Lions football as described by the music of Waylon Jennings

Dec 2, 2015

Good news, Lions fans. The Carthel regime should be here for three more seasons, maybe longer. 

The university brass have inked head football coach Colby Carthel with a deal that runs through 2018, with an option to extend through 2020.

Since Waylon Jennings has the answer to most things, what better artist to paint a short portrait of A&M-Commerce football as it stands today?

I’ve Been a Long Time Leaving, But I’ll Be a Long Time Gone

The current era began in early 2013, when former Director of Athletics Ryan Ivey hired Carthel away from West Texas A&M, where he had served as defensive coordinator under his father, head coach Don Carthel. At the time, it looked like a father-son rivalry would heat up the Lone Star Conference in a few months. However, over the summer, Don and WT parted ways under bad terms. Suddenly the Carthel family football brain trust was focused on the Lions – less than a year after both men had helped take the Buffaloes to the NCAA Division II Semifinals.

It took a lot to get the Carthels into a Northeast Texas frame of mind. They’re from the Texas high plains country, just a shanked punt from the New Mexico line. It’s a pretty long way from the land of blizzard warnings and feedlots to the more gentle surroundings of these parts. But the administrative mess at WT was enough to do it. Their loss, our gain.

Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?

Colby inherited a Lions program that had been doing more meowing than roaring. He cleaned house, did what recruiting he could with almost no time before signing day, and entered the 2013 season with a motley roster of transfers, underclassmen and the best from previous seasons. Those Lions erased the memory of back-to-back single-victory seasons by going 7-5.

A&M-Commerce football relied heavily on transfer students during the early days of the Carthel regime. That’s not ideal – any coach would prefer to bring players up from their freshman year. But coaches also aren’t in the business of waiting to win, so Carthel and his staff did an admirable job of rejuvenating the Lions’ program in a short period. Maybe not the way Bear Bryant or Darryl Royal got their start, but these are different times. Like Waylon, Colby did things a little bit differently than those who went before.

The 2013 “turnaround” season was followed by back-to-back Lone Star Conference championships in 2014 (9-3) and 2015 (8-4). With three (two and a half?) recruiting classes now on campus, these Lions are looking more and more like a product of the current coaching staff.

Just To Satisfy You

So the Lone Star Conference did this thing, this regular-season tournament something-or-other, which won’t be explained here, because it takes a long time. It’s explained here.

And when it was rolled out, people expressed sentiments equivalent to Waylon’s famous “Someone’s gonna get hurt before you’re through” that opened this 1969 hit. And both years, the LSC Champion Lions ended up suffering the most as a result of the unusual arrangement. In both 2014 and 2015, A&M-Commerce dropped the final game of the tournament, and in each case, the loss resulted in the Lions falling to the no. 7 seed in the regional rankings. In 2014, that was enough to keep A&M-Commerce out of the NCAA playoffs. In 2015, the Lions just made it in, thanks to an expanded bracket, but had to hit the road for a first-round game.

It’s all over now. The administrators who made a decision based on convenience have been satisfied, and football continues on.

Love of the Common People

Which leads us to the next song, which is about dignity amid poverty. There’s no shame in being poor if you’re working hard. It reflects on the state of country music that this topic isn’t addressed much anymore, but that’s a different discussion.

The Lone Star Conference is welcoming three new football programs that, compared to the old membership, don’t have a wealth of talent. Oklahoma Panhandle State has struggled for years. UT-Permian Basin is a new program. Western New Mexico, while better off than the aforementioned, hasn’t been in the high-rent section of their conference standings for a while.

But the LSC old guard is happy to have some new relations of modest means. The addition of three programs means stability for the conference during an unstable time for NCAA Division II football. And no more scheduling problems. That’s good news for everyone.

Lonesome, On’ry and Mean

Going into next season, the Lions have lots of motivation. After lots of hard work and two conference titles, A&M-Commerce is far from satisfied with the status quo. The lack of an NCAA Playoff victory means that these Lions are going to be pretty growly over the off-season. When a superlative level of success is so close, not reaching it can be much more frustrating than when that level is just a theoretical possibility.

Lonesome? You bet. Everyone in the conference will be gunning for the defending champs. On’ry? Definitely. Mean? Let’s just say that next year’s opponents will learn just how much these Lions are ready to win a national championship. Last time that happened, Waylon had just released an album called “Ladies Love Outlaws.” It was 1972.