The worst season of Tommy Shoemaker’s coaching career ended last week with Central Arkansas Christian’s 38-7 loss at Stuttgart.
The Mustangs finished 1-9, including a 1-6 run through the 2-4A for seventh in the league. They were to start offseason work Wednesday.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, and I think we would rather just get right to it than lose any time,” Shoemaker said Sunday. “We’ve got to get these guys ready mentally and physically for next year.”
It was just the second losing season of his career. The other was just under .500.
“I’ve never had one like this,” said Shoemaker, who led Harding Academy to a state championship prior to arriving at Mustang Mountain and the Mustangs to an 11-2, Class 4A quarterfinal finish two years ago. “It was even tough for the coaches, just a gut-check trying to stay positive and keep coaching hard and just trying to keep working to find a way to help the kids win a football game.
“Now it gives you a lot of resolve to go back to work and do what we’ve got to do as a staff to make sure we don’t have to go through this again.”
At Stuttgart, the Mustangs gave up interception returns of 70 and 25 yards for touchdowns, scoring passes of 50 and 20 yards and a 60-yard touchdown run.
“We started out playing pretty well on defense, but we never really could get anything going on offense,” Shoemaker said. “We had the two turnovers that hurt us. We just couldn’t do anything consistently on offense, and eventually the defense gave up some scores. But for the most part, especially early, we played real well on that side of the ball.”
The Mustangs, who moved to the Wing T from their Spread offense in the offseason, lost their three non-conference games by a combined 125-22, leading to Shoemaker’s decision to transition back to the Spread.
As it turned out, though, those non-conference opponents — Mayflower, Joe T. Robinson and Clinton — are a combined 30-0 heading into the start of the playoffs this week.
“Looking back at it, I don’t know that it would’ve made a difference, particularly early, no matter what offense we were in,” he said. “I’ve tried to think through all of those scenarios. Those three teams ended up being really good. After the third week, we started looking at trying to find some kind of answers to try to help us. We did a lot of looking and searching, more than I’m usually comfortable with, and getting some different combinations to make us more competitive.”
But he said it was difficult to make such wholesale changes during the season.
“We tried to gradually change over to some of it, but there are so many things you have to do correctly, and it’s hard to do in the middle of the season,” he said. “So we’ll start in the spring and go from scratch. We feel like we’ll have much more success on offense next year.”
Despite the record, the Mustangs gained plenty over the course of the season.
“I think the biggest thing was I was just really proud of how they handled it,” Shoemaker said. “It wasn’t easy, and that showed a lot about their character. They never quit; they kept preparing and trying to get themselves ready to play every week.
“As bad as it was not seeing the results on Friday night, in a lot of ways I never felt like we won just one game because the kids kept coming back and working hard every week. I was disappointed for them that they didn’t get more positive results on Friday nights. That’s the part that hurts the most.”
Ten Mustangs will graduate.
“Just a great group of young men that I enjoyed getting to coach and be around,” Shoemaker said. “I was really impressed with their character and how they went about doing things. They’ll be successful on down the road as husbands and dads and in their communities and churches, and those are the things that at the end of the day really matter.”