There he sat, head held high, eyes staring

By Allen Moff Record-Courier staff writer Published:

There he sat, head held high, eyes staring blankly ahead as he reflected on a Kent State football career that had just come to an end on a losing note. A career marred by an 0-11 senior season. A career that included just six wins in 44 outings.

That's sorry.

And so was Cogan.

But not for himself.

"I don't feel bad for myself. I feel bad for the coaches," said Cogan, following a season-ending 31-21 loss to Ohio. "Coach (Dean) Pees has put a lot of the blame for what happened this year on himself and he's taken some major heat, and that's not really fair.

"I'm not making excuses, but we went through a lot of adversity this year. But the coaches just kept on fighting, and that's how they wanted us to react. The thing I feel the worst about is that we couldn't give them a win."

A winless season was the last thing Pees ever imagined he'd have to go through in his first year as a collegiate head coach. And he readily admits it was tough on everyone.

Especially Dean Pees.

"It was very tough," he said. "I haven't been on a team that's even had a losing season since I can remember. But the easiest thing to do when things are going wrong is to question what you're doing, then make changes. And I wouldn't let myself do that.

"For 25 years I was a smart coach, and I don't think I suddenly became stupid in one year. I know what I'm doing and what I believe works."

Still, little the Flashes did worked in '98.

A high-octane offense that scorched teams for 31 points and 442 yards a game a year ago produced just 13.5 points and 304 yards per outing this season.

Kent struggled to run the ball from game one to 11 (MAC-worst 86.8 yards per game, 2.6 yards per rush), and the passing attack was inconsistent due to various mistakes by all parties involved.

"We tried to do the same things that made us successful in the past, but we didn't have the people to do it," said Pees. "We were not a five-step, drop-back team, but that's what we prepared ourselves to be. So we tried to make changes as the year went on, and that's not a good time to make them."

Defensively, improvement was minimal. The Flashes once again finished the season ranked last in the conference in virtually every category, including total defense (473.5 yards allowed per game), rushing defense (310 ypg) and scoring defense (41.3 ppg).

"We have to learn to be more physical on both sides of the ball," said Pees. "We have to run the ball and stop the run if we're ever going to be a good football team."

Keeping key players on the field would have also helped immensely. But that didn't happen.

"We had 14 kids that either quit, were suspended or couldn't make it academically," said Pees. "Add another 13 that we lost to injury, and that's 27 players that were here in January that weren't here halfway through the season. It's tough for any football team to survive without 27 players.

"And it's not like we went into the year thinking we were a contender with the people we had."

Still there's no denying the bottom line, which reads 0-for-11 in '98.

"I know that's what people see. And no one's more disappointed with our record than I am," said Pees. "But it's not like the season was a total loss. Our leading rusher was a freshman, DeMarlo Rozier. The leading punt returner in the MAC was a freshman, Jurron Kelly. Our leading tackler, Rashan Hall, was a freshman who played just nine games.

"We had 14 freshmen and a bunch of sophomores letter, and we were still able to redshirt (about 15) players that will step in and contribute next year. That's the biggest positive. That's what we plan to grow on."

And grow they will according to Cogan, a four-year letterman who wishes his career was just beginning.

"I've been here the last four years, and I can't say how much this program has improved since coach Pees came in," said Cogan. "The best move the administration ever made was to bring in this staff. Maybe it doesn't seem like it now, but you'll see results."

Notes

Junior quarterback Jose Davis finished seventh in the MAC in passing efficiency, fourth in total offense (211.1 yards per game) and fourth in passing yards (204.6). He struggled in the season finale (4-of-9, 33 yards, 1 int.) because he tried to come back from a thigh injury too soon, according to Pees. "Jose is a guy that could have just packed it in and started thinking about basketball season, but he did everything he could to play that last game. So I thought it was important that he play. In retrospect that may not have been a good decision because he wasn't physically ready to play, but I'm not down on Jose. Quite the opposite." ... Pees said he doesn't foresee any staff changes at this time. ... Senior wide receiver Eugene Baker was named second-team All-MAC even though he missed the last five games of the season with a broken clavicle. Baker dressed for the final game of his collegiate career, but did not see action. ... One of the school bookstores is pulling t-shirts off the shelves that poked fun at the Kent football program after Pees met with the manager on Tuesday. "What has bothered me more than anything that's happened to this program internally are the actions of some of the people you'd think would support us. I don't understand it. We have to fight our own people, and that's ridiculous. I don't expect people to come out in droves until we win, but there's no need to be negative and be against us. Either support us or get out of the way."

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