Now that the Mount Allison Mounties have established some consistency in the coaching ranks, what should fans come to expect in both the short and long term from a team that has bounced around in the lower echelons of the Atlantic Conference for more than a dozen years?
This question was posed to Kelly Jeffrey, who recently signed a four-year contract to direct the program, and when his term has been fulfilled will be the second longest serving coach in the 58-year history of the sport at the local institution.
"Our first goal is to be in the conference championship game every year," he responded to the question. "Not to just make the playoffs but to have a serious chance to win it all and advance to at least the next round of the chase for the Vanier Cup."
And just how does he propose to accomplish this laudible goal?
First, it will be with an experienced coaching staff that has established objectives and that is committed to the program.
But Jeffrey is aware of what it will require to move ahead, if not make a leap to prominence, then steadily each year until the goal is reached. With all else being equal it will be the team with the deepest pockets that will come out ahead.
Since the CIS legitimized the awarding of athletic scholarships it has been those teams with unlimited budgets that have become dominant. Take Laval as an example. With more than a $2 million budget the Quebec school has created a dynasty that does not look to be interrupted very often.
So how does a tiny school like Mount Allison get to compete successfully? With continuity in the coaching staff - one that is not only able to instill the fundamentals of the game but one that can create a winning culture - and an alumni that is committed to their alma mater becoming the best it can be.
The Fifth Quarter Club, formed more than 30 years ago, has worked wonders and is responsible for the team's existence today. When push came to shove in the 1990s, it was the hockey program that was scrapped and then athletic director Jack Drover said it was the support from the club that the team had along with a decent record that made the difference in which team would be axed.
But the broader alumni must come on-board if football and athletics in general are to improve at Mount Allison. It isn't realistic to expect the university to suddenly discover another million in its budget for athletics and recreation, so, the alternative is for Allisonians everywhere to come to the rescue. The Old Crow Society at Carleton recently created a multi-million dollar fund for its Ravens program so it can be done. When the program at St. F. X. was cancelled a few years ago, Fr. George Kehoe led the rescue and former X-Men rallied to have it restored. There is proof that it can be done – it only requires the will!
Asked about the need for decent facilities – things like bleachers, press booth, change rooms for visiting teams and an upgraded weight training facility – Jeffrey agreed these would be fine but says they must follow other improvements. He suggested the David MacAulay Field, the only one with natural grass, gives his Mounties a certain advantage in that the competitors find it far different from their artificial turf.
He believes that more important than new facilities is a generally improved game day environment. A pep band has been formed to help instill greater excitement, while other improvements may be introduced, going hand-in-hand with the team improvement.
When talking about coaching support, the coach really means increased recruiting budgets. He says a network of alumni across the country is helping to identify better student-athletes and often work with coaches as they go on a recruiting tour by hosting meetings and arranging for these visits.
Last fall a group of Quebec alumni presented a cheque for $30,000 and Jeffrey says other regions have noticed and are moving in that direction. And he says athletic director Pierre Arsenault is doing a fine job of moving all the sports programs forward by working with all parties involved by engaging alumni and creating some excitement and enthusiasm.
Since taking over as interim head coach in 2008, Jeffrey has compiled a nine win-34 loss record, which has included three playoff games. While this is far from impressive, the team has shown steady progress and now has the potential to be an every-day competitor.
Both Jeffrey and Arsenault seem pleased with the support offered by president Campbell, who obviously sees the importance of a holistic education. He is one of the team's biggest boosters during home games and often makes an inspiring appearance at training camp or at practices.
Another goal of the Mounties is to recruit the cream of the crop from the N. B. High School League. Last season they picked Michael Bohan, the player of the year, and this time it looks as though they have signed the two most valuable players. Described as New Brunswick's team, it is only reasonable that they make every effort and Jeffrey says he has a trio of coaches "bird-dogging" New Brunswick youth. And the Nova Scotia program has offered plenty of support, a key indicator being that the two huge middle guards, Jacob LeBlanc and Quinn Everett, come from Halifax.
But it is necessary to recruit farther afield and so a national network is being developed from Victoria to Halifax. Mount Allison's academic reputation, fanned by MacLean's magazine, is a prime recruiting tool but a limited number of course offerings is a handicap. However, Jeffrey says it seems recruits, when they once visit, are sold on returning.
The coach agrees building a successful team begins with solid linemen as it is tough to win even with skilled people in skilled positions without strength up front. So this offseason an emphasis is being placed on this aspect, although the need for receivers is being met. Without losing an offensive player through graduation this year with only three from the defensive side going he feels the future is already rosy. He is confident he has a quality CIS quarterback in Brendan Leyh and that the team's attack will be much more potent in the immediate future.
And so it seems that if the Mounties are to truly reach their potential and bring even more positive attention to the tiny Sackville campus it will require their supporters to reach deeper into their pockets so they may become not only big time winners but the school's greatest public relations vehicle.