Undefeated To Uncertain

Undefeated To Uncertain

Changing regimes is a difficult task with any sports team, especially in football. New coaching changes brings new schemes, expectations and a change of supporting cast.

New head coach Bill Laslett has been handed the keys to the Corsairs Men’s Football program saddled with the expectations of following last year’s 11-0 season under Coach Gifford Lindheim, who opted to leave SMC for a full-time job at rival El Camino College. The team has started the new season 1-4, raising some questions about the direction in which the team is headed.

A number of problems are contributing to the tough times the team has fallen upon this season. Injuries and issues with eligibility among returning players have hurt the team’s depth, which was already weak due to their lack of a recruiting season.

“This year we really didn't have a recruiting season. That’s just how the business goes,” Laslett said. ”The first thing I did when I got here was re-recruit the guys who were here, and we were able to get some guys back.”

Unfortunately, about 8-10 players who thought they were leaving were unable to get eligibility for the season in time. “So we do have some student-athletes that are ineligible right now. But they’ll be with us next year,” said Laslett. “We need some more players, some more big people. Overall we’re smaller, but we have great athletes who are giving it 100 percent.”

Last year’s success also created other problems for the team beyond high expectations.

“We’re in the upper division now. It’s one of the best junior college conferences in the country,” said Laslett. “If we were a four-year university, it would be the difference between playing Whittier and USC. Being in the upper division right now we’re playing the USCs, but it’s on my shoulders to get it done and I wouldn't have it any other way.”

As is to be expected with any regime change, criticism of the new coaching staff has come from players and fans alike.

During the Sept. 24 loss to Orange Coast, some fans began to yell “Fire Coach Laslett” as the team fell behind, expressing frustration with the early struggles of the team. The Corsair also spoke to players hoping to voice concerns about the new season, but these players chose to remain anonymous.

The Santa Monica College Corsairs Head Football Coach Bill Laslett is in his first year of coaching for the Corsairs. Laslett has been coaching football for 18 years.  October 1rd, 2016 at Santa Monica College in Santa Monica College. (Daniel Bowyer)
The Santa Monica College Corsairs Head Football Coach Bill Laslett is in his first year of coaching for the Corsairs. Laslett has been coaching football for 18 years. October 1rd, 2016 at Santa Monica College in Santa Monica College. (Daniel Bowyer)

“We all need more work as a whole,” said one player. “[Coach] needs to step up and be better and push us harder.”

Another player said, “It’s honestly...we just don’t have great athletes. And we’re small… I would like to say like half the team it’s [their] first year playing.”

Laslett responded to the criticism from fans as well as from his own players. “I’m just going about my job and putting the student-athletes first. I’ve got a tremendous amount of support here on campus. But, hey, It’s my responsibility, so I’m fine with that. I’m going to give it everything I got and that’s what I expect from our players and our coaching staff,” Laslett said. “But as far as the criticism goes, it doesn't bother me. That just goes with the territory. We’re doing things the right way and when you do things the right way, eventually good things happen.”

Despite fielding a roster lacking in depth and experience, the team has found some breakout talent in wideouts Conor McMahan and Darius Brown, who've accounted for almost 51 percent of the team’s total offense and 80 percent of the team’s scoring plays.

Carnell Lewis is leading the way on defense and could become a Charles Woodson-type player for the Corsairs: locking down receivers on defense, returning punts for big gains, and possibly seeing offensive reps in the future.

About 70 percent of the starting football team are true freshman, according to Laslett. The jump from high school football to the community college level is big because the competition is bigger and faster. Having to rely on half your team to start right away as freshman puts the team in a challenging position, and there's a huge learning curve and growing pains.

The Corsairs showed signs of improvement during their 34-31 victory over LA Harbor — but it may be hard for fans and players to be excited about a 1-4 start following an undefeated year. Allowing 43.4 points per game and only scoring 24.8 PPG through five games means that there is much room for improvement. Despite how the season has been going, Coach Laslett and the coaching staff have done a good job keeping the spirits up of their players and have them working hard.

While Laslett strives to coach a winning team, he also notes the value of struggle: “I’ll tell you, you can learn a heck of a lot more from [seasons] where you’re not doing as well. You become a better coach that way, and a lot of players become better players.”