SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Jon Coffman created this situation, so he has no one to blame but himself.
When a reporter (not me, I’ve already broached the topic and it wasn’t pretty) asked the third-year Fort Wayne men’s basketball coach to reflect on this season following the Mastodons’ Summit League Tournament loss to Omaha Sunday, he did so insinuating that there was a negative tone to the year, and Coffman got defensive.
“I’ve heard people come to me and say ‘Are you disappointed in the season,’” Coffman said. “Those are people that aren’t in our locker room. They don’t have a good perspective of what we do every day.”
True. However, those “people” are simply looking at wins and losses, and depending on one’s “perspective,” different people have different assessments of the Mastodons’ 2016-17 season.
“Where we have had success,’ Coffman said, “is not being obsessed with wins and losses.”
Coffman continued to explain that the “process” of team building and hard work on a daily basis are the focal points of what he teaches, which if that is done well, ultimately leads to success.
Without question, Fort Wayne is a successful program. They have won over 100 games in the past five seasons, including 19 this year. The past two seasons are the most successful two-year stretch in program history. And all of that is a testament to the work that Coffman and his staff and players have put in.
Here is where the blame falls on Coffman. The better he makes this program, and he has made it really good, the higher the expectations become. And this season wasn’t good enough.
“A lot of coaches, if you say ‘You want to win 19 games,’” Coffman pondered, “I bet there are 85 percent of the mid-major coaches in the country that would raise their hands and say ‘I’ll take it.’”
But Fort Wayne isn’t like “85 percent of the mid-major” programs in the country. It is better. And the numbers over the recent seasons bear that out.
The Mastodons allowed winnable home games against South Dakota State, South Dakota, and Western Illinois to slip away this year, while they turned the ball over 23 times in a recent one-point loss at IUPUI.
On Sunday, Coffman’s team held a 10-point lead and had dominated Omaha for much of the night, before allowing the Mavericks to close the game on a 27-13 run to steal the victory.
Fort Wayne should be going for its 25th win in a tournament semifinal tonight instead of talking about how good it feels about winning 19 games.
Those are the expectations that Coffman has created for this program, which is a positive, not a negative.
“Clearly there are expectations,” Coffman said, “that those (four seniors) have provided to the media, to me, to everybody out there. They provided the ability to raise your expectations.”
Exactly, so Coffman shouldn’t get defensive when the subject that everyone that follows the program is mentioning is brought up. Instead, he and his team should get defensive in the late stages of games, which is precisely why they are travelling home today, as opposed to chasing a championship.
“We led in the second half of every game in league play this year,” Coffman said at one point.
That tells me two things:
• The Mastodons had enough talent to beat anybody in the Summit League, and
• Their 8-8 league record showed that they found ways to lose just as many games as they won, and a glance at the statistics explain why
Western Illinois shot over 65 percent in the second half of its road win at Fort Wayne.
South Dakota made over 64 percent in the second half of its win at the Gates Center.
South Dakota State 56 percent (with a Jackrabbit player scoring a nation’s best 51 points), IUPUI 54 percent, and in Sunday’s loss, Omaha hit on 57 percent of its shots in the second half to rally for the win.
Yet, less than one minute into the postgame press conference, Coffman was discussing how pleased he was with “some of the (offensive) looks we got.”
Omaha made its final five shots of the game, which was lost at the defensive end of the floor, not the offensive end.
Regular season games can be won with offense, and Fort Wayne has absolutely proven that to be true. But games in March, games of consequence, are won defensively.
Playing well at both ends of the floor is the expectation that Mastodon fans have for this program and anything less will result in how they feel today, which is disappointed.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org.