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In the FCS Huddle: Coaches at dropped programs regroup

10:07 AM, Sep 8, 2010   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's unusual for a 59-year-old man who has spent more than four decades in football to be calling himself an "apprentice" at what he is doing, but Rocky Hager is joking about it today.

This time last year, Hager didn't have a clue that the Northeastern program he guided as head coach would no longer exist. The same can be said for Dave Cohen, who was the head coach at Hofstra.

To this day, anybody connected with either program has a hollow feeling about both schools' decision to drop football following last season.

Affected most dramatically were the coaches and players. Many players transferred to other programs across the country and gained immediate eligibility this season. Cohen landed at Western Michigan as its new defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Hager, meanwhile, took a step back from coaching and is serving as a technical assistant to Jim Maconaghy, the CAA Football coordinator of officials. Hager's job is to evaluate the performance of officials.

"At this point, I have some Patriot (League) games and I do anticipate that I'll have a couple games in the Ivy (League), primarily evaluating officials, helping to keep things organized there," Hager said. "The (CAA), the Patriot and the Ivy have really good organization to the officiating part. I've always felt very strongly about how they've gone about doing things. And when you watch them on the field, they're disciplined, they're where they belong."

Where the 59-year-old Hager belongs is in football. His entire staff of assistants at Northeastern last season has moved on to coach elsewhere, even if the head man is not himself patrolling the sidelines this fall. Hager hopes to land another position next year, with his preference to remain a head coach.

"I just told somebody, the last time I didn't have fall camp is when I was a senior in high school and that was the fall of 1968," Hager said. "Otherwise I've been involved either playing or coaching since the fourth grade."

A two-time Division II national championship-winning coach at North Dakota State, Hager struggled to revive Northeastern's program in the ultra- competitive CAA. The Huskies' best records in his six seasons were 5-6 overall and 4-4 in conference play, with last year's squad going 3-8 overall and 3-5 in conference games.

But Northeastern's decision to pull the carpet out from under the football program - citing financial concerns and declining attendance - still hurt Hager and the rest of the program.

Hager remained on campus until March 12, helping coaches and players with their decisions and placement in other programs. All he could do was regroup and move forward.

"I understand the numbers as to what the primary factors in the decision for Northeastern University were," Hager said. "I can't tell you that I completely agree with them for the simple reasons that there were a lot of young men that didn't have the opportunity to continue to play, although there's quite a few out there playing right now (at other schools).

"They're virtually all over the place. And then there are some that are still at Northeastern finishing their degree. Of course, the university was very committed [that those who] stayed were going to be able to keep their financial aid until they completed either what would have been the clock on their eligibility or their degree. So there's good involved, but there's still disappointment.

"We made a good run at it. I would have liked to have been able to continue it. I think we were on the brink of going to a much higher level with our program. We had a staff together that was very compatible in the final year and felt really good about how things were going.

"It was traumatic. Probably the hardest thing was seeing 6-foot-6, 300-pound young men just absolutely crying their eyes out. That's gut-wrenching."

Hofstra enjoyed more success in recent years than Northeastern, including 7-4 overall and 4-4 conference records in 2007 - Cohen's third of four seasons at Hofstra. In the Pride's final season last fall, they were 5-6 and 3-5.

Cohen declined an interview request about Hofstra dropping football, choosing to concentrate on Western Michigan's season, which is 0-1 and continues Saturday versus an FCS opponent, visiting Nicholls State.

"I think three things," Cohen told the Kalamazoo Gazette, summing up his coaching philosophies. "No. 1, they have to know you care. If they don't, it's never going to work. No. 2, they have to understand that you're here to get them better. And No. 3, it's going to be our way, that it's not going to be their way.

"But I think you can't get to No. 3 if you don't get to No. 1 first."

NO TIME TO CROWE

Fresh off its 49-48, double-overtime upset at Ole Miss, Jacksonville State comes back to the FCS level for its home opener against Chattanooga on Saturday.

