Being a head coach always looks easier from the outside looking in. If you’re an assistant coach for a struggling team, it’s only natural to think you could do better as a head coach with your own program.
The fallacy in that way of thinking is perhaps nowhere more evident this season than at Scottsdale’s Arcadia High School, where Tony Stillings is finding that winning, especially in that first year on the job, can be a monumental task.
Probably the darkest day so far in Stillings’ first season was last week when his Titans lost their Homecoming game to Apollo High School in an embarrassing 49-0 blow-out. It isn’t that the score was the most lopsided of the season – the first game on the 2017 schedule ended in a 68-0 rout, and three times opponents have run up more than 55 points on Stillings’ new squad.
But Homecoming is a game you’re supposed to win. A loss in that game always hurts a little more — and makes it even more difficult to keep player motivation up and spirit alive among the student body.
The Titans, off to an 0-6 start, have been outscored 302-17. That has come, in large part, because Arcadia lacks a running game. The Titans are averaging 50 yards a game on the ground.
Stillings has a 100-yard rusher — but that’s 100 yards on the season, not in any one game. Sophomore running back Kadin Beler, who leads the team in rushing, just broke the century mark and now has 101 yards in six games. He’s averaging 2.8 yards per carry.
That has left quarterback Luke Ashworth to carry the offensive load with his passing. The senior has taken to the air 141 times and accumulated 630 yards with his arm. He’s averaging 112 yards a game passing. But that hasn’t been enough to get the Titans into the win column.
With those kind of numbers, it isn’t difficult to see why Arcadia has become a welcome opponent for the rest of the teams on its schedule.
Stillings is taking over a program that finished last season 2-8, with a grand vision of returning Arcadia to the level of play it enjoyed a couple of years back. Lenny Abt spent five years directing the program, averaging six wins a season – if you drop last year’s two-win disappointment. But he led the Titans to a 7-3 record in 2014, followed by an 8-3 mark the next year.
Stillings is the third head coach since 2007, when Jim Bevell turned the keys over to Jim Ellison. Bevel had back-to-back seasons of 12-1 and 9-3 before departing, and Ellison’s last team, in 2011, finished 10-3.
Those are the good ol’ days to which Stillings undoubtedly would like to return.
To accomplish that, he’s put in place a renewed emphasis on hard work in the weight room, installed a new offense that would support the passing game, and changed up the defensive sets.
He no doubt felt he could do better than his teams did in his last job. Stillings was the strength & conditioning coach, special team coordinator, and defensive coordinator in seven years at Glendale’s Ironwood High School. During that stretch, the Eagles averaged four wins a year, with a 7-4 mark in 2011 their best finish.
Stillings had to see greener pastures at Arcadia, a chance to start with a clean slate. But it apparently is going to take more than the energy and motivation he has brought to the program.
And that is going to start with getting bigger numbers out to join the program, and with more upperclassmen participating. Right now, his workhorse in the back field is a sophomore and his back-up quarterback, who he will need next year, is a sophomore who is getting very limited playing time so far this season.
There are four more games left on the schedule. A couple of wins would provide some momentum going into next season, when Stillings will be expected to show some improvement.
Tomorrow night’s game with Paradise Valley High School might be the opportunity he needs to get that part of the plan started. The Trojans, too, are coming off a 2-8 season and have just two wins so far this year.
PV’s rushing game is also running on a parallel track with Arcadia’s, averaging just 74.5 yards per game.
The enthusiasm that Stillings has been using to try to motivate the troops will face its biggest challenge tomorrow, after their already-challenged spirit was stomped on last week.