URI football has posted just for winning seasons since 1985 and has gone through five coaching changes in the process. Can anyone fix this mess? More importantly, who's paying attention outside of Kingston?
Living in the shadow of anonymity can be a blessing depending on the amount of exposure you think you need.
The convicted felon trying to blend into his new neighborhood and settle into his new job would rather stay out of the limelight, mop his floors during business hours and kick back watching Netflix at the end of the night. No harm, no foul. Just stay off my grass and away from PTA meetings.
The up-and-coming internet entrepreneur looking to fill the VIP lounge at whatever seedy nightclub he works at so he can make enough money to pay his phone bill and kick over some rent to mom for that sick basement space needs as much attention as every single white female you know on Facebook. He'll blow up your newsfeed until you're ready to throw yourself from the window of your second-story loft.
The University of Rhode Island football team would prefer to stay off your newsfeed and out of the general news cycle. Less exposure is a good thing in South Kingstown. In fact, dwelling in anonymity since the Reagan administration is probably what’s kept this program from facing the scrutiny any other college football program would face for failing to field a competent team worthy of our hard-earned entertainment dollars for the past two and a half decades.
Based on the passive-aggressive backlash and innocuous internet threats in the aftermath of our 2014 analysis of the URI basketball team, it’s obvious the powers that be in Kingston don’t handle criticism well, but facts are facts and the reality is URI has only had four winnings seasons in football since 1985, the last one coming in 2001 under then second-year coach Tim Stowers.
The biggest problem, besides the lack of success on the gridiron, is the fact no one seems to care. There appears to be little to no backlash from fans or alumni (at least not publicly) and even less criticism from the local media, which simply runs the horrifying linescores on a weekly basis with zero analysis. Since no one cares enough to notice, URI just goes about its business without drawing much attention to itself, otherwise it'd be forced to answer questions about why this program has been an unmitigated disaster for this long.
We don’t pretend to know anything about the current state of URI football other than the fact this is head coach Jim Fleming’s first year at the helm following a successful stint as the defensive coordinator at the University of Central Florida, but we know bad football when we see it and this year’s team is historically bad.
Unless the Rams find a way to beat Towson in their season finale Saturday, they will finish winless for the first time since 1924, back when the legendary Frank Keaney coached that team and just about every other team on campus (or so it seemed). We’re talking pre-World War II, long before Keaney had a gym named after him and long before he invented the fast break. That’s how far back you have to go to find a football team at URI as bad as this one.
The venom here isn’t directed at Fleming or the players on this year’s team who no doubt want to win in the worst possible way and are undoubtedly playing until the final whistle on every snap of every game. It’s more of an indictment of the program in general. It’d be one thing if we were blowing our stack over the men’s rowing program, but we’re talking football, the granddaddy of college sports programs. Realistically, only a handful of Division I schools turn a profit, so it’s hard to imagine URI generating any legit revenue from football, but the payout from a successful football program far outweighs that of just about any other sport on campus outside of basketball, making it hard to justify accepting such ineptitude for nearly three decades.
By comparison, Bryant University, a private school with nearly one fifth as many students as URI, finished 8-2 this year in just its third season of championship eligibility at the Division I Subdivision level – same playing field as URI. In fact, the two schools played three common opponents in 2014. Bryant won all three games. URI went 0-for-3. After decades of competing at the D-II level, Bryant didn’t even begin handing out football scholarships until 2008 and yet in six years it’s already done what URI has failed to do since 2001, which is field a winning team.
Nobody has a problem with that? Clearly, Bryant and its coaching staff, led by Marty Fine, who also guided the program to two Northeast-10 Conference championships before the switch to D-I, is hitting nerves URI hasn’t hit in quite some time.
As fans, alumni, media, whatever, you can argue we don’t deserve much, but we at least deserve answers. There’s no excuse to be this bad for this long and then be upstaged by a program less than an hour north from you with less a decade’s worth of experience at this level.
If it’s coaching, just say so, and then reassure us Fleming is the right man for the job following the failed tenures of Floyd Keith, Stowers, Darren Rizzi, Joe Trainer and others. If there’s an inherent inability to compete and recruit in the northeast among schools such as Maine, New Hampshire, Boston College and Connecticut, all of whom have enjoyed various levels of success through the years, then why bother having a football program at all? Just throw in the towel like Boston University and Northeastern did years ago.
It can’t be the facilities, or lack thereof; Meade Stadium, the home of URI football since 1928, underwent major renovations in 2006 by adding visitors’ bleachers to the opposite sideline, which, if you’ve played against URI anytime within the past 25 years, is the best view in the house. The school also spent $1.4 million in 2011 to renovate both Mackal Fieldhouse and Keaney Gymnasium.
Someone has to answer to this mess. Athletic Director Thorr Bjorn has done a fine job at URI raising funds for various programs and creating a liaison between the fans and student-athletes as an affable, energetic voice for the URI community, but I’d sleep a lot better at night if someone – anyone – with a say in Kingston at least came out and reassured us publicly that the school still cares enough about football and is doing something to reverse the losing trend.
Without someone asking the difficult questions, football remains the underprivileged stepchild at URI, living in the shadow of anonymity in a state where no one north of Independence Hall seems to care whether or not they win by three touchdowns or lose by 37 points. When you’ve been this bad for this long, it’s probably best to stay out of the spotlight, but it’d be even better to find a way to crawl out from under everyone else’s shadow.
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