Stump Mitchell certainly has a little Don Quixote in him.
Tilting at the enormous windmills of challenges facing his Southern football program — NCAA and Southwestern Athletic Conference postseason bans and, more critically, the loss of nine full scholarships — Mitchell still talks about the upcoming season with a boxcar full of grandiosity.
While he didn’t predict his Jaguars would win every game in 2011 at Sunday’s media day, as he infamously did going into 2010 — Southern sort of missed the mark, finishing 2-9 — Mitchell did talk about his team winning enough games to get a bid to the NCAA’s FCS playoffs.
We’re talking about playoffs?
First, Southern would have go about 10-1, and the NCAA would have to reverse its postseason ban, a ban born out of the abysmal Academic Progress Rate (APR) problems Mitchell inherited.
For his unvarnished optimism, Mitchell makes no apologies.
“You’ve got to dream,” he said. “And I always dream big.”
There are two ways to look at Mitchell’s bravado: utter foolishness or trying to inspire his players to be something greater than they might think possible.
“I take it as a challenge,” junior safety Levi Jackson said. “When coach says that, he must believe in you, so you want to back him up.”
“Everything he says, I believe he really means it,” junior offensive tackle Chris Browne said.
“When he said 12-0, a lot of people believed it. But you have to have total belief from everyone when you set a goal like that for a team.”
That kind of belief seems to be a work in progress at Southern, but you have to admit a fair number of Southern’s players are buying into Mitchell’s vision.
Consider these numbers: Southern has 95 players in camp and can have only 54 on scholarship because of the APR restrictions. Mitchell had to revoke 19 full or partial scholarships from returning players.
He said all 19 decided to come back.
“I’m pleased with where we are today,” Mitchell said.
The Jaguars know they can’t be kings this season — the paper-thin prospect of an FCS playoff bid aside — but they can be kingmakers.
They can win games that will decide who appears in the SWAC Championship game. They can dream of winning enough games to feel that at season’s end, they were the SWAC’s best.
“We won’t have the rings,” Browne said, “but we’ll have bragging rights.”
One day, that won’t be enough to satisfy at Southern, a school that not so long ago was the program to beat — not only in the SWAC, but in all of black college football.
For now, it’s a laudable goal.
“People say it’s going to be a rebuilding year,” Jackson said. “But I always want to shoot for the stars.”
Sounds like something Stump Mitchell would say — or would like to hear.