Football Fix Column: Is Warhawk football ‘back’?

 

By Kevin Cunningham

The answer as to whether Warhawk football is ‘back’ is an unfair one. It’s a question that has recently been asked across campus and on social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook.

Since head coach Lance Leipold has taken the reins of the Warhawk football program in 2007, he has an 82-6 record overall, while going 39-3 in WIAC play. Making the national championship game has seemingly become the norm for most fans.

In his first five seasons, Leipold led the Warhawks to the national championship game each season and won four national titles, all of which came against the University of Mount Union.
In 2012, the ’Hawks went 7-3 overall, while posting a 5-2 record in the WIAC, tying the team for second in conference. The three losses marked the most in a season since 2004 and the most during Leipold’s tenure.

The 2012 season also was the first time Leipold’s group hadn’t made the national championship game, much less the playoffs. From 2009-2011, the ’Hawks captured three straight national titles, going a combined 45-0.

The team then entered the 2012 season with a 45-game winning streak, which marked the third-longest streak in Division-III history, behind Mount Union’s streaks of 55 and 54 games each. The team lost its second game of the season to Buffalo State College, 7-6, ending its 46-game winning streak.

After finishing the year 7-3 and missing the playoffs, many deemed the ’Hawks’ season a disappointment.

There are many key parts that go into great runs, or dynasties, as they are most commonly called. Talent, a winning tradition and a hard work ethic to stay at the top are all components that are typically thought of.

The one piece that gets overlooked is coaching. Fans of UW-Whitewater football may also follow the University of Wisconsin football program closely and can immediately see the impact coaches make.
Referring to coaches, it’s not just the head coaches that make the greatest difference. It’s the assistants that head coaches have to commonly replace in order to keep their program at the very top of their given sport.

At UW-Madison, the Badgers have seen the good and the bad when it comes to coaches. Barry Alvarez, who coached the Badgers for 16 seasons, is often thought of as a great head coach, which he was.

Next in line after Alvarez was former Badgers defensive coordinator Bret Bielema. Bielema served as head coach for six seasons, while ending his tenure with three straight Big Ten Championships.
After the 2012 Big Ten Championship win over Nebraska, 70-31, it took only a few days for Bielema to head for the University of Arkansas for the same head coaching position. What was the main reason for his departure?

Bielema gave a number of reasons, but it ultimately came down to money and the ability to hire and re-hire upper-echelon assistants.

Here at UW-Whitewater, Leipold has seen his assistants take new jobs nearly every season. That comes in part with winning multiple national championships. Assistants get recognized and are offered higher positions elsewhere.

This is the one area of discussion that doesn’t get talked about nearly enough when talking about dynasties in sports. When looking at the ’Hawks’ 2013 coaching staff, numerous changes have taken place in the past year.

This season, the team has a new offensive coordinator, offensive line coach, running backs coach and special teams coordinator, among others. So, when the topic of whether Warhawks football is back to its glory days (two seasons ago), is it a realistic expectation to assume the team wins every game by 35 or more points and brings home consecutive national championships?

Fans need to realize that the run UW-Whitewater football had over the past few years wasn’t a fortunate norm. There is a reason why sports dynasties last only so long and why there are so few of them, regardless of the sport.

Can this year’s team win a national title? Absolutely. The ’Hawks’ offense is making strides as the season goes along, and the defense looks as strong as ever.

But when coaches are receiving better opportunities left and right and players are leaving due to graduation and possibly furthering their careers in the NFL (most recently quarterback Matt Blanchard, defensive back Lane Olson and running back Derek Stanley), are 65-0 victories something Warhawks fans should expect? Or are they something that should be celebrated?

Only time will tell whether this season’s squad can live up to the lofty expectations unfairly setup by previous Warhawks teams. Just remember, as fans, that 46-game winning streaks, winning four national championships in five years and seeing D-III players move onto the NFL are not a realistic norm.

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