He approached the dry-erase board that has come to symbolize this season and proceeded to write the statement that is the root of what he’s been saying to his teams for years.
If what you do repeatedly is who you are, then excellence is not defined by an event but by your habits.
It’s more Aristotle than Ara Parseghian, but Crowe is trying to establish a mindset with a team that’s still young enough to be molded.
He has been saying it in some version for years, but as he tries to move the Gamecocks beyond the “average” 6-5 season they just completed, those will be the guiding words for going forward.
“Show me better habits and I’ll show you a better football team,” he said.
Starting Monday, Crowe began what he called a “360-degree assessment” of the program with the express purpose of it making “a real national FCS commitment.”
“We’re at a time in our program where we need to start reaching for a high FCS standard and our work schedule — how we organize in January — has got to transfer all the way to the postseason next year,” Crowe said. “I don’t know how good we can be but we have to train with the expectation that we’re going to have (a better year).
“Six and five is average; I think we’ve built something stronger than our record. We’ve flirted with it. we’ve had our incremental movement in that direction in different times, but I don’t think we’ve ever totally been structured (to that end) and we’re going to change what we’re doing ... with a higher level of expectation and a real commitment to excellence.
Crowe has talked about making the Gamecocks a national brand on their level for years, but the effort has to go beyond simply enhancing the stadium. It’s things like ambitious scheduling and the anticipation of a home game against an undisclosed intersectional FCS playoff caliber team, adjusting responsibilities among assistant coaches and enhancing weight training and academic support systems and training table offerings.
The latter items easily can be addressed if the program actually had control of the 33 percent stake it has been formulated to receive from the guarantee games it plays, control it does not have to date.
The program has produced 10 winning seasons, but it has hardly made a blip on the national landscape. It has been to the playoffs only once since winning back-to-back automatic bids in 2003 and 2004. Its most notable contributions are playing Florida State to the wire and beating Ole Miss. What is its biggest non-conference FCS win? Chattanooga?
“Our biggest disappointment is we haven’t created an FCS presence; that’s the league we’re in,” Crowe said. “The most credible next thing we can do is be a dominant FCS team. We’ve done the other things. We’ve beaten an SEC team. We’ve shown with can make plays with them. I’m ready to move on. I’m done with the other.”
That’s not to say the idea of the Gamecocks moving up to the Football Bowl Subdivision level is dead, although it seemingly has lost its momentum as a talking point. If the Gamecocks do achieve Crowe’s aim of being a dominant FCS program he’s confident that could help them reach the longer-range goal.
“If there is an FBS opportunity, that’s the next step to doing that,” Crowe said.
Immediately on the agenda, though, is finding a way to bounce back from this year’s 6-5 season, its worst record since 2007. Crowe made a similar national FCS pitch after that season and the Gamecocks went 8-3, 8-3, 9-3, 7-4 over the next four years, but went to the playoffs just once despite having a team competitively worthy of FCS playof consideration all four seasons.
What produced the 6-5 was a developing defense that didn’t quite catch onto the system until late in the year and a dreadful showing away from home. Every week the defensive coaches would wipe their dry-erase board clean and start their gameplan from scratch.
The Gamecocks were 5-0 at JSU Stadium, but the only game they won on the road this season came against a Tennessee Tech team in the midst of being decimated by injuries.
It was their worst road record since going 1-5 in 2002 — their last losing season, the year before they joined the Ohio Valley Conference .
They were shredded by Eastern Kentucky and UT Martin early, but at least rallied to make a game of it at Martin. They looked harried at the end of the Eastern Illinois game and, of course, were beaten in their bookend guarantee games at Arkansas and Florida.
“Not winning on the road calculated on both the offense and defense not playing complete games,” Crowe said. “The good thing is we played some very bad first halves of football, but I think we fought on the road in the scond half; we repeatedly fought back to finish in every game. Sometimes we were too far (behind). We had some really bad first halves — some really, really awful first halves — particularly on the road, but not completely on the road.
“I don’t think we have a road warrior mentality and I think in this psychological transition I’m trying to create part of it is the mentality we’ve got to learn to play on the road with a dominating mentality.”
Sometime in the next few weeks, certainly before the Christmas break, Crowe and athletics director Warren Koegel will sit down for their annual year-end review. From where Crowe will sit, it will be all about what it takes to maintain a year-round program.
“Are we truly competing every day at a comparable level with the people that are in those playoffs,” Crowe said. “I don’t think we are. I don’t think we’re competing every day with the calbier of people in those playoffs. Until we do, I don’t tihnk we’re doing everything we can to be an FCS contender.
“I do think we have a considerable better foundation now than we’ve had before, but it’s time to start erecting this thing instead of working on the foundation of it. There’s an expectation, but I don’t think we’ve created a structure that’s comparable to the expectation.”
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @almusky_star.