Pitt State deals with struggles
10/11/2009 12:00 AM
10/11/2009 12:07 AM
PITTSBURG — The analogy is simple.
Imagine Pittsburg State University as a house.
The students and alumni are, of course, the foundation.
Its four colleges — Arts & Sciences, Business, Education, Technology — are the rooms.
But the thing you see first as you approach the house?
"We often use the analogy of a house when talking about our school as a whole," said first-year president Steve Scott, also a PSU alum. "And in that case, whether you like it or not, our athletic programs are the front porch of that house."
And the man who sits on that front porch, overlooking almost 10,000 fans on Saturdays in the fall, is athletic director and football coach Chuck Broyles.
Broyles, who has been the Gorillas' coach since 1990 and its athletic director the last 12 years, is already one of the most successful coaches in NCAA Division II history whether he ever coaches another game.
He has won 197 games, including a national championship in 1991 and three runner-up finishes, the last in 2004. There are also nine NAIA titles and two Harlon Hill Trophy Award winners for the best NCAA Division II Player in the country.
Since 2002, he has overseen $10.2 million in renovations to Carnie Smith Stadium, where his team plays.
But in 2009, he finds himself and his team in the middle of an unusual maelstrom.
With three straight losses to open up MIAA play, Pittsburg State will most likely miss the playoffs this season, and for the third time in the last four years.
And that, along with the emergence of MIAA foe Northwest Missouri as one of the premiere programs in the country, has a rabid fan base talking. And posting. And doubting.
But get in the eye of the storm and it's a different story.
With the criticism of Broyles and his program, the circle around the Mulberry native and former PSU All-American lineman, 62, has drawn tighter than ever. Closing ranks might not even be the best description.
More like digging a trench and attaching bayonets.
"To me, Coach Broyles is the personification of what Pittsburg State University is all about, a well-rounded man in every sense of the word," said Kendall Gammon, a Rose Hill native and PSU alum whose 16-year NFL long-snapping career ended in 2006. "You lose a couple of games and people just can't believe it. I certainly don't like seeing (PSU) lose, but how about some perspective?
"When I played, our goal, every ear, was to win the national title. And I know that hasn't changed to this day. Just because things haven't been perfect doesn't mean it's time to jump ship. I know the fans are entitled to their opinion... but I'm also entitled to mine."
And the fans definitely have an opinion.
During the day, Wayne Gilmore might check your eyes and tell you to get a stronger prescription for your bifocals.
At night, the Parsons optometrist is a different monster.
Since 2000, the Pittsburg native and 1993 PSU graduate has run the fan Web site TeamKong.net. With more than 1,200 subscribers and, of course, season tickets, Gilmore has had a bird's-eye view of the fan discontent generated by PSU's recent losing streak.
"What we've been dealing with is really uncharted waters," Gilmore said. "Up until last week, things got really bad. There were some personal things being said and it was ... unpleasant."
Gilmore said he thinks that a lot of the fan discontent has come not only from PSU's recent struggles, but the rise of MIAA foe Northwest Missouri to one of the nation's elite programs.
Over the last decade, the Bearcats have been to the national championship game five times, including runner-up finishes the last four years and a title in 1999. Over that span, the Gorillas are 3-10 against Northwest, including four straight losses in the team's annual meeting at Arrowhead Stadium and two straight in the postseason.
"A lot of the frustration comes from the fans being sick and tired of going up (to Arrowhead) and losing," Gilmore said. "But you can't always blame Broyles. It can't always just be one guy's fault."
And that leads to the $64,000 question: What does that one guy think?
After Pittsburg State's 45-40 loss to Missouri Western on Sept. 26 — the Gorillas' third straight loss to open MIAA play — Broyles had an interesting encounter with a fan.
"This guy comes up to me and tells me that after the game he was just sick after we lost, like physically ill," Broyles said. "He said 'Coach, I don't think I can suffer through another 8-3 season. I couldn't even go to work Monday after we lost.'
"I think that's a little extreme. I think some people need to get a life."
Broyles doesn't seem to mind the criticism of either himself or his coaching staff, and offers a caveat to naysayers.
"You lose a couple of games and people start talking about they want fresh blood in there, that maybe a change might do some good," Broyles said. "They might want to think about the alternative. Do you think Nebraska fans wanted Frank Solich back after they hired Bill Callahan? What about Michigan fans? Think they might want Lloyd Carr back so they can beat Ohio State?"
The Gorillas (4-3, 2-3 MIAA) have put together back-to-back victories with wins over Missouri Southern on Oct. 3 and Emporia State, 44-14 on Saturday. They travel to No. 12 Washburn next Saturday.
"Not only three losses, but three losses in a row is definitely uncharted territory," said senior wide receiver Kendall Fisher, a Garden Plain product. "You hear a few remarks here and there, in classes and such, but we haven't given up on the season. We don't plan on losing another game this year."
The president of the PSU booster club, Dennis Gatewood, has a story he likes to tell.
In it, a local businessman complains about the season-ticket prices for football and decides not to renew his seats for the upcoming season. The next year, Gatewood decided not to call the businessman to try and sell season tickets. Didn't matter. The businessman called him.
"His business had dropped off considerably," Gatewood said. "If you don't support the school, around here, you'll probably be hurting."
And with that, PSU might not be hurting on the field for long. One look at the Gorillas' roster shows a wealth of young talent, including a pair of former Hutchinson High standouts, defensive lineman Forrest Stucky and linebacker Nate Dreiling, both of whom are redshirting this year as freshmen.
"In a town of just over 20,000, we get close to 9,000 people for home games," said Scott, who will be inaugurated Oct. 23. "Look in the skyboxes and you'll see the pillars of our community; doctors, lawyers, bankers ... we have the premiere facility in Division II.
"In my position you look at things long term, not just over three weeks. And I think the future is bright."