One of the easiest situations for a new football coach to find himself in, is to sign on with a program that has nothing to prove because nobody cares, and nothing to lose because it’s never won.
This would be a place where success is so far in the distant past that people scarcely remember it.
Then there’s the task that first-year Jim Ned coach Matt Fanning has accepted. Taking over for the highly successful Jerod Womack, who resigned to become AD at Stephenville, Fanning inherits a team on the upswing, and with it, a healthy mount of expectations.
The Indians finished 9-3 a year ago, their best record in more than a decade. They have 15 of 22 positions filled by returning starters and they have a whopping 25 lettermen back.
Fanning does have the advantage of being Womack’s offensive coordinator last year, which should quicken the transition. Nonetheless, the challenge to keep the Indians’ momentum going is there — a pressure-filled challenge that Fanning didn’t hesitate to accept.
“I don’t think about it much, to be honest,” Fanning said. “I can’t afford to. I love what I do. Coach Womack is a dear friend and always will be and I’ve got the upmost respect for what he was able to accomplish here.
“My mindset is to grow that. If I don’t pull it off then I’m not doing my job.”
If long-term success translates into confidence, poise and more wins, Jim Ned is still in the early stages of setting that foundation.
Last season marked the first winning campaign for the Indians since 2009 and the most victories in a season since the Colt McCoy-led 2004 campaign that saw them finish 12-1.
So the Indians haven’t yet reached a stage where reputation is good for a few extra points.
“You can always take a step back and that’s always a fear,” Fanning said. “We’ve got to continue to grow and continue to succeed to build that long-term tradition.
“We can be a place like Albany or Wylie where tradition really carries you.”
The Indians have already proven Fanning’s point.
Such a tradition has been in place for Jim Ned on the basketball court and baseball diamond for years, with multiple postseason appearances and deep playoff runs in both sports.
Oddly enough, football success, at least on a consistent basis, had eluded the school — something Womack intended to reverse upon his arrival in 2015.
In three seasons, he posted a 17-16 overall mark with two playoff appearances — capped by last year’s trip to the area round.
“As far as stepping in and filling the role, I can’t try to do things the exact same way,” Fanning said. “We’ve got to be us and do what we (do well) and what remains good. And I’ve got to play off my strengths as well.”