Thursday, December 23, 2010

Building a Winner

For the sixth season in a row, The DIII National Championship was played between University of Wisconsin Whitewater, and Mount Union. UW-W won it's second straight title. These two programs are doing all the right things to make their programs successful...they have found the right combination to achieve superiority in D3 football.
What makes up that "right combination"? I think there are seven essential elements that any team would have to develop to the fullest to get these type of results. In no particular order, they are:

Institutional Support
Alumni and Community Support
Player Commitment
Patience and Flexibility

In 1980, The College of William and Mary hired alumni Jimmye Laycock as their head football coach. Laycock was a former William and Mary quarterback under Lou Holtz, and had gone on to develop a nice coaching resume' before returning to his Alma mater to replace Jim Root. Coach Laycock finished his first season at William and Mary with a 2-9 record, and was 5-6 at the end of his second season. In season three, Laycock's team could only post a 3-8 record.  It was not until season four that William and Mary posted its first winning season under Laycock, finishing 6-5. 
2010 marked coach Laycock's 31st season as the head coach at William and Mary. His record is now 208-145-2. This is a record that any coach would be proud of, but I would venture to say that there were concerns in the beginning about the direction the team was going. Since that time, William and Mary has appeared in two national semi final games, and in 2005, had a player, Lang Campbell win the Walter Payton award as the best D1 AA (FCS) player in the country. I very much believe that William and Mary has achieved their success as has Mount Union and University of Wisconsin-Whitewater by developing and utilizing these elements above.

Breaking down the elements


In short, this is the full time job of most coaches. Recruiting is a process of tracking players in their high school careers, and, within NCAA guidelines, developing a dialog with the player to attempt to secure him as a student athlete. I will not pretend to be particularly knowledgeable about college recruiting, but it is truly one cornerstone of where success in a program lies. You have to be able to identify your needs, both short and long term to know what players to go after. A coach must be able to develop a rapport with not only the player, but also his parents so that he can give everyone involved all of the information necessary to make the best decision.
D3 recruiting is a different animal than any other level of NCAA football because there are no scholarships. Tuition can be very expensive, and with no scholarship to defray the cost, the job of the recruiter is much more difficult. In the USA South there is another added dimension of difficulty in recruiting...regional competition for athletes. In Virginia there are nine D3 schools competing for virtually the same regional pool of talent. It is a tough sell when, of those schools, eight of them are private colleges, and one is public. While this public vs. private debate has been hashed out many times, the difference in tuition alone is a compelling factor when a student athlete is trying to make his decision on which college to attend.


A huge tool in recruiting, facilities are a visual statement of how committed the college is to backing the program, and fielding a winning team. To the visiting recruit, the athletic facilities can leave an indelible impression, and can make a huge difference as to the choice of schools.
To draw on William and Mary again, the last five years have been years of phenomenal transition in the facilities at the Williamsburg school. In 2005, lighting was added to Zable Stadium. Built in 1935 at a cost of  $138,395.00, the 12,259 seat stadium can now accommodate night games. In 2006, The field was re-done with state of the art athletic playing surface- Field Turf Pro. This surface can be found on 20 NFL fields.
In 2007, a state of the art scoreboard was unveiled that has replay capabilities, and in 2008, The Jimmye Laycock Football Center was opened. This 30,445 sq. foot building is a top notch facility that has every amenity needed. The cost of this facility was 11 million dollars, and was totally financed through private donations.In addition to this facility, two practice football fields were added.
William and Mary has one of the top FCS programs in the country, and I am sure the facilities are a factor in getting great student athletes to attend.
I could not be happier with the construction of the Hank Norton Athletic Center. This is a facility that Ferrum has needed for many years, and it will be a gem to all outdoor sports at Ferrum. While I do not advocate the installation of Field Turf Pro, I do hope that the second phase of the Hank Norton Center will soon follow phase I.  Below is an artist rendering of what the press box will look like. In addition to this, there are enhancements planned to the stadium facade, and new, modernized restrooms are planned.

