In the aftermath of the Mustangs' epic 40–43 loss to Laurier that saw the Mustangs blow a 40-19 lead with eight minutes left in the game, questions surround the state of the football program.
Yes, the loss was difficult. And yes, it was avoidable. The Mustangs were too conservative down the stretch and blown plays on defence allowed Laurier quarterback Michael Knevel to make plays to fuel the Golden Hawks' comeback.
But the criticisms of Greg Marshall as the long-term option for this program are, to be perfectly blunt, comical.
If anyone needs reminding, here's Marshall's résumé as Mustangs head coach:
Marshall took over a Western program that had not won a Yates Cup in eight years. His record since taking over the program in 2007 is 82-25.
He's led the Mustangs to four Yates Cup titles and has eight appearances in the provincial championship game.
He's been named Ontario University Athletics Coach of the Year four times, twice as Mustangs head coach and twice as head coach of the McMaster Marauders.
The OUA has increased in competitiveness over the last three seasons. McMaster and Guelph have joined Western as powerhouse programs who consistently field competitive teams. In the nation's capital, Steve Sumarah has built the Carleton program into an offensive juggernaught while Ottawa remains a contender in the OUA. And now that Laurier has captured their first Yates Cup title since 2005, the OUA is as difficult to win as it's ever been.
The loss on Saturday wasn't Marshall's fault. He admitted that their conservative offensive approach in the final eight minutes of the game was their downfall. But football coaches are notoriously willing to run out the clock late in games. To blame Marshall for the conservative play is completely unreasonable.
Western's loss could also be attributed to two key missed plays. Mackenzie Ferguson dropped an interception thrown right in the numbers that he would have caught nine out of 10 times. In the fourth quarter with the Mustangs still up big, he missed. The game would have been over if he intercepted it.
And Fraser Sopik missed a surefire sack of Knevel on a play that ended in a Laurier touchdown. If Sopik brought the Laurier quarterback down, the Golden Hawks would have been done.
Defensively the Mustangs were porous in the fourth quarter as time and time again the Western secondary failed on coverage as Laurier's receivers pulled down Knevel's throws.
That lack of execution isn't on Marshall's shoulders. The game of college football is a gloriously unpredictable affair played amongst 18 to 21-year-olds. College football players make mistakes. Only one team is satisfied at the end of the season. The Mustangs fans calling for a coaching change need to be more realistic.
How would you replace him? Save for UBC's Blake Nill and Laval's Glen Constantin there isn't a better football mind in the world of Canadian college football. And neither Nill nor Constantin would leave the situations they're in now. Anyone else would be a downgrade.
After the devastating loss to Laurier, Marshall wore his emotions on his sleeve. His love for his players is evident. He defended his players in post-game interviews, stressing that the program "wins as a team and loses as a team."
That's the kind of man you want to lead your program. Marshall is a football genius. But more importantly, his class and integrity in the midst of difficult situations is moving.
The Mustangs don't need to change who leads the program. Western football is in capable hands. The team needs to move forward from Saturday's debacle and continue their tradition of excellence with Marshall at the helm.