UTSA vs Army 2023

Why UTSA Football’s response to adversity will determine their long-term success

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Ed. Note: This guest article was written by long-time podcast listener Mongo Watson. The views and opinions of this guest post are that of the guest author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of the Alamo Audible staff. If you have an opinion or story you’d like to share with the community please submit your pitch at this link.

It’s a little-known historical fact that the lookout on the Titanic, upon seeing the iceberg, radioed the bridge and said, “Don’t panic, all of our goals are still in front of us.”

Football is maybe the team sport that is most often spoken of in terms of personal character.   We frequently equate the lessons learned in football with those aspects of character that make us good humans.  And inversely, we are often told that football success naturally follows teams that positively respond to the brutal reality of the game with the same innate and learned traits that make us good people.  In short, football is a microcosm of life.  I suspect it is the thing that draws people like Jeff Traylor to the sport.  When he says he wants to help young men on their personal journeys, I’m guessing he chose football as his vehicle because he believes the lessons learned on the field will help make those young men who play for him better, more successful adults. 

And true to form we find adversity in football, as we often do in life.  And yes, I’m speaking about the early part of this year’s football season.  It hasn’t gone the way many of us imagined it would, which is something that happens in life – a lot.  So, of course, some fans, steeped in the warm, loving, and folksy stories we tell each other about sacrifice, heart, and unity, are responding to their team’s adversity as you would expect them to… with anger. 

Why? Because, sadly, that is how many adults respond to adversity. And in football, nearly all anger is expressed in terms of physical or mental toughness. As in, the team didn’t perform well because the players (or coaches) weren’t tough enough – they didn’t want it enough. And on and on. And I supposed at times that might be a contributing factor, but for the most part, I believe those kinds of responses simply reflect a lack of imagination. Wind sprints should be run, we say. Scholarships should be yanked. Coaches should be fired. Right? How many of us at some point of our lives have worked for organizations that shared this ethos? And how did that go? Not well, I suspect. 

So, why has this season not progressed as we hoped it would? I have no idea. I’m not a coach; although, that has never stopped me from second guessing them. I am if nothing else, confident in my own ignorance. Like most fans, I have my opinions. I rant and curse in the stands. I rant and curse in front of the TV. In private I’m all opinion, baby. But public posts are different to me. I feel like I should have something of value to say, as I’m not just saying it because I have the right or I’m trying to boost my personal brand. I’m saying it because I think there is something important at the end. Fans have the right to publicly say what they think and feel, but that doesn’t mean everything we think and feel is interesting. So, I’m staying away from a football critique simply because I’m not all that qualified. 

But I, like most people on this earth, know a little about adversity. And the prescription is simple. When things get overwhelming, we fall back on our beliefs. They are our base, our foundation, and they are always there for us. And we also seek out the people we love – our families, our friends, the people who care about us. Why? Because walking through individual adversity is an oddly communal effort. No one does it alone. We get strength from the people who care enough about us to share risk with us. 

How will Jeff Traylor, his coaches and the players do this? We will find out. It is one thing for a group of coaches and athletes to embrace a new culture when they haven’t had much success with an old one. But I suspect it is another to convince athletes and coaches who have known success to trust in casually recited slogans and largely untested relationships. Or to put it another way, managing success may be the hardest thing an organization does. What happens when a successful organization hits the iceberg of adversity for the first time? 

They have their culture. They have each other. Will they lean on them and come together, or will they pull apart? If they figure it out, then football will have served its purpose, whether it results in more wins this year or not. That’s right. The program’s success isn’t exclusively defined by weekly scores. It’s much more than that. It’s about a steady progression which over the past thirteen years has also carried along the other sports, enrollment, fundraising, and UTSA’s academic programs. The athletes did that, along with the coaches and administrators, which is very impressive. This means, the very people whose intelligence and commitment we are currently questioning have shown impressive amounts of both over the past few years. We should consider that in our frustration. 

The problem is that we can get so wound up about our short-term failure that we lose all sight of our long-term purpose. We confuse it with the iceberg, or the ship, or the conference schedule, or the next game, when maybe our purpose – the thing we should focus on – is what we should do next, which is trust: our beliefs, the process, and the people around us. And stay focused on the progression. Success is not a short-term proposition, and it never runs in a straight line. And failure isn’t usually as simple as we try to make it. Pushing beyond failure is mostly about trusting the important things while ignoring all the confusion around us, which is not easy. 

Don’t hear this wrong, I believe fans should have expectations, and they have the right to say what they think, even if what they say lacks a full understanding. But it helps when we acknowledge that short-term failure isn’t always about a lack of character or intelligence. Sometimes it just happens. And that some of the people we blame for the team’s short-term failure are also some of the same people responsible for setting the program and UTSA on a path of long-term success. Discerning the right thing to focus on when things don’t go as planned is incredibly difficult, whether we are talking individuals or organizations or football teams or especially us fans. In the end, we are all faced with the lookout’s dilemma. How we respond to it will determine how successful this season will be. 

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