There are a handful of coaches across sports where I can seriously say, “Whatever they do, it will work.” In college football, it’s Nick Saban. In hockey, it’s Mike Babcock, who has run the machine that was the 2000’s Red Wings, Team Canada’s Death Star and most recently, he took over the floundering, yet still historical Toronto Maple Leafs. And when he was introduced as the new head man of the most famous team in hockey (for the most amount of money given to a coach) he said this:
There is pain coming.
That quote has stuck with me for so many reasons. Many coaches when taking over a new situation, or even the Syracuse Orange, talk about “Dream Jobs,” or the highs they’ll eventually reach. Whether it was to quell expectations or just frank reality, Babcock is right: Progress in painful.
There will be the tear-down, when the old ways are eliminated. Probably the easiest part of the process: you get to write off failure for a season in the name of future wins.
Then there’s the growing pains, the flashes of brilliance set amid the struggle of small improvement.
And then we get that next level: substantial, obvious improvement, but still a solid step down from the finished progress. This is the hardest part of any rebuild as it’s the longest; teams will be very good longer than they are great more times than not. And being very good means having flaws, like being unable to take down the best consistently even if you’re within a puncher’s chance. Sometimes being good but not great can mean losing a game you shouldn’t. Hell, maybe it’s going 10-2 or 9-3 and losing a bowl game at the end of the season.
And that’s painful. It’s painful to know your team is so close, but not quite there. It’s painful to know your team is better than how it performed in just one game. It’s painful to know that this is simply another step, and not the finished product. And the worst part? That consistent pain and not recognizing it is how programs end up abandoning rebuilds before they finish. (Looking at you, Nebraska Cornhuskers!)
So yeah, this past Saturday hurt.
It won’t be the first time we feel this hurt as a fan base. But it’s moving through that hurt to see the bigger picture that will make the end success worth it.