Second-guessing is part of sports, but that doesn’t mean that Navy coach Rick Sowell has to take part.
“I don’t read things. I don’t,” he said of dealing with scrutiny. “I worry about the team and the relationship I have with the team and focusing on the task at hand. If I worried too much about what other people said, I wouldn’t be here.
"I’ve been the underdog ever since I was young athlete and was told that I wasn’t maybe as good as my brothers. So I’ve been hearing things since way back, and I just can’t pay attention to it. I just believe in myself, believe in what I’m doing, and so far, it’s been able to allow me to have some degree of success. Hopefully, that will continue.”
That laser-like focus should serve Sowell well considering the Midshipmen’s recent futility. Since succeeding Richie Meade after the 2011 season, Sowell has guided the program to a combined 9-16 overall record, a 4-8 mark in the Patriot League and two consecutive absences in the conference and NCAA tournaments.
The program’s .360 winning percentage in Sowell’s first two seasons is the second lowest in his head coaching career since he took over the reins to restart St. John’s, which compiled a .231 win percentage (6-20) in 2005 and 2006.
Navy’s slide is a sobering reminder of the difficulty of winning at the Division I level, where other programs can offer scholarships and name recognition without the mandatory military obligation awaiting graduates of the service academy.
But the Midshipmen, their alumni and fans are not accustomed to losing – a reality not lost on Sowell. But if outsiders think they can turn up the heat on the coach, think again.
“I’m always putting pressure on myself to win,” he said. “Whether you’re the underdog, you want to win. Whether you’re the favorite, you want to win. ... I do put a lot of pressure on myself and obviously, I came here to ... turn the program around. I know what my job is. But in terms of the first couple years, they’re in the past. ... It really is about going forward and thinking right now about VMI in a couple weeks.
"That’s all I’m focusing my attention on, but when you take over programs, those first couple years are never easy. Adjusting to the environment, whatever culture ... there’s always something I’ve had to adjust to, and those things do take some time. ... typically, we’ve been able to figure it out at some point and hopefully, we’ve done that here.”
Sowell said he continues to make adjustments with his players. Declining to delve into details, Sowell said he and the coaching staff have made changes and – in turn – have asked the players to do the same. He said he has also restructured practices to better utilize the fields and large roster at his disposal.
But for all of the changes made, Sowell knows there is only one thing the Midshipmen can do to validate him and themselves.
“At the end of the day, we’re in a results-oriented business, and it’s about winning games,” he said. “The things that we’re working on now are designed to put us in the best position to win the games. ... We do feel like between the experience, the talent, the motivation and desire to get this program moving in the right direction, there’s a lot going for us if we can put it all together.”