Jared Lankford: A lot of new faces in Big 8

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Growing up a sports fan, there seemed to be two things I always knew about the opposing team -- its mascot and name of its head coach.

A common thread that bound the two together was the time spent at the program and achievements accomplished. It was not uncommon 25 years ago to see coaches with 15 or 20 years of coaching experience at a single school.

Those coaches became part of the lore of the school itself.

I remember hearing the chants of "sit down Norm" as legendary Mizzou basketball coach Norm Stewart patrolled the coach's box at visiting Big 8 arenas. The Antlers, a no-filters cheering section at Mizzou athletic events, used to create signs and cheer about the opposing coaches, most of which are unfit for publication.

Fans could identify with their teams by the men who coached them.

There has been a fundamental shift in this country when it comes to coaching. Coaches used to be given a wide berth to build a program, establish pipelines and develop talent. Coaching was a career job.

Sadly, and I am guilty of this, when a college or professional coach does not produce the desired results in a three-year span, the knee-jerk reaction is to fire them and begin the process all over again.

I've always believed that it takes a program, on any level, two years to recover from a coaching change. The first year is spent learning and implanting the coach's system. Year two is getting the right players into the program, and year three should net positive results on the field.

Public high school is a different animal because a coach cannot recruit. My thoughts on private schools and their unfair advantage will be saved for a different column.

The Big 8 Conference has built a reputation as one of the toughest football conferences in the state. The identity has been forged largely on the back of its member schools claiming six consecutive state titles (Lamar with four and Cassville with two), and a runner-up finish by Seneca two years ago, sandwiched by two semifinal appearances by Monett.

The coaches who led the programs during those accomplishments ranked in the top-four in conference tenure.

Only two of those coaches remain at their schools today -- Scott Bailey at Lamar and Dan Scheible at Seneca. Bailey is entering his 10th season at the helm of the Tigers and Scheible is entering his fifth.

The remaining seven Big 8 head coaches have been in their current positions three years or less. Three coaches enter their first year: Derrek Uhl at Monett, Matt McKee at East Newton and Kale Kilgo at Aurora.

On the outside looking in, it is easy to believe that this conference is due to take a step back. However, many of these new coaches have several years of previous coaching experience.

My hope is that the competition in the Big 8 remains at a high level. With a crop of new coaches in the conference right on the bubble of their third year, the conference may yet reach new heights.

Jared Lankford is the sports editor of the Cassville Democrat. He can be reached at sports@cassville-democrat.com, or 417-847-2610.

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