By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - That Bucknell's football team is undergoing change with a new head coach basically coincides with the clock in the Bison's locker room, which is counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds to their season-opening kickoff on Sept. 4 at Duquesne.
"What it does is impress upon the kids that there is not a minute to waste," Bison head coach Joe Susan said.
In some ways, though, the 54-year-old Susan is making up for lost time this season.
He guided Davidson to a 10-0 record in 2000 and then gave up being the head coach basically to move his family back to their beloved Princeton, N.J., where they spent most of the 1990s.
A decade later, with his three children in their 20s, the mostly career assistant coach didn't hesitate to pursue the head coaching position at Bucknell after Tim Landis departed last December following seven seasons to become an assistant coach at San Jose State. This time, Susan only brought his wife, Cynthia, to Lewisburg, Pa. Oh, yes, all the family pets, too.
"Right now we're dealing with four cats, a dog, a chinchilla, hermit crabs, beta fish. I'm sure something else will show up along the way," Susan laughs.
During the 1980s, Susan recruited Greg Schiano to be a linebacker at Bucknell. As Rutgers' head coach, Schiano returned the favor by giving Susan plenty of responsibilities as an assistant coach, first with the offensive linemen and then with the tight ends and as recruiting coordinator.
Considering his strong background at programs committed to academics as well as athletics, Bucknell is banking on the possibility that Susan can jump-start its struggling program. The Patriot League program finished 4-7 last season and had only one winning record (6-5 in 2005) in the final five seasons under Landis.
"A big part of this is the impact you have on young men over their four years, but also over the rest of their lives," Susan said. "When somebody comes back, or when somebody talks to you about something you might have said helped him figure something out, it has its own rewards. It's a unique privilege and a responsibility to do what I do at the college level.
"It's a good place to come back to. The familiarity I have with the place has helped me get acclimatized to the facilities, obviously, but to the people. It has changed uniquely, and it has become a little bit more diverse geographically. We'll recruit in that respect."
Change can be good for a program, but it isn't necessarily easy for Bucknell as it switches from primarily using a double-slot option under Landis last season to Susan's pro-style offense. Incumbent quarterback C.J. Hopson led the team in rushing as a sophomore (633 yards, five touchdowns), but is still trying to show Susan and his staff that he can make the transition after he completed only 37 percent of his passes (35-for-94, 341 yards) with no touchdowns and five interceptions last season.
Hopson has competition from fellow junior Burke Batten, who has the stronger arm. Incoming freshmen Derek-London Dierkes and Brandon Wesley also could factor into the mix during fall camp.
"It's a whole new game for them," Susan said of the quarterbacks. "Instead of pitching it southeast and southwest, they're throwing it north. That has been the challenge as we transition from one offense to the other. And I think that's the position that's going to be the key going into the fall. It's still a position that's up for grabs."
The defense will remain a 4-3 and has more experienced players. Junior defensive tackle Robert De La Rosa and senior strong safety Ahkiel White (60 tackles, four interceptions) were named to the All-Patriot League second team. Senior defensive end Tyler Anderson, senior linebacker Travis Nissley (93 tackles), junior cornerback Bryce Robertson and sophomore free safety Joseph Francis also were starters last season. The Bison also get back Josh Eden, a starting defensive end in 2007 who went on a two-year mission, and will be a huge lift for an already solid group.
"What we focused on in the spring was three things that I think they took good steps towards being," said Susan, who turns 55 on Sept. 18, the day of Bucknell's home opener against Dartmouth.
"Number one, an element of trust any time you change something both for us as a staff and them as players. It's not immediate turnover and trust, you have to develop trust as a staff in your players. You have to develop trust as players in the staff, and I think we've really take step there. One (step) of getting strong. We feel that our strength coach, John Field, does a great job with these kids, and they have gotten stronger. We did more physical things in the spring that you'd normally would do. That leads me to the last one, and probably the most important one, we want to tougher overall as a program. They've bought into that; we've taken steps in that direction. We have some steps yet to go."
AROUND THE FCS
- Only two of the 14 FCS conferences do not have at least one new head coach, the Big South (which has seven schools) and the Great West (five schools).
- Expect sophomore Austin Heyworth to win the starting quarterback job with defending Great West Conference champion UC Davis. Two-year-starting quarterback Greg Denham, who has thrown for 6,435 yards and 46 touchdowns during his career, decided not to play this fall to pursue a career in the ministry. Heyworth replaced an injured Denham against Portland State and won GWC Player of the Week honors when he threw two fourth-quarter touchdowns and led a win.
- GramblingLegends.net released a terrific story about Melvin Lee, the longtime assistant to Grambling State coaching legend Eddie Robinson. Lee, who will enter the Grambling Legends Sports Hall of Fame on July 17, was always credited by Robinson with making the Tigers' Wing-T such an effective offense, yet Lee often gets overlooked for what he contributed at the side of the man known as Coach Rob. "Being in charge wasn't the most important thing to me," Lee said. "Seeing things work well was."
- Injury-plagued defensive end/linebacker Matt Marcorelle getting a sixth year of eligibility at Delaware set up an interesting scenario: he will serve as team captain for the fourth time in his career.
- Having grown up in Richmond, Va., first-year Richmond head coach Latrell Scott knows what having an on-campus stadium will mean after the Spiders played at downtown Richmond Stadium the last 80 years. "The stadium," Scott says of Robins Stadium, which is nearing the end of a $25 million renovation, "it will do wonders for us. For so many years, you would come to a Richmond game and you had no idea what the University of Richmond looked like. I think this stadium is an invitation to the city of Richmond, it's an invitation to our fan base, it's an invitation to anybody who has any interest in Richmond football to actually see what the University of Richmond is like."