ST. PAUL — Glenn Caruso admits he was both "sad" and "disappointed" when the Tommies football coach learned in May that St. Thomas was voted out of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, effective no later than the 2021-22 school year.
"I don’t think I’m the only one that feels that way," Caruso said at a preseason press conference Tuesday, Aug. 13, speaking publicly for the first time since the Tommies' conference ouster. "I think a lot of people feel that way."
While the conference was fairly private throughout the voting process that eventually led to the Tommies’ “involuntary removal,” reasons given included St. Thomas’ size — with an undergraduate enrollment (6,300) more than twice as large as the next biggest schools — and a lack of competitive balance, with St. Thomas winning far more than the majority of the conference titles in the major sports over the past decade.
One reason not given, at least publicly, by the conference — St. Thomas football. Or, more specifically, Glenn Caruso. The coach seemed to make some enemies while his team crushed its lesser opponents by 60, 70 or even 80 points on any given Saturday, enraging some with his decisions to attempt onside kicks or trick plays with the contest already well in hand.
Caruso was asked Tuesday if he feels the program is a victim of its own success.
“I don’t think so. Frankly, I don’t know how successful we are. I think every coach strives to be just a little bit better than they are. I think that’s the nature of coaches,” Caruso said. “But look, everybody looks at things differently. I would not slow down for one moment, because I think we owe that to our beautiful young men who are in our locker room that I love dearly. And their efforts that they put forward to each other and their selflessness is something that deserves a sincere drive, and so I think the answer is no, but even if we were, that doesn’t mean we’re going to slow down. We’re going to continue pursuing excellence, and that’s not going to change.”
The way Caruso’s club operates won’t change, and an apology for how it has performed isn’t coming.
Caruso is quick to remind people that St. Thomas went just 2-8 back in 2007, the season before he took the coaching job. In 2008, he said the Tommies were the homecoming opponent for three schools. Things changed quickly, probably too quickly for the liking of many. Maybe the Tommies got too good. Just don't tell them that.
“Too good is a kind of ridiculous opinion on it,” St. Thomas senior lineman Elijah Rice said Tuesday. “We were just out there to play as hard as we can from whistle to whistle. It doesn’t matter what the score ends up being. That’s not what our goal is, anyways. So when people say we’re too good, that’s not even what we’re focusing on. It doesn’t hold any bearing to us, we’re just focused on being as good as we can possibly be and just going out there and playing against ourselves.”
That message might be harder for the loser to swallow. It’s tough not to focus on the score when you’re trailing by 10 touchdowns. But at previous schools at which Caruso has coached, he said he too lost games by 40 or 50 points. He knows what it’s like to be trampled by a superior opponent. And he felt like his teams were better for it. “A rising tide,” Caruso said, “raises all boats.”
“So I get it. I’ve seen it from both sides. I will tell you this, when I was on the other sideline, never for once would I have wanted anything other than the opposition’s best,” said Caruso, who was once an assistant coach at now-FCS powerhouse North Dakota State.
Caruso is proud to be St. Thomas’ football coach. He’s proud of the culture he and his players — current and former — have built within the program.
He can’t wait to tell you about his players’ scholastic achievements (55 of them made the Dean’s List last year) and philanthropic efforts (the Tommies just raised the most money of any national student fundraising group for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, nearly $35,000, for the fifth straight year) and future endeavors, noting the high volume of players with jobs lined up before they graduate from the school.
No matter the level St. Thomas plays at moving forward, Caruso just wants to continue to see what he’s seen in his 12 years with the program.
“The community coming together, the school not being apologetic for who it is and one that wants to be great in all ways,” Caruso said. “I get it, we’re here because we coach football and we play football games and we win more than we lose, I understand that, but at the end of the day, if you really spent a year with us — week by week — and you were in that locker room, you would understand that the things that are our core beliefs are not going to change.”