited by the leaders of this team show that they believe brighter days are ahead. The only way Indiana will reverse course and begin to win is for Wilson and his staff to believe that day is coming.
It sure seems like they do, and that’s how the work gets done.