A lot of fans of South Carolina athletics live in Hateville, a place that exists in cyberspace where mostly anonymous fans spend their time and efforts thinking up negative things to say about the teams they otherwise cheer for on a regular basis.
Before you call me an apologist, a sunshine pumper, or anything of the sort, let me make it clear that I am fine with, and often engage in, healthy criticism about the teams I pull for, including South Carolina. Healthy criticism is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about what goes on in Hateville. In Hateville fans go over the top. In Hateville, it’s common to call coaches lazy and to question their qualifications to even be a coach at this level. In Hateville folks have all the answers.
The haters tell us about all the huge mistakes these lazy and uncaring coaches made in the game they watched from their couch. The haters then go on to tell us what they recommend to fix the problems they have identified. Most of these recommendations center on benching the quarterback or firing the coach. For example, a couple of years ago, a large contingent of USC haters wanted to bench some guy named Shaw in favor of some guy named Thompson. This year, a large contingent of haters were absolutely convinced that all of our defensive coaches except Grady Brown were completely clueless and should never have been hired in the first place (meanwhile the D of our old defensive guru, Ellis Johnson, then at Auburn, was getting torched on a weekly basis). At the present time, a bunch of haters want to fire Coach Holbrook because the baseball team is in a big slump.
I’ll be the first to admit that in football our defense was terrible last year and that coaching/recruiting had something to do with it (but not having Jadeveon Clowney around anymore may have been a slight factor). I’ll also be the first to admit that our baseball team is not as good as any of our teams in the recent past. These are facts and they are indisputable.
I just happen to believe that the reasons for unsuccessful results are far more complicated that an allegation that Coach Sands is “lazy” or that Coach Holbrook is too much of a “good cop.” And by the way, how do the haters have all this information about the commitment and toughness level of our coaches? It seems that all the inhabitants of Hateville have firsthand knowledge of their daily routines and habits. What I think actually happens is that they read some snippet on the internet or twitter given by an “insider,” or uttered by a 17-year-old recruit, take it to be the gospel truth, and then they draw some sort of grand conclusion from it.
I have a couple of theories on why USC’s version of Hateville has so many residents these days: recent success and social media.
As eloquently espoused by Buck in a blog post a couple of years ago, it’s fair to say that we recently experienced what he termed the Golden Age of South Carolina athletics. This Golden Age was largely a result of the success by the football and baseball teams. While success is great, it also results in two things that aren’t so great: bandwagon fans and unrealistic expectations. I am of the belief that most residents of Hateville are bandwagon fans who don’t appreciate success like the fans who were supporters when wins were harder to come by. The bandwagoners jumped on board when times were good, and in short, they got spoiled. Only a select few football teams go 33-6 over a 3 year span. Only a select few baseball teams win back to back championship, and even fewer play for three titles in three years.
What some fans fail to appreciate is that the football and baseball teams didn’t have much room for improvement. To the contrary, they had nowhere to go but down (I know, we could have won the SEC championship, but what we accomplished in football over a three-year span was pretty incredible in hindsight). When a team loses after having some success, it stings more. And when it stings, some folks get angry and start pointing fingers. After all, losing has to be somebody’s fault. You couldn’t have just gotten beat by a better team that was cycling up while you were cycling down.
I agree that we should have higher expectations that we have had in the past. I’m all for striving for more wins than we historically have been able to muster. That said, I realize that the path to sustained success is steep and winding. Occasionally our teams are going to swerve off the path and actually go backwards. This happens when every team you play (many of which have more tradition and more resources that you do) is trying to beat you as bad as you are trying to beat them.
One thing that really chaps me about Hateville: haters come across with an attitude that our coaches and administration don’t care, and that they are making emotional decisions about the retention of coaches. Personally I think this is total BS. Call me naïve, but I believe that our coaches and administrators are genuinely trying to win and would never retain a coach who they didn’t think could win. I find it preposterous to think that proven winners like Steve Spurrier and Ray Tanner would purposely retain coaches just for the hell of it. But the residents of Hateville think otherwise. How they know this, I’m not sure. Maybe it’s the same way they know that our defensive coaches, save Grady Brown, are all lazy and stupid.
These past couple of weeks have been particularly busy in Hateville. The huge baseball slump has generated a steady diet of Fire Coach Holbrook message board posts and tweets. Coach H has been accused of ruining the precious baseball program, basically based on the rationale that he’s too much of a nice guy. You all know what they say about nice guys: that’s right, they finish last. I’m as disappointed as anyone that we aren’t winning more baseball games this year. I want that to change. But I’m also aware that baseball is a cruel game, a game where breaks tend to even out.
While I agree that we aren’t as talented, I think part of the issue (not the blowouts, mind you) is that the breaks have evened out a bit. During one stretch, this team lost 4 consecutive one run games in conference. One run games are a lot about breaks. During the championship years we always seemed to get the breaks. This year we just haven’t. Is some of that a lack of talent? Maybe. Is some of that a coaching issue? Maybe. I really can’t tell you, and I’ve been following baseball pretty closely for most of my life. People have forgotten that the 2010 team was pretty underwhelming late in the year. They forgot because the team then got hot as a firecracker and went on the win the national championship.
Why did that seemingly unremarkable team get hot and win it all while the Kip Bouknight and Justin Smoak-led teams never make it to Omaha? Who the hell knows. If you can figure it out, please let me know.
Social media also contributes to the hater attitude and the existence of haters because of the mob mentality that can spring from anonymous commentators piling on when a particular hater viewpoint is given. It becomes a feeding frenzy on the poor sap who filled out the lineup card or drew up the X’s and O’s. Haters want the coach to go as soon as things start going wrong. They want a new coach in place as fast as they can tweet it (because the unknown new coach is of course better than the current coach). Because certain things can happen so much faster these days, haters want failure to be remedied at light speed (think about how pissed off folks get when the wifi is slow). Instant gratification is what they are after. I really wish it worked that way in sports but it just doesn’t. Sometimes you have to endure rough patches when the talent level drops or the breaks all go the other way. That’s pretty much how it goes for every football program not named Alabama and every baseball program not named LSU, and even LSU has had some bad teams in recent years.
[Update: We just won the Vandy series. I wonder what the haters are gonna hate about this week. I’m not too worried. I’m sure they’ll find something.]