Coach airs concerns following one-sided loss
By Kelly Fenton
The Denmark News
DENMARK – The lopsided loss to Waupaca on Friday night had sixth-year Denmark head coach Tom Neuman re-examining everything.
Never mind that the early season has presented a nearly perfect storm of challenges. The Vikings returned no natural leaders after losing a whopping 19 seniors and nearly all of their starters to graduation. That has left not just a glaring gap in experience but a notable lack of leadership. Toss in some key injuries that have forced Neuman to reach even deeper down his novice roster and, well, losing 50-14 to a mediocre Waupaca team is suddenly in play.
Still, it’s the way his Vikings are going about their business that has Neuman most troubled.
“My immediate reaction after the game was anger,” he said. “Anger at myself, at my coaches and at my players. For the first time since I’ve been here, I felt like the kids just stopped playing hard. We’re very immature. We don’t recover well from big plays. We’ve always prided ourselves on making teams drive it down the field on us but last night I couldn’t get anyone to make a tackle.
“I don’t like to be negative, I think people know. But last night it was like a JV team playing a varsity team.”
Waupaca running back Xzaver Pittman, talented but not otherworldly, ran for more than 300 yards on just 13 carries and scored six touchdowns. When a Viking did lay a hand on him, he didn’t hold on. More often than not, though, no one was even getting a touch on him.
“That competitive spirit I’ve had for five years isn’t there,” Neuman said. “Denmark has always had tough, hard-hitting guys. I have to find a way to rebuild that.”
Denmark was playing without quarterback Sean Malay (out two to four weeks with a shoulder injury), running back Eli Kapinos (also out with a shoulder injury) and two-way lineman Garrett Collins, who is out for the season. Malay and Collins were two of only five Vikings back with any appreciable varsity experience and both were deemed leaders, albeit young ones.
It wasn’t just questionable effort that was nagging at Neuman but repeated mental errors, from poor snaps to penalties to failure to score in the red zone.
“We couldn’t even line up right,” he said. “The thing is, we won last week but we made those same mistakes. It didn’t get better, it got worse. I have to do better as a coach.”
Neuman went on to question the general commitment of some of his players and was especially disappointed by the loss of some returning players to academic ineligibility or violations of student handbook.
“I even have some kids who are missing practices because they’re going on vacation,” he said. “I just don’t know how many of these players that football is a priority. It’s like, if we win, we win; if we lose we lose.”
Even more concerning is that with school starting this week, it will be even harder to keep his players focused and on task.
“I’ve got to re-examine my own coaching,” he said. “The good news is we have six more games. The bad news is the teams are only going to get tougher.”
Denmark travels to Seymour on Friday to take on the 0-3 Thunder. They have been outscored by three other North Eastern Conference opponents, 98-22.