Coach Dale Lennon
Nov. 24, 2013
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Southern Illinois head football coach Dale Lennon addressed the media Sunday afternoon following the NCAA’s release of the 2013 FCS playoff bracket. Southern Illinois was not one of the 24 teams selected for the tournament to determine the FCS national champion.
SIU finished the regular season with a 7-5 overall record after Saturday’s 31-9 win over Indiana State. The Salukis finished in a four-way tie for second place in the Missouri Valley Conference with a 5-3 conference mark.
Q: How did the MVFC get only two teams into the postseason?
“The team was really disappointed. The toughest thing as a coach is when you have to break the news to them that they didn’t make it, and then you see the looks on their faces. It’s tough to explain but the bottom line was we needed to win more games. We understand that. The thing that’s disappointing is that we play in a league that is brutal. The early season polls had six teams ranked in the top-25. Then when it comes to the end of the season, there’s no love for the Missouri Valley, and that’s because the teams end up beating up each other. When you look at Youngstown State and their argument, their last three games were against Northern Iowa, North Dakota State and South Dakota State. It was because of that they didn’t make it because they had an 0-3 record the last three games. Our league is held against us.
Q: What would you like to see corrected about the process?
“One thing we have talked about is splitting the conference into a north-south league. I’m of the belief you should play everyone in your league and have a true conference champion, but by doing that, your records won’t be as impressive at the end of the year. If you have a north-south, east-west or however you want to break it up; you don’t play everyone in your league. You play more non-conference games, therefore, at the end of the year you have a much more attractive schedule to make the playoffs. So that’s something we are considering. All the Missouri Valley Football programs are frustrated that we don’t get better representation. We may have to reschedule and not have everyone play each other, which would be very disappointing because you want a true conference champion. Not a north playing the south type thing. It’s just disappointing.
Q: Were you disappointed in the fact that some of the other conferences got three teams in?
“The Big Sky is a conference that has quite a few teams with eight- or nine-win seasons. It’s tough to bypass those, especially with a reputable league like the Big Sky. When you have eight or nine wins that will carry a lot of weight. However, their wins are completely different from eight or nine wins in the Missouri Valley. In regards to the Ohio Valley, you’d like for them to consider the conference’s playoff success in the tournament. When you look at what the MVFC did last year with NDSU and Illinois State having success. You would think that would have a little more impact, but unfortunately, it doesn’t.
Q: What’s the most disappointing thing about this process, for you and the team?
“We knew we would have our opportunities. We needed to win more games. It came down to missed opportunities. For us, it’s the realization that it’s all over now. We made a strong run. We know we are a playoff-caliber team. We know if we had made the playoffs, we could make some noise and advance. We could have a chance to make a run at this. That’s the frustrating thing is that we never get to show what we are capable of. But again, you need to win the games when it’s coming down the line. We know we play in a tough conference, and we can’t use that as an excuse. You have to win those ball games. We have to win against Youngstown. We have to win against Missouri State. We have to win against North Dakota State. If we do there is no argument. We can’t leave it up to the committee.
Q: Can you talk about this year’s team?
“This was a fun team to coach. I’m proud of how we hung together. You talk about overcoming adversity, how many times in the season did people talk about us being dead? Media people were saying it’s a lost season. Our guys kept battling and came to work each Tuesday. This was a fun team. It wasn’t a challenge to motivate them. It wasn’t a challenge to discipline them. There were no off-the-field issues to deal with. The guys just wanted to play football and go as far as we could. When that happens, it’s a fun team to be a part of.”
Q: If South Dakota State lost and SIU won, do you think the Valley would still only have had two teams?
"It’s up to the committee and how they view it. They talked about strength of conference schedule. If Youngstown had defeated South Dakota State, we would’ve been the third choice out of the league. I don’t know if they would’ve taken us ahead of South Dakota State. We would’ve had the head-to-head advantage, which is another factor. Our conference records were the same. You would think that that would hold the majority of the weight in the selection process. The one thing I do think that hurt us is that during the season, we were never able to crack the top 25, so we just never got in the spotlight. Every time we were on the verge of making that jump, against Eastern Illinois, Youngstown State, North Dakota State, we were set back."
Q: Did the selection committee look more at the polls than stats?
"I’m sure they probably have about five different models that they can go with for the selection process, so I don’t know the specific criteria. I just know the more exposure you have, the better it is for you. The committee chair talked about Northern Iowa being in consideration as a bubble team. That’s a team that finished 3-5 in the league, but they were highly ranked for over half the year. I think that’s one reason why they were still in consideration."
Q: What was your message to the returning players today?
"We just took care of our current business and gave the schedule for the upcoming week, the week after Thanksgiving and our final meeting before we go into Christmas break. That will be the time when you really start the building blocks for next year. We have a huge junior class. That’s where the strength of our team is right now, so this is a team to start getting excited about because we do have a lot of players coming back with extensive playing time who are playmakers, and I think that what happens here today should serve as some very strong motivation going into the offseason, and I expect that it will."
Q: Have you talked to any of the other coaches in the conference?
"No, I haven’t. I don’t know what you’d say to them. We’ll talk tomorrow when we do our All-Conference selection meeting. Right now I’m just worried about SIU and where we are."