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October 10, 2013It's been 557 days since Southern Miss last won a football game.
I would tell you to let that sink in but no doubt it already has. Golden Eagle fans are incensed about what has happened to their program and with good reason.
It would be easy to pack in this season and call it a wash. Most USM faithful have already begun talking about basketball season and a home loss to one of the worst teams in college football didn't do much to deflect those rumblings.
But Todd Monken and his team have not given up. It's what makes this year so much different from the dreaded 2012 season. In fact, it seems like there is more energy from the players now than there was at the beginning of the season. Everyone is desperately trying to do something -- anything -- to turn things around.
It's why Monken decided to run team-oriented competitive drills on Tuesday and Wednesday at practice. It was an attempt to bring up the spirits of a group who's lost all of its confidence in a losing spiral that started in August of last season.
But the brief view I got of practice the past two days was not one of despair or discomfort. You didn't see a sky-is-falling mentality that plagued the team last year. What I saw was a group of men, ranging in age, size and much more, coming together for one common goal.
While screams of support and loud claps of thunder sticks reined down Joe P. Park Practice Facility, the first-year head coach realized what he saw was special. It wasn't a cry for help.
It was, by all accounts, a new battle cry.
"It seemed pretty spirited to me. I don't know what that means," Monken said. "All you can ask of your team is to, from an energy, an enthusiasm and a body language (standpoint), is to come to work every day."
Righting The Ship
And come to work they have.
Despite the number of mistakes that have cost the team opportunities. Despite the growing amount of apathy within the fan base. And especially despite the 17 consecutive losses.
That's the reason Monken decided to shake things up and make things fun for the players in an era where most coaches get crucified for so much as mildly smiling after a loss. That doesn't matter to him. What does matter is getting his football team in the right state of mind to finish the year strong and mentally intact.
"We're in a situation where we've got to find ways to motivate the players. You've got to make it fun," Monken said.
"Not that we haven't always, but until the winning takes care of that and those kind of things we've got to continue to have fun. We're gonna continue to have fun coaching our guys and trying to get them better every week."
Monken has taken responsibility for what has transpired over the past few weeks and that's the sign of a worthy head coach. I don't think he realized just how hard the rebuilding process truly was and he is slowly coming to terms with it. With a roster filled with young talent and inexperienced potential, things will get better. It's just going to take a lot longer than most people thought.
The Final Verdict
The former quarterback at Knox College has seen a lot in his twenty some-odd years of coaching, but this may be his biggest challenge yet. Attempting to motivate a group of guys who haven't tasted success in so long is an enormous burden, but one I fully believe Monken can successfully curtail.
I'm sure we can think of a thousand things the team should be doing during the bye week. Scoring touchdowns, converting on third down, and limiting the turnovers are but a few. But the most important thing, at least to Monken, is to make sure the mentality of his guys is not shaken.
"We are where we are. What does that have to do with today," he said Tuesday, asking a rhetorical question that needs no answer.
"At the end of the day, if you let everything outside of our room affect us, then you won't enjoy it. If you enjoy playing football, why wouldn't you enjoy today? If you enjoy playing the games, why wouldn't you put yourself in a position to win the next one?"
That's what the team is doing right now, and I assure you a turnaround will happen. It might not be this year but it will be soon. Southern Miss will win games and make national headlines once again.
Todd Monken is too damn good and too damn stubborn not to.
Southern Miss NEWS