Alumni and Community Support

Alumni and community support is something that Ferrum must continue to rely on for Phase II to become a reality. I believe the College is committed to this entire project, but in reality, donations from alumni and friends of Ferrum will have to come through in order for this to happen.
Many colleges have established athletic support groups that are very effective at raising funds for their particular school.

 Christopher Newport - Captains Club,
 North Carolina Wesleyan - The Battling Bishops Club.
Methodist- Booster Club
Greensboro - Twelfth Man Athletics Council or TMAC
Shenandoah University- Shenandoah University Athletic Association (SUAA)
Averett -Cougar Club
I was unable to find any information about a booster type program at either Maryville, or Ferrum.

I believe this is a difficult undertaking for Ferrum for three reasons:

Rural location, and proximity to a large population base
Current Economic Conditions make fundraising an uphill battle
Recent efforts to secure funding for the Norton Center, and the necessity for continued funding for this project.

Difficult however does not mean impossible, and I truly believe that this is something that needs to be revived at Ferrum. If memory serves me correctly, there has been a (and may still be) a Black Helmet Club. I am not sure if this was something that was only open to former football players, or if this was something that any one could join. At any rate, an athletic booster club MUST be developed and have a presence throughout all athletic programs.

Institutional Support

In this category, I would give Ferrum College an A+ for their recent steps to show a commitment to Ferrum football. The approval to build the Hank Norton Center, and the naming of David Harper as the new head coach are both excellent decisions. These two steps will advance the cause of Ferrum football, and go a long way to making Ferrum a contender once again.

While these two steps are important, there are things that still have to be done:

There is still a coaching vacancy. and this needs to be filled as soon as possible.

Besides that current vacancy, I believe that it would be beneficial to add another coach to the staff.

As it appears that two more sports are about to be added....Men's Lacrosse, and Women's Swimming, Ferrum needs to seriously consider adding a second full time person to the Sports Information Directors office, and expanding the budget for this offices functions. It is very important that the football program is not only covered in the local press, but is more noticeable overall. Re-introduce Ferrum football to Franklin County and beyond. A marketing campaign of sorts to generate interest.

Lastly in this realm, I would advocate that a college must be mindful of academic offerings, and not be afraid to enhance these. This too is a factor in where a prospective student athlete decides to attend, and a college needs to stay on the forefront with majors that give a student the best chance to get into the job market, and and earn a comfortable living.


It is in any programs best interest to try to hire the best coaches available. I completely support the hiring of David Harper as head coach. This was the right move. What I am looking for next is the employment announcement to fill the assistant coaching vacancy created when he was promoted. This past season, Ferrum's coaching staff had six assistants under Davis. (This includes Harper who was actually the Associate Head Coach) I would like to see one additional coach hired. Christopher Newport, Methodist, Maryville, and Averett all have nine coaches listed on their website. Shenandoah has ten, While North Carolina Wesleyan, Greensboro, and Ferrum all list seven coaches.( These totals do not include volunteer, or student assistant coaches...The seven coaches for Ferrum represent the number listed on the website during the 2010 season)
I believe that one more coach would help share the load, and allow for more specialization...For example, instead of having a Secondary coach, you could have a defensive backs coach, and a safeties coach.
Given the recent naming of Harper as head coach, I would expect that he will be evaluating all phases of the program, and looking to make necessary adjustments to achieve success.
I feel that the retention of athletes will be a major emphasis for coach Harper and his staff. It is a problem that exists in many of the private colleges in the conference, and has been discussed before in other posts on this blog. (Dec. 15, 2009) This will be a major factor in producing a winning program at Ferrum, and I am sure will be a top priority for Ferrum.

