If you happen to run into Eric Brock at a grocery store or gas station or perhaps walking down Massachusetts Street, give him a hug.
Brock is the other college head football coach in Lawrence, and comparing his Haskell Indian Nations University program to Mark Mangino’s is like equating the gross national products of the United States and Zimbabwe.
Fan and alumni support is minimal. Haskell has no fat TV contract. Heck, the Fightin’ Indians never have had even a radio network. HINU’s football Web site hasn’t been updated in months.
If it weren’t for government funding, Haskell wouldn’t have a football program at all.
“We have a nice stadium, locker room, balls and uniforms,” Brock said. “We don’t need to hold car washes to pay for T-shirts. But for assistant coaches, we need more money.”
Brock serves a dual role as head coach and defensive coordinator. He has a full-time offensive coordinator in Joe Claunch, but his other aides are campus employees, students and volunteers. His place-kicking coach, for example, works at HINU’s day-care center.
“There are guys we can pay, guys we can pay a little bit and philanthropists,” Brock said.
Then there is the roster. Few schools are hit harder by attrition than Haskell. Example: Brock never has had a team with more than six seniors. This fall he has two.
Despite all the limitations, Brock keeps plugging away. A defensive back when Haskell was a junior college, he’s a guy whose glass is always half full.
“I’m not complaining,” he said. “I feel like I’m lucky to be here and have a job where I can be around kids I care about.”
Brock has been caring about kids with a Native American heritage for eight of the 10 years that HINU has been a full-fledged member of the NAIA. In its nine football seasons as an NAIA school, the Indians’ best record has been 4-7. Brock’s overall record in his seven seasons is 19-53.
If Haskell were a big-time program, Brock would be long gone with a record that bad. But, considering Haskell’s money and manpower woes, the school is fortunate Brock hasn’t thrown up his hands and tossed in the towel.
“Am I spinning my wheels?” Brock asked rhetorically. “Maybe, but I’m a person blessed with patience and optimism. I think hard work will eventually prevail.”
Before Brock arrived in 2002, Haskell’s football program was viewed by some as the worst in the country, and it probably was.
Today? Well, no one is predicting the Indians will post their first winning season since becoming a four-year school, but perhaps a baby step isn’t overly optimistic.
In the NAIA Preview magazine published by Collegefanz.com, Haskell is No. 78 in its rankings of the 91 NAIA football schools. Yes, 77 schools are ranked ahead of HINU. But 13 are also ranked lower.
“Haskell continues to do the most,” the magazine says, “with the support they do get.”
That’s an obtuse — ungrammatical, too — way of saying Brock deserves a pat on the back for his ability to do the best he can with the hand he has been dealt.
But that doesn’t mean he still doesn’t need a hug every now and then.