It’s the beauty … and some would argue the curse … of being a coach.
Your team just easily covered a 13-point spread at home for its first win of a young season, and yet it is obvious there are facets of the game that you just can’t get over.
Four, maybe five, times during UL coach Billy Napier’s postgame news conference after Saturday’s 35-14 win over Liberty, he followed a pleasant subject with a "but."
Something like, “Yeah, we ran the ball really well, but we didn’t throw it well.”
Or maybe, “Yeah, it was a great win, but we had too many costly penalties.”
To the results-oriented fans out there, that may sound like Napier’s being too negative.
But he’s not. He’s just being a coach. It’s what he's supposed to do.
Trust me, if UL finishes the season off by committing five turnovers and still wins the Sun Belt title game and its bowl game, he won’t care.
Until his team reaches that final curtain call, however, it’s his job to push his players to erase as many negative aspects as possible, just in case.
For fans, I get it. With that said, I couldn’t help but chuckle as Napier kept trying to convince us, and perhaps himself, that “I’m not going to let it keep me from celebrating tonight, though, I promise you that” throughout the news conference.
For the record, the No. 1 thing eating at Napier after Saturday’s win was his offense not delivering the finishing blow. In these parts, we call it the "coup de gras."
Fans think it all the time. Your team gets a big turnover — or in this case a turnover on downs at the Liberty 33 — and your first reaction is to throw deep on the next play.
If you’re a power-running football team without much of a downfield passing game, though, that first reaction isn’t always the best one.
There were a few moments early on in UL’s 35-14 win over Liberty where some Ragin’ Cajuns fans were likely beginning to worry about their defense.
Case in point, Saturday night, when that throw deep resulted in an interception.
“We’ve got to find a way to throw it more consistently down the field,” Napier said. “We took some shots tonight and we didn’t execute very well there. We’re going to have to go back and put a premium on the vertical passing game a little bit.”
The next area of concern is the turnovers. All fans should get that one. UL officially had five turnovers in the first game and two more in Saturday’s win. That means the Cajuns are already a minus-4 in the turnover battle after two games.
In the season-opening loss to Mississippi State, it appeared UL quarterback Levi Lewis and the offense might get their first two-minute opport…
Again, it’s been 15 years since UL was better than a plus-three in the turnover margin, and the Cajuns are already headed down that wrong path again this year.
“There were a couple of turnovers that we need to clean up,” Napier said. “We still have some things we have to clean up. We’ve got to have better ball security.”
In this one, it only prevented UL from winning by more points. If it continues, though, it’ll result in a loss that could have been prevented.
When the week began, Liberty athletic director Ian McCaw wasn’t sure if his head football coach Hugh Freeze would be able to make the trip to …
“We need to finish a little better in my opinion on offense,” Napier said. “We need to go put the game away. We let them hang around a little bit in the second half. Our defense was doing its part, and offensively we didn’t quite finish the way we needed to.”
The Cajuns have been penalized nine times in two games. That’s really not bad, but three or four of those flags were very costly.
“We have to make better decisions,” Napier said. “We had a couple big punt returns that were called back by really bad decisions in terms of blocks in the back.”
Still, even with a few turnovers and even with a limited passing game, UL’s offense converted at a 7-for-14 clip on third and fourth down and posted 26 more first downs.
But there’s another aspect of being a coach that’s fascinating. When the fans and media are extra-high on certain areas, it’s the coach’s duty to deflate by bringing up the things that didn’t go as well to keep his players focused.
Likewise, when the fans are extra negative on a certain issue — like UL’s Stevie Artigue missing three field goals Saturday — a winning coach can magically get glass-half-full in a hurry.
“I believe in the kid. I know how hard he works,” Napier said of Artigue. “I know how important it is to him to do his job for his teammates, and he’ll get his opportunities in the future and make it right.”
Whichever angle a coach is playing, it’s all about somehow pushing his team to get better in the long run.
“It’s scary to me how good our team could be if we can get those things right,” Napier said. “That’s my job as a coach, and that’s what we’re going to go to work on tomorrow.
“But I’m not going to keep those handful of plays tonight that I’m not happy about keep me from celebrating this week and all the hard work that went into that win. I’m proud of my team.”