The Seven Stages of Grief. They should look familiar to anyone wearing or bleeding green and gold lately.
1. Shock and denial.
I was attempting to deny the facts on the ground: that both our lines we're getting pushed around by a FCS team that's just awful at football. Plus it didn't help that in the second half there was a tremendous amount of quit happening. We lost to an FCS team by 32 points at home. You're not going to believe this, but it took a while for this to sink in.
2. Pain and guilt
If you're handed a gift intended for someone else, but it's taken away even after you've enjoyed it, is that better than having never had it before? If your first car is a VW Beetle, and your second is a Bugati... can you be happy driving a BMW sedan for the rest of your life?
Is it better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all?
USF created a football program because not having one seemed so illogical. Huge school in terms of student population, a football-obsessed state with tons of recruits within a daily work commute, and a media market that can't get enough football.
But maybe we didn't deserve this at all.
Exactly 20,751 people used a ticket to see USF take on Florida Atlantic University on Saturday. USF lost by 18 points to a team they mocked with unending regularity and thumbed their noses at not that long ago. They too were 3-9 last season in the Sun Belt. Now they're in C-USA, but are still a terrible football team.
And we are clearly worse.
3. Anger and bargaining:
But what if we DID deserve it, and it was taken away? What if we entrusted our future to people that failed us? How in the hell could we give A FIVE YEAR GUARANTEED CONTRACT EXTENSION TO A GUY THAT RECRUITED ALL OF THAT TERRIBLE TALENT OUT THERE. What in the SHIT ARE WE DOING?? WHAT THE HELL IS THE PLAN!!??
But maybe Willie T will figure it out. I'll totally take 1-11 as long as the one is a win over C. Florida.
4. Depression, reflection, loneliness:
See the last five days of my life. And I figure if finding out that our program is at the absolute nadir of its existence hurts me, I can't imagine what it does to the kids in the locker room. After 17 years of USF Football we are right back where we started, and possibly even worse because all the buzz surrounding our story of constant and unending growth has faded. The program that seemed to have no ceiling has fallen off the ladder and through the floor to the basement, where there is nothing but darkness and lonely.
I am USF Football.
5. The Upward Turn
Let me know when this happens.
6. Reconstruction and working through
I was there for Auburn '07, West Virginia '06, Pitt '01, and all the other scalps we took on the road. I was also there for the constant falling apart in conference play from '05 through '10. At this point those sound like the halcyon days... and that wasn't good enough then. To head in the opposite direction so quickly is inexcusable, and blame needs to be placed in multiple places (we'll let Jamie get to that soon).
7. Acceptance and hope
If accepting our place in a secondary league where we aren't competing for championships annually (or at least close to it) is what I'm supposed to be accepting, then I am on the record as that happening when hell freezes over.
We ARE better than this. Our fans have supported the program enough that this type of falloff shouldn't have ever happened. We play in a gorgeous facility, are located in prime and fertile recruiting ground, and have shown a fan base willing to support the team (see West Virginia vs. USF, 65,657 in attendance in 2007). What has happened is unacceptable.
But I do have hope. We've hired a good young coach, and he's going to need a lot of time to bring in the talent he needs and build the program he wants. You can't make chicken salad out of chicken shit, and the play on the field so far shows how empty Skip Holtz left the barn. Sure these kids don't fit the scheme... but they simply aren't good enough football players either.
It never should have gotten to this point, and I will never accept that it did. But I truly believe that we can get back to where we were promised we would be. And I will never, ever give up hope.