After what can only be called an absolute debacle in 2005, 2006 was supposed to be different for the McGill football program. With their off-field issues supposedly behind them and a strong nucleus of veterans on offence, Head Coach Chuck McMann set the second round of the playoffs as the team’s goal. Instead, they look poised to likely miss the playoffs for the second straight year. While one could argue that the players were largely responsible for last year’s failures, this time the lion’s share of the blame should be directed squarely at McMann.
Coming off a win this weekend over lowly Sherbrooke, McGill sits at 2-4 and tied for fourth in the six team Quebec University Football League. But the disappointing record aside, it’s the direction this team is going in that should result in a re-evaluation of coach McMann’s value to the team come the end of the season.
It’s not quite a cardinal rule in football that the team who runs the ball best will win, but those who follow the game closely know that this is usually the case. Running the ball effectively has a number of positive side effects, such as providing your squad with clock control and the ability to wear down the opposing defence both physically and mentally. That’s not to say that the passing game should be forgone, but a balance must be struck between the two.
This is something the Redmen have completely failed to accomplish this season. The team has averaged just 47.5 yards of rushing offence per game while giving up an astounding 283 yards on defence. It should also be noted that the team allowed a 200-yard rusher in three of its first five games this season. To put this in perspective, a good day for a running back is 100 yards. A 200-yard day is usually a career-best performance and will likely guarantee a win. Clearly, it’s next to impossible to win football games when conceding nearly 300 yards on the ground.
Let’s make one thing clear: This is not the fault of the players. While the McGill defence is a tad undersized and not the most experienced group, there’s nothing they can do about that. McMann has been at the helm for five years now, meaning he recruited each and every one of these players; there are no leftovers from the previous regime. Therefore, if the defence is undersized it’s because he failed to recruit enough big bodies.
The most important factors in recruiting players are the reputations of the coach and the program. With both in decline and the competition growing stronger at Concordia and Université de Montreal, it will only become harder for McMann to draw top talent to McGill; never mind the fact that more than a few families will probably be hesitant to entrust their children to the coach under whose watch last year’s hazing scandal took place.
Fault for the group’s lack of experience also belongs to the coaching staff. With a 1-7 record, more inexperienced players should have been given additional playing time last season. It shows a lack of foresight not to recognize that last year’s team had a number of seniors and that adjustments would be necessary to prepare the squad for this season.
Offensively, the story is similar. Rushing for under 50 yards a game will virtually guarantee defeat and the Redmen have finished two contests this year with zero or fewer yards on the ground and two more with under 35. A team that is so one-dimensional cannot reasonably expect to win football games. What makes this imbalance even stranger is that running backs Michael Samman and Alex Bussandri have shown themselves to be quite capable of rushing the ball effectively, yet they have not been allowed to carry the ball the 15 to 20 times a game that they would need to find a rhythm.
McMann’s first two years were a success-he was even named CIS coach of the year in 2002-but since then the program has been in decline. Football is the best-funded varsity athletic program on campus and, as such, a standard of excellence is demanded from donors, other varsity teams and students. It is time that Athletic Director Derek Drummond took notice of what is happening on Saturday afternoons at Molson Stadium. The players deserve better and the fans certainly expect much more from this supposed gem of the athletics program. While Saturday’s win could be seen as a step in the right direction, we’re not holding our breath. McGill needs to stop the hemorrhaging now. It’s time to end five years of regression and there is only one solution.