Gregg Webb knew he was inheriting a big rebuilding job last winter when he accepted the football head coaching post at Truman High School.
The Patriots returned just 10 lettermen and two starters from a senior-laden team that went 1-9. But after his first preseason and halfway through the schedule, Webb said the reclamation project is bigger than he anticipated – going well beyond the simple numbers of having an 0-5 record and being outscored 254-27.
“There’s a lot of hidden issues. Talent obviously, and depth’s a real issue,” said the completely blunt Webb, who won 248 games in 27 seasons at Claflin and Eudora high schools in Kansas. “You hear about programs that lose everybody at a school this size. But the kids playing behind those kids, there shouldn’t be a big drop-off.”
Webb has no complaints about the support he gets from administration and parents. The problem is not enough players committed to some improvement and to the program – too much drama and missed practices, he said. In short, a lack of pride.
“We’ve spent far too much time dealing with (drama),” Webb said.
“The programs that win state championships, their kids live, breathe and die for the program,” he said. “Too many of them don’t; it’s almost like intramurals here – not to the administration and the coaches.”
“We have a great group of core kids – most of that stuff doesn’t apply to them. We have parent groups and community groups that do a great job of helping us. The kids that do help us in the face of adversity, when we’re getting beat on the scoreboard, they’re awesome.”
Truman has what appears to be a good shot at its first win Friday when it hosts another 0-5 team, Ruskin, for its homecoming game.
A couple miles north on Noland Road, William Chrisman coach John Crutcher is experiencing some similar growing pains.
His Bears also are 0-5 and have been outscored 234-34 heading into Friday’s game at Belton (1-4), a team it beat 48-20 last season. During last season’s 3-7 campaign they snapped a 17-game losing streak. Graduation decimated Chrisman’s linemen ranks from 2012, and several players in the offensive and defensive backfields have suffered injuries this season – not to mention a couple unexpected transfers by starters from last year.
“Every year’s a different team, and every year’s a building process,” said the fourth-year coach, who owns an 8-27 mark at Chrisman. That process stalls without a continued commitment, he said.
“Kids don’t play as sophomores because they don’t want to play on JV, then they come back as juniors and end up playing JV because they’re a year behind,” Crutcher said. “We’ve had some people quit or leave the program. That’s the bad part. You’re always going to lose seniors to graduation, but that’s what makes it tough.
“We try to take ownership (as coaches), but the kids have to be accountable for this, too,” he said. “We’ve got a good group of kids, but when you’re facing Staley or Fort Osage and Lee’s Summit Wests in our class – they’ve got 100 kids and we’ve got 68.”
The lack of bodies becomes even more glaring when some injuries crop up – or when some breakdowns consistently appear during games.
“The biggest thing is when you have a kid making the same mistake over and over,” Crutcher said. “We don’t have the depth [to replace a player].”
A couple more seasons could change that, as more than a third of this year’s roster are sophomores. Crutcher said his players can see light at the end of the tunnel.
“They see enough film; we see the improvements,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just one missed block is the difference between taking it to the house and a 2-yard gain. Defensively there’s a lot of things, but it comes down to being able to tackle.”
“No matter what, winning’s what changes things.”
Webb said he can sense the culture of Truman football changing a bit.
“We think about getting better every day,” he said. “Football isn’t the issue. It’s about learning how to be a good teammate, how to be a good player.
“You don’t have to be a great player; you have to know what to do.”
After the season opener, Webb said his players have been giving what all think they have, but they need to realize how much more they can give. Halfway through the season, he said it doesn’t seem like the Patriots are too far away from competing and winning games in the Suburban Middle Six.
“(Week 4, 49-14 loss at Park Hill) was the first week I felt we could adjust from an offensive standpoint, open things up,” he said. “Defensively ... we’re just taking chances, which I hate to do. It opens up too many variables. We’ve made significant progress in a lot of areas, which is important.
“It’s difficult for me. I’ve learned patience, but my expectations for effort, commitment and a young man being able to do his job haven’t wavered.”
Follow Mike Genet on Twitter: @genetEJC