Considering Chattanooga coulda, woulda and shoulda beaten Southern Conference power Appalachian State in its opener - falling 42-41 in a game it led 28-7 - Jacksonville State coach Jack Crowe says, "If there is an ounce of arrogance, we will seek to get it out by Saturday."

Fifth-ranked Jacksonville State, which got a lot of production from two quarterbacks, Marques Ivory and Coty Blanchard against Ole Miss, will dedicate its expanded Burgess-Snow Field before Saturday's game.

"I have watched extensively the game that Chattanooga played with Appalachian State, the number three team in the country and missed three extra points from winning that game," Crowe said. "We are playing the best Chattanooga team that we have ever played and I think we are playing the best quarterback (B.J. Coleman) that we will face this season. He is superb and I don't see why he is not playing quarterback at Tennessee because that is where he transferred from. We have a challenge of controlling a well-oiled offense. We made enough mistakes on both sides of the ball that will get you beat. We are a team of destiny if what I saw in that locker room after the game on Saturday, but destiny can slip right through our fingers if we don't handle it the right way."

LET'S GET IT STARTED

The two teams in The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25 that did not play last week are both from the Missouri Valley Football Conference, No. 9 South Dakota State and No. 14 Northern Iowa. Each opens play on Saturday.

South Dakota State plays in arguably the best FCS matchup of the weekend, a visit to No. 16 Delaware for their first-ever meeting. Northern Iowa opens at home, but gets a little more than it bargained for after watching North Dakota State go to the University of Kansas and win 6-3 last Saturday.

"I think the environment that we're going to play in Cedar Falls is going to be much more of a hostile environment than Memorial Stadium in Kansas. That was pretty docile," North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl said. "And the type of team that we're going to be playing is going to be a much more physical, aggressive football team than KU. And quite frankly I think we're going to be playing a better opponent. I know one school is in the Big 12 and the other one is in the Missouri Valley. I think that gives an indication on how we see Missouri Valley play and the respect we give Northern Iowa."

THE NEXT MAJOR UPSET?

Out in the Big Sky Conference, the feeling is Montana State can be this weekend's slayer of an FBS program as the Bobcats visit struggling Washington State. The Cougars of the Pac-10 were 1-11 last season and fell 65-17 at Oklahoma State to open this season.

The 24th-ranked Bobcats trail 8-0 in the series, but have the physical style and strong rushing defense to warrant thoughts of another FCS upset. Their last win over an FBS team came against Colorado in 2006.

Junior college transfer Orenzo Davis rushed for 85 yards and a touchdown in Montana State's 59-10, season-opening win over Fort Lewis. The Bobcats start a freshman, Denarius McGhee, at quarterback, which could factor in against an FBS team. They have experienced QB Cody Kempt backing up McGhee.

TAKE IT EASY

As Villanova won its first FCS national title last season, it ranked fourth nationally with 240.3 rushing yards per game. All-CAA first-team quarterback Chris Whitney led the way with 987 yards on 203 carries, rushing for six touchdowns.

The senior has returned this season with more command of the offense, and he was efficient in Villanova's 31-24, season-opening loss to Temple. But the Wildcats might use him less in the rushing game to decrease the chance of injury.

The Wildcats have only one other scholarship quarterback on their roster, true freshman Dustin Thomas. Yikes!

"With Chris we didn't run a lot of option against them," head coach Andy Talley said. "We just really felt like we wanted to keep him as healthy as we could. He does have a bad back. It's something he's been laboring with all summer. So we really are trying to limit his reps in the running game"

Whitney had nine carries for 29 yards against Temple. He completed 17-of-25 passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.

Villanova is well-stocked in the run game as its second-, third- and fourth- leading rushers also returned this season. Matt Szczur, Aaron Ball and Angelo Babbaro combined for 2,049 yards and 22 touchdowns on the ground last season.

The second-ranked Wildcats visit Lehigh on Saturday.