Player Commitment

The commitment level of the players is something that also has to be year around. Academics will always come first, but in order to be the best, you have to be able to beat the best. To this point, Ferrum has not quite gotten there. They were, in 2010 picked as "the best of the rest" behind Averett, North Carolina Wesleyan, and CNU. I believe that one thing that is keeping those three teams ahead of Ferrum may be the athlete commitment. Are the players regularly in the weight room? Are they focused on getting better at their position? What are they doing to win a starting job instead of being on the sidelines? Ferrum's coaches, like all coaches that place a premium on winning will start the best 11 players. That leaves some people on the bench, and the only way for one of those on the sideline to get in the game is to be the best at the position. The players have to work year around to be the best. This is not a 4 month a year sport, it has to be a year around effort.
One thing I would like to see in this regard is an improved JV program that will give the underclassmen game experience. I would hope that at least five or six games would be able to be scheduled, and that by doing this,  players will become more knowledgeable about their position and role, thus preparing them for a smooth varsity transition.
Athletes who come to Ferrum to play football have to realize that they will not likely be a starter in their freshman year. It is possible, but not the norm. I feel that there are many factors that may lead to a student athlete leaving Ferrum, but it may not always be the same thing. With the economy as bad as it has been since the 1929 Depression, cost alone may be a factor. Playing time may well be another. Playing time will be awarded to the best prepared, and most capable athletes. In order to be a starter, the athlete must make his training a year round proposition. All athletes have to prepare by spending more time in the weight room and on the practice field in order to get a starting job. Off season preparation is the key to being ready when the season begins.

Patience and Flexibility

The process to build the Ferrum football program back to a contending program will not be an overnight process. This will not only take time (remember the Jimmye Laycock example), but will require success in all of the elements I listed. It is not the coaches who have the sole responsibility of fielding a winning team. It is the players, the administration, the boosters, and the alumni and community that have to step up and help.
It is easy to sit back and formulate opinions as to what needs to be done, but what Ferrum needs is support for its future success. What can you do? What can anyone do who is reading this?

Be Patient- Give the new leadership a chance to take the reins of the program and steer it so you can see where it is going
Donate monies to the Norton Center- This is going to be a center piece of the program, and will be most valuable in recruiting.
Come to the games- Support the Panthers
Trust the system that coach Harper and his staff will be putting into place

As for flexibility, this is something that will have to be reserved for the coaching staff and players. The coaches have to be able to make changes in their approach as situations dictate, and the players have to be flexible enough to understand that taking Ferrum back to being a contender will take time, but that they are the one's that will suit up to make that happen. They have many responsibilities in this endeavor-

Academic success-They are a student first

Physical Conditioning- Ferrum as a team must be in excellent physical condition to compete. This must be a year around effort.

Giving 100% in practice, and seeking out their coach for advice on how to improve. Never be afraid to ask questions if you do not understand how something is to be done.

Look for opportunities to lead- Set an example, both on and off the field.

As a team with pride, sportsmanship, confidence and abilities, success will no doubt follow.

Be proud to wear the black and gold. They are the colors of past and future champions

"The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you're willing to pay the price." 
Vince Lombardi


  1. For the Listen response. I dont have a student playing. But I have coached for 12 years. If you know defense then you would see that the offense can score but the defense was to complicated. Adams has built nothing. With the players he had last year they should have had a better record. Maryville showed how bad his coaching was. They should have blown Maryville out.

  2. Ferrum athletes aren't William & Mary athletes. Big difference in the type of student/athlete recruited by these two schools.

    For that matter, big difference between the CNU athlete and the Ferrum athlete. For a student/athlete to gain admittance to CNU, he must have a 3.8 GPA and an SAT score above 1400 as a freshman. CNU may be a public school and yes, tax dollars will provide nicer facilities, but, tax dollars or not, there are not excessive "merit" scholorships to get kids in school.

    Recruit student/athletes not athlete/students. They'll stay at the school and build the program. May take a few years and a few losses but the long range forecast will be better health.

  3. You make a good point, but I was not trying to compare the Ferrum athlete to the William and Mary athlete. My main point in bringing up W&M was to show how both schools hired former football players as coaches, and that for W&M, success was not realized overnight. It took time to get that program to the level it is now, and I think this speaks to the necessity for patience of the Ferrum fan....It will not happen overnight.