Tuesday, December 10, 2013

EDITORIAL >> 33 years of success

Cabot’s football team is playing Bentonville in the Class 7A football state championship game on Friday at War Memorial Stadium. The Panthers will be led onto the field by Coach Mike Malham, a man who — despite helping bring two state championships to the town in his 33-year stint — has been much maligned in recent years.

Malham has been in charge of the Cabot football program while it has seen an unprecedented level of success. As Cabot and its school district grew rapidly, the Panthers were an annual state championship contender in the state’s highest classification. The population growth coincided with an excellent run of talent. It’s a cycle high schools are known to go through. There are good years, and there are bad years, and mostly there are average years.

Malham has won more games than those averages should indicate. Talent is the primary factor in winning and losing in all sports. There are secondary factors, and the first one is coaching. Great coaching can help less talented players win. That’s how Malham has contributed to Cabot’s success. The years they won it all, like most teams that win it all, were largely due to the fact that he had outstanding talent.

But Malham has won 269 games as head coach since 1980. That’s 8.2 wins per 10-game regular season, plus a few playoff games most years, for 33 years. That is a winning percentage beyond what anyone should expect a high-school program to achieve for such a long period. Cabot has won two state championships under Malham.

That in itself doesn’t seem like a great percentage. But considering the percentage of schools that have won precisely zero state or conference titles in those years, and have fallen far short of averaging more than eight wins a season, it’s a mystery why some people are unhappy with his accomplishments.

Yet there is still a small faction who follow Cabot football (we resist calling them fans) that would just as soon see Panther Stadium air raided as see Malham succeed. To this small faction, none of Cabot’s success is due to him, and all its failures are because of him.

To this faction, Cabot has just as much, if not more, talent as any other school. They say it’s Malham’s fault that Cabot players are not getting big-time college scholarship offers at the same rate as other schools. They say he refuses to promote his players, or his system is so arcane that college coaches are helpless to teach his most talented athletes how to play modern football.

That’s balderdash.

Many people are gifted at many different things, and it’s a rare occasion that someone’s vocation matches their gift. Mike Malham has a gift for coaching high school athletes, and Cabot has been fortunate to have him leading its program for 33 years. The Panthers have won more games because he’s been there, far more than they would have with someone with average coaching talent.

People who argue his system is too out-of-date to win have not only been proven wrong this year, they were proven wrong in 1983 and 2000. The Dead T was, for all practical purposes, a dead system then. The wing-T replaced the Dead-T in the 1950s. Frank Broyles’ power I-formation replaced that. The wishbone, made popular by Darrel Royal’s Texas Longhorns, then became all the rage, and a dozen different systems have come since then.

Lining up the tackles 15 yards apart and throwing the ball 30 times per game wouldn’t have made Cabot any more successful than it’s been. Cabot won championships because those teams were better than everyone else.

But let’s also credit the program’s consistent success to a coach who is dedicated to hard work and excellence, and who has a knack for teaching young people to give their best. Go Panthers.