WHEN EAGLES DON'T TAKE FLIGHT

As first-year head coach Jeff Monken brings the triple option back to former national power Georgia Southern - after recent seasons of a spread attack - the Eagles got great first signs against Savannah State, rushing for 431 yards and six touchdowns in a 48-3 win. Fullback Robert Brown's 122 yards and a TD on 20 carries led the way.

On Saturday, the six-time FCS national champions (most recently in 1999 and 2000 when Monken was a Georgia Southern assistant coach) get a more formidable assignment for their retooling process. It basically comes against a mirror image in Navy, whose commitment to the run is on an even higher level.

"The schemes are very similar. What they try to do with the football and what we try to do with the football, and how we try to accomplish gaining yards in the running game are very similar," Monken said. "However, they are much more efficient at it than we are. They've been doing it a lot longer. Those kids in that program have not ever done anything else on offense but that offense. So they're a lot more grooved in and a lot more efficient. And we're going to have to be able to gain yards on them, be more efficient than we were on Saturday night in terms of our assignments and our efforts and those things in order to beat a very good Navy team."

CHRISTIAN ANTHONY UPDATE

It still appears unlikely Grambling State senior defensive end Christian Anthony will play this season, but the FCS' most dominant defensive lineman has been working out on his own following his hospitalization last month for chest pains, which apparently amounted to a minor heart attack.

Anthony remains in good spirits and is taking classes at Grambling State. He hasn't had any chest pains since his release from the hospital.

Anthony was the 2009 Southwestern Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year and made The Sports Network All-America First Team. He was fourth in the voting for the Buck Buchanan Award, which honors the top defensive player in the FCS.

THIS, THAT AND THE OTHER

The potential Legacy Bowl that could bring the winners of the MEAC and SWAC back together after the regular season remains on hold. MEAC schools, which still send their champion to the FCS playoffs, decided to postpone a vote this fall regarding whether they should give up their automatic bid for a likely more lucrative payday against the SWAC ... Speaking of the nation's Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tennessee State seems ready for a successful season under new coach Rod Reed. The Tigers, a winner of 14 Black College national titles, long ago moved on to the Ohio Valley Conference but still play four of their first five games against MEAC and SWAC teams, including Jackson State on Saturday in the Southern Heritage Classic in Memphis, Tenn. ... Dominic who? No, nobody at Holy Cross is saying that about three-time Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year Dominic Randolph. But new quarterback Ryan Taggart got off to a big start this season by completing 17-of-29 passes for 186 yards and three touchdown passes against Howard in a 38-7 Crusaders' win ... Linebacker Jeffery Williams made a triumphant return to the Garder-Webb lineup last Saturday against Brevard, collecting 19 tackles and The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS National Defensive Player of the Week award while helping to put an injury-plagued 2009 behind him. But Williams doesn't have Marty Patterson by his side because the preseason All-America is sidelined for the season by a labrum tear in his hip caused by an irregular structure of his hip socket, which he was born with. Tough break for the Runnin' Bulldogs ... Another preseason All-America linebacker, William & Mary's Jake Trantin, is expected back in the lineup against VMI after missing last Saturday's 27-23 loss at Massachusetts because of a concussion suffered in practice last week ... Stephen F. Austin quarterback Jeremy Moses became the Southland Conference's all-time leader in completions last Saturday against Texas A&M, upping his career total to 867 passes ... Cancel the rest of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference season, the Big Sky Conference apparently locked up the title last weekend. The conference unmercifully beat four teams from the Division II conference by a combined score of 233-12 ... Saturday's games will be on the ninth anniversary of 9/11.

