When the coach of a winning team berates his own athletes, one should always use caution interpreting the message.
Is the tirade an honest opinion, or merely an attempt to fire up the troops after a lackluster performance?
Sometimes it is hard to tell, but Banning High School football Coach Joe Dominguez seemed genuinely disgusted Friday after the Pilots' 14-0 win over visiting Washington.
And for good reason. Banning looked awful.
Facing a less-than-imposing opponent (Washington is 1-4 and was hammered by Carson, 52-0, two weeks ago), the unbeaten Pilots (5-0-1) struggled. They were outgained in total yards, 232-205, and sustained only one scoring drive.
Could this be the No. 2-ranked team in the state?
"I laugh at that," Dominguez said, referring to Banning's lofty rating by Cal-Hi Sports. "If we're No. 2 in the state, it must be a down year for (high school) football in California.
"We're the worst undefeated team in the state. Instead of being ranked No. 1 or 2 in the polls, we should be ranked 99 or 100."
It wasn't always like this. Banning opened the season impressively with a 21-9 win over Long Beach Poly, ranked No. 2 in the Southern Section Division I poll, and followed that with a 7-7 tie against Muir, which was rated No. 1 in the Division II poll at the time.
But since then, Dominguez said, the Pilots have played poorly in wins over a string of second-rate L. A. City Section opponents--Locke, Narbonne, San Pedro and Washington--all of whom sport losing records.
Before Friday's game Dominguez believed injuries were to blame for his team's poor play. For example, middle linebacker John Herrera, Banning's best defensive player, has been sidelined with a knee injury. But after watching his team stumble against Washington, Dominguez now believes the problem is a lack of desire.
"We have 65 guys on this team who don't want to play football," he said. "It's a tremendous disappointment. I thought we were a good football team, but we're not. We haven't had a good practice this year, and we're six games into the season.
"I think our team reflects society in general. We seem to be content with mediocrity."
Banning led only 7-0 at halftime, the result of a Washington fumble recovered by the Pilots in the end zone. Dominguez was so disgusted with his team that he stayed in the locker room only long enough to deliver a sarcastic speech.
"I lied to them," he said. "I told them they were doing a great job: 'You're beating one of the poorer teams in the City (Section), 7-0.' "
Banning did come out in the second half and march 63 yards to score on a 28-yard pass from quarterback John Ma'ae to wide receiver Sheldon Butler. But for the remainder of the game the Pilots seemed content to sit on the lead.
"I've never been so embarrassed," Dominguez said. "I've only been a head coach for 1 1/2 years, but this was my most embarrassing moment. And that includes the City championship game. We were just totally inept. We stunk."
(Carson defeated Banning, 55-7, in last year's City Section 4A title game.)
Asked about his team's meeting with Carson in three weeks, Dominguez said: "I think they might have to put three digits on the scoreboard for Carson. Maybe I'll ask (Carson Coach) Gene Vollnogle if we can play their B team."
At least Dominguez has managed to keep his sense of humor. His sense of pride is in considerable trouble.
One football coach with few complaints these days is Serra's Leo Hand.
Friday night, Hand watched the Cavaliers dismantle visiting St. Anthony, 56-2, in a Camino Real League game that reinforced Serra's position as one of the favorites for the Southern Section Division VII title.
"They're a powerful outfit," St. Anthony Coach Ralph Godfrey said. "I think they ought to be (ranked) No. 1 in our division."
Serra (7-0 overall, 2-0 in league play) is ranked second in Division VII behind Lompoc, but it would be difficult to find a team in the entire section that has been more dominating than the Cavaliers.
Serra has outscored its opponents, 276-39, an average score of 39-5 per game. And the Cavaliers have done it in basic football style--running the ball down their opponents' throats. They entered this week with 1,749 yards rushing and only 220 passing. It was more of the same against St. Anthony, as Serra rushed for 336 yards and attempted only two passes, both incomplete.
The Cavaliers' full-house backfield of fullback Dennis Gerard, halfbacks Jerald Henry and Lamont Daniel and quarterback Fred Safford combined for all but three of the team's rushing yards. They also accounted for every point the team scored: seven touchdowns and five two-point conversions.
Gerard, a powerful 5-foot-7, 185-pound senior, led the way with 145 yards on eight carries. He had three touchdowns covering 65, 33 and 10 yards. Henry, a junior, rushed for 101 yards and one TD on seven carries and Daniel finished with 79 yards and one TD on nine carries. The trio gained 325 yards on 24 carries, an average of 13.5 yards per carry.
Hand complained that his team committed too many penalties, but admitted that under the circumstances it was impossible to be upset.
"Overall, we're very pleased," he said. "We have talented backs and a good offensive line, and they've all worked very hard together."