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Assessing Head Coaching Changes in FCS College Football

Randy Sanders.jpg

ETSU coach Randy Sanders

Nearly one-fifth of FCS programs — 24 in all — have changed their head coach since the start of the 2017 season.


Some changes were expected, others weren’t, but many of the programs have come away pleased to have the new coach in charge.

Only four of the programs finished in the final Athlon FCS Power Poll, so most need significant improvement moving forward.

Here’s a quick assessment of the coaching changes:

Smartest Hire: Eric Dooley, Prairie View A&M

In an attempt to get over the top in the highly competitive SWAC West Division, the Panthers wisely reached across the conference to hire Dooley away from Grambling State. Dooley, a Grambling grad, has been a part of seven SWAC championship teams and coached for 21 years in the conference. It’s a big loss for Grambling and an even bigger gain for Prairie View.

Most High-Profile Hire: Bobby Hauck, Montana

Griz fans embrace the return of a 54-year-old coach who had an 80-17 record in seven seasons from 2003-09, never failing to win at least a share of the Big Sky title and make the FCS playoffs, with three national runner-up finishes. His tenure, though, was plagued by off-the-field issues, including numerous player arrests.

Biggest Loss: Mike Ayers, Wofford

It’s hard to replace a 30-year coach who won 207 games, but the Wofford legend retired following the Terriers’ first back-to-back 10-win seasons as well as a Southern Conference title last year. They did well in replacing him with Josh Conklin, who led Wofford’s defensive backs and special teams from 2007-09 and has been a defensive coordinator at The Citadel, Florida International and, most recently, Pittsburgh.

Under-the-Radar Hire: Joe Conlin, Fordham

Three days before Christmas, Fordham slipped in the hiring of Conlin. Although the Rams suffered big senior losses, Conlin's background is ideal for the Patriot League school. He spent the last six seasons at 2017 Ivy League champ Yale, including four as offensive coordinator and associate head coach. He also served under two New England legends, New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell and Harvard’s Tim Murphy.

Most Surprising Hire: Randy Sanders, East Tennessee State

The timing was perfect for Sanders’ hire. Carl Torbush stepped down after three seasons of reviving the Southern Conference program and Florida State went through a head coaching change, where Sanders was co-offensive coordinator. The 52-year-old has 29 years of coaching experience on the FBS level and is the only person to be a part of both the first (Tennessee, 1998) and last (Florida State, 2013) teams to win BCS national titles.

The Finally Hire: Dewayne Alexander, Tennessee Tech

Alexander has spent a nearly 30-year coaching career in Tennessee and is finally leading his alma mater’s program. He basically bleeds purple and gold — a 1989 graduate of Tennessee Tech who was a graduate assistant with the Golden Eagles in 1997 and ’98, was on Watson Brown’s staff from 2013-15 and briefly served as the interim coach following Brown’s retirement in December 2015. He also has head coaching experience at Cumberland from 2006-12.

Other FCS Hires: Alabama A&M, Connell Maynor; Alabama State, Donald Hill-Eley; Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Cedric Thomas; Central Arkansas, Nathan Brown; Davidson, Scott Abell; Delaware State, Rod Milstead; Florida A&M, Willie Simmons; Hampton, Robert Prunty; Holy Cross, Bob Chesney; Incarnate Word, Eric Morris; Mississippi Valley State, Vincent Dancy; Morgan State, Ernest Jones (interim); North Carolina A&T, Sam Washington; North Carolina Central, Granville Eastman (interim); Northwestern State, Brad Laird; Robert Morris, Bernard Clark; Southeastern Louisiana, Frank Scelfo; Western Illinois, Jared Elliott.

— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.

(Photo courtesy ETSU Athletics)