Paul Mierkiewicz said all the right things Saturday night after his McPherson College football team was defeated 33-7 by Southwestern College in the KCAC opener for both teams.
Mierkiewicz said he was totally responsible for the loss in a game that may have represented the Bulldogs’ best chance to win this season. He wanted to deflect the criticism from his players, who no doubt were feeling emotionally beat down.
Mierkiewicz is in a tough spot. He’s going into battle with a freshman-dominated team that is experiencing growing pains as it attempts to mature right before our eyes.
I liken what Mierkiewicz has inherited at Mac to what David Beaty stepped into at the University of Kansas. I’ve never seen such a low number of returnees in my nearly 40 years of covering college football and even with some really good-looking freshmen aboard, the Bulldogs are going to enter the rest of their eight games at a severe disadvantage.
It’s hard to believe it was only five years ago the Bulldogs were the class of the KCAC, storming to the conference championship without a blemish and really a challenge. Sterling did play it within 31-21, but that was a game the Bulldogs actually led 31-0 before the Warriors scored some late cosmetic touchdowns. Ottawa, which has won four of the last five KCAC titles, was simply steamrolled by the Bulldogs 56-20, while Friends, known for its defensive play, was ambushed 52-20. In successive weeks at one stretch, the Bulldogs rang up 73 points on Saint Mary, 56 on Kansas Wesleyan and 55 on Southwestern. The offense, led by quarterback Shane Mascarenas, running back Aaron Lafitte and a fleet of acrobatic receivers such as Andy Skinner, Joe Middleton and Stephen Harrison, was a thrill a minute. Fans filled McPherson Stadium and it was like a rock concert as it was the greatest show on turf.
But once that special group of players rolled through, the Bulldogs have experienced four straight losing seasons. Mierkiewicz is the third head coach in as many years and fourth in five years. There’s almost nobody left from the brief Pete Sterbick and Steve Fox tenures as the coaching instability has decimated the ranks, much like KU as Turner Gill and Charlie Weis bankrupted the program with recruits that were here today and gone tomorrow.
When I watched Saturday’s game in Winfield, it was painful to see the size differential. Southwestern, which actually was picked last in the KCAC in the preseason, lined up and plowed straight ahead as the Bulldogs didn't have the bulk to push back. As for the McPherson College offense, Mierkiewicz has no experience in the backfield (not to mention depth) and I really feel for longtime senior standout receivers Ste’fon Walker and Michael Ramos, who are seeing their production drop drastically in their final seasons as Bulldogs, two of the very few who have stuck it out.
Mierkiewicz has stated repeatedly that he’s here for the long haul, that he wants to see this thing through. He should be allotted the time, given that he was able to consistently win at Hastings College once he got the program on solid footing, including two national playoff appearances. But this year’s team is light-years from being an upper-division team and hopefully with a full year of recruiting he can add some transfers to a good group of freshmen that he must keep around. He probably needs to double the numbers, as Mac is operating with a roster about half of the other KCAC teams.
The 2015 season is all about pouring a foundation. The optimum word is patience and it should be preached.