JUST THE PICKS

Last Week's and Season Record: 76-10 (.884)

X=projected winner

Saturday, Sept. 11 Bentley at X-Central Connecticut State, noon Gardner-Webb at X-Akron, noon South Dakota at X-Minnesota, noon Illinois State at X-Northwestern, noon Texas Southern at X-Connecticut, noon X-Dayton at Duquesne, noon X-Robert Morris at Sacred Heart, noon Western Illinois at X-Purdue, noon (2) X-Villanova at Lehigh, noon St. Francis, Pa., at X-Morehead State, 1 p.m. Lambuth at X-Georgia State, 1 p.m. Saint Anselm at X-Bryant, 1 p.m. Maine at X-Monmouth, 1 p.m. (9) X-South Dakota State at (16) Delaware, 1 p.m. X-Old Dominion at Campbell, 1 p.m. X-Hampton at Howard, 1 p.m. (6) New Hampshire at X-Pittsburgh, 1 p.m. Valparaiso at X-Franklin, 1:30 p.m. X-Wofford at Charleston Southern, 1:30 p.m. (12) James Madison at X-Virginia Tech, 1:30 p.m. (25) Colgate at X-Furman, 2 p.m. Central Arkansas at (23) X-Eastern Illinois, 2:30 p.m. Presbyterian at X-Clemson, 3:30 p.m. Eastern Kentucky at X-Louisville, 3:30 p.m. Jacksonville at (3) X-Appalachian State, 3:30 p.m. Georgia Southern at X-Navy, 3:30 p.m. X-Fort Valley State at Savannah State, 4 p.m. North Carolina A&T at X-Norfolk State, 4 p.m. Mississippi Valley State at (15) X-South Carolina State, 6 p.m. Butler at X-Youngstown State, 6 p.m. Tusculum at X-Western Carolina, 6 p.m. Morgan State at X-Maryland, 6 p.m. X-Rhode Island at Fordham, 6 p.m. Holy Cross at (18) X-Massachusetts, 6 p.m. X-Samford at Northwestern State, 6 p.m. X-Florida A&M at Delaware State, 6 p.m. American International at X-Stony Brook, 6 p.m. X-Winston-Salem State at North Carolina Central, 6 p.m. Bucknell at X-Marist, 6 p.m. Georgetown at X-Lafayette, 6 p.m. Shaw at (8) X-Elon, 7 p.m. North Dakota at X-Northern Illinois, 7 p.m. Webber at X-Lamar, 7 p.m. Austin Peay at X-Middle Tennessee, 7 p.m. X-Southeast Missouri State at Murray State, 7 p.m. UT Martin at X-Southeast Louisiana, 7 p.m. Albany at (10) X-Stephen F. Austin, 7 p.m. (22) Prairie View A&M at X-Southern Mississippi, 7 p.m. Southern Arkansas at X-Texas State, 7 p.m. Nicholls State at X-Western Michigan, 7 p.m. (24) Montana State at X-Washington State, 7 p.m. Jackson State at X-Tennessee State, 7 p.m. Davidson at X-Lenoir-Rhyne, 7 p.m. Arkansas-Monticello at X-Southern U., 7 p.m. X-Wagner at Assumption, 7 p.m. VMI at (11) X-William & Mary, 7 p.m. Coastal Carolina at X-Towson, 7 p.m. Chattanooga at (5) X-Jacksonville State, 7 p.m. (13) McNeese State at X-Missouri, 7 p.m. (19) Liberty at X-Ball State, 7 p.m. Tennessee Tech at X-TCU, 7 p.m. Central State at X-Alabama A&M, 7 p.m. Missouri State at X-Kansas State, 7 p.m. (4) Southern Illinois at X-Illinois, 7:30 p.m. (21) North Dakota State at (14) X-Northern Iowa, 7:37 p.m. San Diego at X-Southern Utah, 8 p.m. X-Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Alabama State, 8 p.m. X-Drake at Missouri S&T, 8 p.m. Idaho State at X-Utah State, 8 p.m. Northern Colorado at (20) X-Weber State, 8:05 p.m. Portland State at X-UC Davis, 9 p.m. Central Washington at (17) X-Eastern Washington, 9 p.m. (1) X-Montana at Cal Poly, 9:05 p.m. Western Oregon at X-Sacramento State, 9:05 p.m. The Citadel at X-Arizona, 10 p.m. Northern Arizona at X-Arizona State, 10 p.m.

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