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Struggling programs must realize it's time

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - New head coaches, especially those with struggling teams, are often quick to sidestep questions about win totals measuring their success.

You've probably heard the coach speak before: If the team gets back to the basics and does all the little things it is supposed to do, then the winning will fall into place.

Of course, if that doesn't happen, then the coach will keep his moves like Jagger the next time the media ask about a timeframe for winning.

It's usually the veteran coaches, and winning coaches, who are more open to wins and losses being a barometer.

Whether that's fair or not is debatable because, well, graduating players is an important measuring stick that too often is overlooked by sports fans.

Princeton has a 2-18 record in coach Bob Surace's first two seasons.
It makes what football coach Rob Ambrose did in his third season at Towson all the more impressive.

Last year, he turned a team that was 3-19 in his first two seasons into the CAA Football champion and a Top 10 team. But he also had told his team in no- uncertain terms that it was time to start winning. He was even accountable publically.

By year three, the honeymoon is over for coaches. They have had time to get their assistant coaches, recruits and philosophies in place. The struggling ones must say it's time to start winning more.

Some coaches who came on board for the 2010 season have taken their programs to great heights in their first two seasons, such as Sam Houston State's Willie Fritz, who had the Bearkats ranked No. 1 last season on their way to a national runner-up finish; Georgia Southern's Jeff Monken and Montana's Robin Pflugrad, who have reached the national semifinals; and Bethune- Cookman's Brian Jenkins, Murray State's Chris Hatcher and Portland State's Nigel Burton, who have orchestrated turnarounds with their programs.

To a lesser extent, Bucknell's Joe Susan, Cornell's Kent Austin, Lamar's Ray Woodard, Tennessee State's Ron Reed and Youngstown State's Eric Wolford have brought excitement to their programs.

But others need to make sure year three is so much better than the first two - channel their inner Ambrose with his blueprint.

There's Princeton third-year coach Bob Surace, who turned in his black-and- orange stripes with the Cincinnati Bengals to return to the ones he wore in the Ivy League with the Tigers. Surace has played enough young players in the last two seasons for the Tigers to improve dramatically on his 2-18 record, although running back Chuck Dibilio, the league's 2011 freshman of the year, is trying to recover from a stroke suffered less than five weeks ago.

Valparaiso is 1-21 in two seasons behind coach Dale Carlson, beating Campbell last November.
Saint Francis (Pa.) hasn't posted a winning season since 1992, but the Northeast Conference team appears primed to show improvement under Chris Villarrial, who is 3-19 through two seasons. With the return of running back Kyle Harbridge (1,430 yards, 14 touchdowns), it could happen.

In the Southwestern Athletic Conference, Southern took a big step in Stump Mitchell's second season, doubling its win total from two in 2010 to four. Meanwhile, Mississippi Valley State ended a 19-game losing streak in Karl Morgan's second season, although it's his only win in his two seasons.

Dale Carlson also has only one win in two seasons at Valparaiso, which has been the FCS' worst program recently. But the Pioneer Football League team has a young nucleus, including quarterback Eric Hoffman, that appears ready for greater success.

Nicholls State dropped from 4-7 in 2010 to 1-10 in Charlie Stubbs' second season. This year's schedule is front-loaded with difficult games, so the Colonels may need to win some games late in the season to show marked improvement.

One program that likely faces a rough going in coach Bill Curry's third season is Georgia State, which is joining the CAA after two seasons as a startup independent. After going 6-5 in 2010, the Panthers fell to 3-8 last season and now have a tougher schedule ahead.

Then again, it was easy to cast doubt on Towson going into 2011.

Most head coaches of struggling teams may talk about progress more than the wins. Even if it's just behind the scenes, it's time they demand accountability in the win column.

Sacks or scores, contact Craig Haley at
chaley@sportsnetwork.com.


Follow Craig Haley on Twitter and Facebook.

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