Photos by Kyle West, Silhouette Photo Archives
The 2018 McMaster University men’s football season has come to an early end, losing to Carleton University in the first round of the playoffs. This is the earliest that the Marauders have been knocked out of the Ontario University Athletics playoffs since 2015.
The game was off to a slow start for the Marauders, who were as much as 25 points behind in the first half, but they managed to score 20 points by the late third and fourth quarter. Unfortunately, their efforts were not enough, and the Ravens had outscored them 30-25 by the final whistle.
🏈 #OUA FBALL 🏈
We’ve got ourselves a football game! After this 8-yard TD grab from Michael Bazzo, @McMasterSports is down just five to the @CURavens with mere minutes left to play in this one!#WeAreONE | #QuestForTheCup | #MACvsCAR pic.twitter.com/qIBAnK8WrO
— OUA (@OUAsport) 27 October 2018
The Marauders faced a number of different trials this season: quarterback uncertainty, a young team and an overworked defence; but they still managed to secure a playoff spot. So, the firing of head coach Greg Knox by McMaster on Oct. 22 was the last thing the team expected heading into the quarterfinal game.
According to the statement released by the university, the firing was a result of an independent investigation that began after an incident at a game against Wilfrid Laurier University in late September, which involved allegations of harassment and threats of physical violence made against a sideline game official.
Following the incident, Knox had been suspended by the OUA for one game, then put on administrative leave by the school for three games until he was fired on Monday.
Knox fired as McMaster coach https://t.co/Poa0QXrku3
— Hamilton Spectator (@TheSpec) 22 October 2018
“It’s really hard to go play an away game against a really talented and confident team [under these conditions],” said a player on the team who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of being reprimanded.
“Coach Knox was one of the guys that recruited me in my last year of high school. Majority of the guys on that team came here because of Coach Knox,” said the player. “So, though our interim coaches are really good at their jobs, at the end of the day it’s about loyalty. So guys just didn’t have that fire.”
In 2011, 2012 and 2014, Knox was the defensive coordinator and helped lead the Marauders to the Vanier Cup each year. After then-head coach Stefan Ptaszek left to join the Hamilton Tiger-Cats before the 2016 season, Knox was brought in as head coach.
“Knox has always been good poking the holes in other team’s offense,” said the player. “In 2014 McMaster football had no business going to the national championship, but because of Coach Knox’s defensive mindset, our defence scored more than our offence which is so hard to do.”
McMaster’s defence has always been strong thanks to his leadership, so to see it fall apart is not easy for anyone. Although, with every action comes a consequence. As stated in the press release, McMaster University is “committed to fostering a respectful and inclusive community in which all members of the university work, study, and live free of harassment”.
The margin between the penalties from the league and the school is something that puzzles many, but due to the university being bound by privacy guidelines, no additional details on the specifics of the report or the incident will be released.
“Though we don’t have the full details of what happened, letting go of a coach before a playoff game doesn’t result in anything good for anyone,” said the player. “Also, being told one thing while another is happening makes us feel disrespected as players.”
The ambiguity of the school’s decision made it hard for the players to come to an understanding of why they made the decision that they did. Though the university acknowledged that coaching changes can be a challenge, especially going into a playoff game, and that they will provide support to team members, players cannot help but still feel alone in this.
Though through it all, it is important to recognize that the firing of coach Knox is not the definite reason the Marauders did not leave Ottawa one step closer to the Yates Cup. It would be unfair to discredit the Ravens’ talent and ability to score touchdowns, which is something Marauders struggled with all season, with and without Knox. But, to see the McMaster program burn up into flames in the future as a result of this would be truly disappointing for everyone involved.
“You never want to be the school that teams will see on their schedule and count as a win,” said the player. “We have a very complicated system that is hard [for other schools] to prepare for, so I hope whoever is coming in can help us maintain that reputation.”
As of now, the results of the search for the new head coach still remains to be seen. In the meantime, the Marauders will head into the offseason and try to regroup what is left of their team.