By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The moment Doug Williams retook charge of Grambling State's football program this week, he inherited the best possibility for a banner season among this year's new FCS head coaches.
Most head coaching changes are made because a program is underachieving, so it is not surprising that only three of the 14 new head coaches are at programs that had winning records last season: Grambling was 9-2; Prairie View A&M, where Heishma Northern has taken over, was 7-4; and Elon, which has welcomed Jason Swepson aboard, was 6-5.
There were major successes among the 19 new head coaches in 2010, with six of them leading winning seasons, including five programs that had losing records in 2009. Jeff Monken took Georgia Southern all the way to the national semifinals and Bethune-Cookman's Brian Jenkins joined him in the playoffs and at the 10-win mark. Western Illinois' Mark Hendrickson took a 1-10 team from 2009 and turned it into an 8-5 squad which also made the playoffs.
But as the new head coaches' 73-140 overall record indicates, there is a lot of doom and gloom to go around initially. In fact, nine of the head coaches won two or fewer games and combined for a 10-86 mark.
Northern was the defensive coordinator on Prairie View A&M's 2009 SWAC championship squad. You want pressure? Northern is charged with keeping the Panthers program growing in the way it did under Henry Frazier Jr. Prairie View has won a combined 32 games the last four seasons after not having had a winning season since 1976. A big senior class departed after last season, so the rest of the SWAC will be motivated to knock the Panthers, and Northern, down a notch or two.
There doesn't appear to be many situations in which one of the new head coaches can cling to the likelihood of a winning season. One could come out of the Elon-at-Furman game in the Southern Conference on Nov. 12. Elon (6-5) remained a notch above Furman (5-6) last season, but it might change this year as Bruce Fowler comes aboard at Furman and Swepson tries to rebuild Elon. To have a winning season, that Nov. 12 meeting appears critical because in the regular-season finales on the following Saturday Elon will host SoCon kingpin Appalachian State and Furman will go to the University of Florida.
Texas State's hiring of Dennis Franchione, the former head coach at New Mexico, TCU, Alabama and Texas A&M, is as big a splash as Williams' return to Grambling State. His Bobcats will be playing their final FCS season before departing for the Western Athletic Conference and have a 12-game schedule. After they went 4-7 last season, a .500 season would be a big upgrade, especially with the season beginning against two FBS opponents, Texas Tech and Wyoming.
Also in the mix for improvement (and they hope a winning season) are Alcorn State, which hired Melvin Spears Jr. after a 5-6 season; Northern Colorado, which was 3-8 last season, but brought back alum Earnest Collins Jr., who was Alcorn State's head coach last season; and Gardner-Webb, where its usual .500- level program slumped to 4-7 last season, thus prompting the hiring of Ron Dickerson Jr.
It figures to be a tough opening act for the five new head coaches in the Mid- Eastern Athletic Conference, although the credentials of the group are pretty strong. Delaware State's Kermit Blount and North Carolina Central's Frazier (the former Prairie View hero) have taken over programs that were 3-8 last season. Howard's Gary Harrell, North Carolina A&T's Rod Broadway and Savannah State's Steve Davenport will try to rebuild 1-10 squads. Broadway, of course, left Grambling State to head back to his native North Carolina.
At Idaho State, Mike Kramer will find the going tougher than he did in guiding two other programs in the Big Sky, Eastern Washington and Montana State. Idaho State was 1-10 last season.
But who knows? Nobody foresaw what Georgia Southern, Bethune-Cookman and Western Illinois went on to do last season. Only three or four of the new coaches may have winning records this fall, but they were hired for the long haul anyway.