Alumni presence shines brighter spotlight on team

Cole Claybourn

President Gary Ransdell said he’s hopeful that this year’s Homecoming football game won’t resemble last year’s at all.

Two days after a 40-20 loss to Troy became the team’s 16th straight loss, officials announced that Head Coach David Elson had been fired.

The problems weren’t limited to the field, either. A crowd of 16,747 showed up for last year’s Homecoming game, which was the lowest Homecoming crowd in the past three years.

Among those were alumni — some of whom were former players — and everyday fans who weren’t shy about unleashing their discontent for the current state of the football program.

“I’m not blind, and I can hear, and I do get a lot of feedback — a lot of advice,” Ransdell said during the press conference where he and former Athletic Director Wood Selig announced Elson’s firing last November. “Our objective has to be the best interest of the university — of this program.”

While Ransdell was quick to point out that the decision to fire Elson wasn’t based solely on the Homecoming loss, he did say it wasn’t irrelevant either.

“Was it the final straw? I wouldn’t say that. But it was a straw that led to that action,” he said last week. “That game may have accelerated things more than a typical home game may have.”

A spotlight on the program tends to burn a little brighter at Homecoming with so many of the alumni present, Ransdell said.

“At this juncture with our football program, every game is critical,” he said. “The displeasure was paramount, and I was hearing from people all over at Homecoming you might not normally hear from.

“It’s the game that you invite your alumni back to watch, so you want to be successful.”

WKU has failed to find that success over the past three years, tying the program’s longest Homecoming losing streak. The last time WKU lost three straight Homecoming games was from 1953-1955.

Associate Athletic Director Todd Stewart agreed with Ransdell, saying that some alumni can only attend one game per season — the Homecoming game — so their impressions about the program are based on that particular game.

“Those people are essentially ambassadors for the program, so when they’re not around very often and only see one game, those are the stories they’re going to relay about the program,” he said. “You obviously want them to feel good about what they saw.”

Alex Downing, College Heights Foundation president, said he doesn’t expect WKU’s rough transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision or the recent Homecoming struggle to prevent them from being excited to play the game.

“Homecoming lends itself to be a great motivator (to the players),” he said. “There are some people that may have never seen this team play and may only get to see them play on a limited basis. It’s a chance for them to showcase the program and show improvement.”

Ransdell said he hopes the attendance issue will take care of itself this season with former player and assistant coach Willie Taggart as the head coach. He said many of his former teammates and colleagues will make a trip to see him as a head coach for the first time.

The success on Homecoming weekend is yet to be determined. But Ransdell said he likes where the program is headed.

 “We’re ready for the tides to turn and get in the win column,” he said. “I hope when the alumni come this year, they’ll be able to see evidence of a program that is improving and living up to its I-A billing.”