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In the FCS Huddle: Coaching decision paramount for Liberty

By Sean Shapiro, FCS Assistant

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - On Wednesday, Danny Rocco was officially introduced as the new head coach of the Richmond football program.

While the timeline for Richmond returns to a somewhat-normal off-season schedule, Rocco's former employer, Liberty, is tasked with replacing a coach who won at least a share of four Big South championships.

"I was notified on Friday (Dec. 2). Because of his contract, Richmond asked for permission to talk to Danny and I granted it," Liberty athletic director Jeff Barber said. "Coach Rocco and I met, and he told me he was considering it."

Unlike other FCS athletic directors at Weber State, South Dakota, Columbia and Richmond - which filled vacancies recently after the prior coach was fired or retired - Barber's hiring window is much smaller since his coach was hired away.

Even though the starting point for the job search comes later than he'd like, Barber hasn't been caught off guard by the new responsibility, and a national search is already under way.

"You always have a plan in your mind, because you know anything is possible," Barber said. "We've hired Carr Sports Associates to help with the search. We've got some names and lots of applications are coming in."

Barber would like to have a coach in place within three-to-four weeks, and he's looking for a candidate with FBS or NFL experience, and also lines up with the university's values.

"As a Christian university, our chancellor has given us a chance to hire the best Christian coach, someone that aligns with our message and values here at Liberty," Barber said. "On the field, we're looking for someone who knows what it takes to compete at such a high level."

While Barber wouldn't reveal any names, several NFL assistants have expressed interest in the opening. Don't be surprised if Liberty follows the model a team like Georgia Southern used in its coaching search after the 2009 season.

Two seasons ago, Georgia Southern hired Georgia Tech special teams coordinator Jeff Monken, giving him his first head coaching position. Monken, a former GSU assistant coach, led the Eagles to the FCS semifinals in his first season last year, and the Eagles are playing in the quarterfinals on Saturday.

Hiring a coach from a high-profile program, like Georgia Tech, could add a much-needed spark for the Flames, who for the first time in four years aren't the defending Big South champions.

However, until the new coach is introduced, the current staff is responsible for making sure the new coach still has a recruiting class to continue building the program.

The next two weeks are a crucial time for college football programs, many student-athletes, if they haven't already, have official visits during December and the national signing day comes early this year, Feb. 1.

"We've asked our staff to continue to work on recruiting, since we do expect to have a new coach a coach early in the new year," Barber said. "With the recruits who have scheduled an official visit with us, we're hoping to reschedule some of those to when we have a coach."

It's an even more difficult task in the state of Virginia, where Liberty has to recruit against eight FCS schools, including five that have made at least one playoff appearance in the past three seasons.

"It's important that we keep up with them (recruits)," Barber said. "Even though we have a coaching change, we still want them to choose Liberty."

Whether or not recruits choose Liberty could come down to how quick the university chooses a coach, and if that new coach can make the Flames forget about Danny Rocco.

12/09 10:03:49 ET