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Friday, February 26, 2021

Nothing to Cheer About with Delaware Football

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Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan has covered and commented on the Delaware sports scene for more than 30 years, everything from amateur recreation leagues and high schools to local colleges and the Philadelphia professional teams. He’s been voted Delaware Sportswriter of the Year multiple times and currently covers the Philadelphia Eagles for CBSSports.com and teaches creative writing courses at Wilmington University.

It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago that the University of Delaware and Delaware State University met in the Division I-AA playoffs on national television, one of the best days college football has ever seen in the First State.

That’s why current events are so depressing, because this could end up being the worst-ever season for college football in Delaware, unless you like Division III and follow perennial national power Wesley, which is currently undefeated and ranked No. 5 in the nation.

But the two big boys in our small state, Delaware and Delaware State, are having terrible seasons – they have a combined record of 2-9, with Delaware State losing all five of its games so far.

But that’s not nearly as bad as Delaware’s 2-4 record, simply because the Blue Hens have a tradition the Hornets can’t match. Losing at Delaware State isn’t new. Since 2007 — when the Hornets went 10-2 and won the MEAC title with an 8-0 record – it has had just one winning season, going 6-5 in 2012. But then the Hornets took a big step backward last season; they finished 2-10, coach Kermit Blount was fired, and Kenny Carter was hired to replace him.

So, Delaware State was coming off one of their worst seasons ever and they have a new coach, so it shouldn’t be a surprise the Hornets are 0-5 and have been outscored 155-63. The Hornets’ program hasn’t been much fun since that historic meeting with Delaware in 2007, when the Hornets lost in the playoffs to a Delaware team that was led by quarterback Joe Flacco and advanced all the way to the national championship game. Sad to say, the Hornets are used to losing.

However, Delaware’s stumbling start to the 2015 season is disappointing and even a little disturbing. Not that anybody expected the Blue Hens to be a powerhouse – they were picked to finish sixth in the annual Colonial Athletic Association coaches’ pre-season poll, and the watered-down CAA isn’t the power conference it used to be. But after decent showings in losses to Jacksonville and Villanova and upsetting nationally-ranked William & Mary, the Blue Hens looked like a respectable team again.

But the bottom fell out this past week when Delaware was spanked 20-0 by a Rhode Island team, which came into the game 0-5 after winning just one game last season. For long-time Delaware fans – at least the ones that are still around – this has to be shocking.

And whereas Carter gets a pass because he’s in his first year, this is the third season at Delaware for coach Dave Brock. He was also given the benefit of the doubt at first, but that no longer works at Delaware, which is used to being one of the best teams in the country, not one of the worst teams in its conference. And that falls right into the laps of Brock and athletic director Eric Ziady, who fired former coach K.C. Keeler and then went on a supposed national search for a new coach. Ziady ended up hiring Brock, his old buddy from their days together at Boston College, even though Brock had never been a head coach before.

Keeler rubbed some people the wrong way, and in this case it was the wrong people — the administration – and so he was let go even though he won a national championship and went to two other championship games. And then they handed the job to somebody who had no ties to Delaware’s proud past or real understanding of its loyal and demanding fans.

By the way, in case you haven’t kept tabs on Keeler since he was booted by the UD administration, he’s now the head coach at Sam Houston State. Last season, in his first year there, he led the Bearkats to an 11-5 record, the Southland Conference championship, and the semi-finals of the NCAA Tournament. And Sam Houston is currently ranked 11th in the nation. So, don’t cry for K.C., because he’s doing a lot better than the man who replaced him in Newark.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the Hens’ free-fall from national power to mediocrity is the fact that nobody around here seems to care that much. Delaware has always been one of the top attendance teams for its size and the Hens still draw pretty well, but not like they used to. UD fans used to pack the stadium, but that was before Delaware decided to do what everyone else was doing with their football programs – hand it to the marketing people and make as much money from it as possible. College football is big business now, not the mom-and-pop store it was in Newark for so many decades. That’s just a reality and a lot of long-time fans were put off by (in their minds) UD’s money-grubbing ways.

However, even that would be forgiven if the team won like it used to. But after finishing 7-5 in his first season, Brock’s team has taken more steps backward that forward – the Hens finished 6-6 last year and will have to finish strongly to avoid a losing record this year.

Perhaps Brock will turn things around. He has one of the youngest teams in the nation, so a little patience probably isn’t a bad thing. At the same time, there’s no guarantee that a player will get better just because he gets older.

Besides, patience has never been a virtue that’s been embraced by Blue Hens fans, who are spoiled by decades of winning and sometimes winning big. Delaware football just doesn’t generate the buzz it used to, and even though going to UD games is still fun, it’s not like it used to be when the fans felt more of a connection to their team.

Hopefully, that will change if Brock’s kids grow up to be good football players. But right now, neither of Delaware’s Division I teams are giving us much to cheer about.

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