Very often , to truly appreciate success, you have to know what it is to struggle.
And to get from struggle to success, the struggler must first pass through a turnaround.
San José State football is approaching that turnaround stage.
The Spartans have been down so long in football, it's hard to see up. The cold, hard truth: five straight losing seasons, 12 losing records in 13 years. Worse yet, there was the persistent rumor a year ago that the football program would be eliminated.
A new president, Don Kassing, a new athletic director, Tom Bowen, and a new football coach, Dick Tomey, killed that rumor.
Spartans football is overdue for a turnaround.
Home attendance jumped 144 percent this past fall, placing SJSU in the top 10 of increased attendance in Division 1-A football.
"There's a feeling of optimism about the program," Tomey noted. "We can't say that we've won all these games, but people have embraced the way these kids have been playing.
And these same people have embraced the overall experience of game day."
Assistant athletic director in charge of corporate sales, Ken McDonald, wants to make Spartans football a more enjoyable experience than ever before.
"When you come to game day, you will have a great time,'" said McDonald.
"You will get an entertaining game. The school's marching band plays before the game. There's fun at the ‘Fan Fiesta.' There is a Game Day Grill — two big tents and a big barbecue.
For 10 bucks, the fans get a tailgate, and they don't have to bring anything with them."
Other than an appetite.
Bowen countered the apathetic environment he found on campus by holding a "pigskin pig-out" at spring practice.
Some 3,000 turned out.
The Spartans are back!!
McDonald has increased corporate sponsors from six into the 30s. Coordinating community relations with business development, he pointed out, hadn't been a functioning part of SJSU athletics beforehand.
"People have said, ‘Where have you been? We've been waiting for someone to come talk to us,'" McDonald said.
There also has been a turnaround in SJSU recruiting. Tomey and his staff have met with football coaches from every Bay Area high school, an exhaustive undertaking. SJSU players visit grade schools and read to students.
Spartan road show:
Bowen is out there making waves, too. From last December to August, he made 93 speaking appearances in the community.
Bowen created the "Spartan Road Show," even traveling to alumni groups in Southern California.
This hadn't been done since the Jack Elway era in the early 1980s. Bowen launched "Operation Graduation" for the SJSU football team. Thus there were no eligibility issues before the 2005 home opener for the first time in at least 10 years.
Still another turnaround:
Bowen campaigned successfully for an increase in student support. The student fee for athletics, which had not been increased since 1979, went from $12 to $155, thereby gaining a commitment from SJSU students toward a competitive program.
"They're dying for the opportunity to brag about their university," said Bowen.
Say it with a shirt:
SJSU senior business majors Matthew Olivieri and Brad Villeggiante built up campus pride by starting the "Spartan Squad," where fellow students wearing yellow t-shirts with "SPARTAN SQUAD" attend SJSU sporting events.
More than 2,000 t-shirts have been distributed, and there were 800 to 850 yellow t-shirts at Spartans football games this fall.
"I saw an opportunity for students to be involved," said Olivieri. Brad and I got tired of hearing that this was a commuter school, and we got tired of the low attendance at football games.
"The reaction has been tremendous. We just ordered another thousand shirts. Students are wearing them around campus. This is all about athletic pride."