By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
NEWARK, DE. — In the midst of the flood of change that represented the Football Championship Subdivision, there is a sense of serenity in looking out over a vacant Delaware’s Tubby Raymond Field — one of the iconic venues in the the organization of college football once called I-AA — on a game day.
But the paradox of the FCS universe as we await a season opener between the Blue Hens and the Jacksonville Dolphins is that even Delaware Stadium was not immune to the whirlwind of transition that has greeted us since North Dakota State won its second straight national title against Sam Houston State in January at Frisco, TX.
As I walked into the coaching offices of the Carpenter Center this morning, K.C. Keeler wasn’t around to say hello, as he had so many times on my trips to Delaware Stadium in the past.
Keeler was caught up in the unrealistic expectations of postseason glory during the off-season. It didn’t matter that he had led his alma mater to a national title in his second year as its head coach (2003), or that he had taken them back to championship-game berths in 2007 and 2009.
One losing season and Keeler was shown the exit door.
Now the pressure falls on new coach Dave Brock, with the statues of College Football Hall of Famers Bill Murray, Dave Nelson and Tubby Raymond staring over his shoulder.
In Raymond’s case, the straw hat of this legendary FCS figure will probably be peering down from the crowd somewhere on Thursday night.
If you are Brock, how is that for trying to keep up appearances?
But Keeler wasn’t the only prominent coach to get a less-than-royal send off after the 2012 season ended.
In one of the most shocking moves of silly season, Jerry Moore was ousted at Appalachian State after 24 years, an unprecedented three national championships in a row (2005-07), 10 Southern Conference crowns, 18 postseason appearances and a 215-87 record with the Mountaineers.
Hard to believe that both Moore and Keeler, the opposing coaches in that 2007 FCS title clash were removed just five years later.
Now it is up to Moore’s protege Scott Satterfield, the quarterback of ASU’s 1995 undefeated regular-season team, to carry on as the Mountaineers open the 2013 season at Montana on Saturday night, in a game between FCS heavyweight being telecast by ESPN Game Plan and ESPN3.
In continuing with the theme of change, Montana will hand the controls of its offense back to promising quarterback Jordan Johnson, who led the Grizzlies to the FCS semifinals in 2011 before being sidelined last season and eventually acquitted of legal charges this spring.
Fortunately, Johnson and Montana were sane enough to stay in the FCS ranks. Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, winners of a combined nine national championships, made the much-questioned decision to join the wasteland of the Sun Belt and the lower level frontier of the Football Bowl Subdivision in the spring, forfeiting the right to compete for the 2013 playoffs.
The only times that both Georgia Southern and Appalachian State were missing from the FCS postseason since 1984 were in 1996 and 2003.
Old Dominion, which advanced to the FCS quarterfinals in each of the past two seasons, has fast-tracked towards the FBS ranks as well, with Conference USA as the Monarchs’ next destination.
Other schools like Liberty, James Madison and Jacksonville State are casting longing eyes at FBS for various reasons, some sound and some misguided.
Don’t be surprised if JMU announces a move by the end of the 2013 campaign, making this the Dukes’ last chance at another FCS crown to go with its 2004 national title.
Other prominent coaches who will not be around for 2013 are Joe Taylor at Florida A&M (replaced by Earl Holmes after being forced out late last season) and Jack Crowe at Jacksonville State (replaced by Bill Clark).
Bill Curry retired at Georgia State and was replaced by Indiana State miracle worker Trent Miles, who will now try to work some magic as the Panthers transition to the FBS world.
The well-respected Bob Biggs — a legendary quarterback and then coach at his alma mater — retired at UC-Davis and has turned the controls over to Ron Gould.
Henry Frazier III, who won the Eddie Robinson Award at Prairie View in 2009, was dismissed in controversial fashion last week at North Carolina Central over a dispute with his ex-wife. Dwayne Foster was named as the interim coach.
Some of the changes are good ones, however.
I’ll watch a pair of Pioneer Football League teams, Jacksonville and Marist, first-hand this weekend as they look forward to competing for that league’s first automatic playoff bid.
Jacksonville has the heavy challenge of winning at Delaware in an interesting intersectional, non-conference game on opening night. Marist hosts Sacred Heart of the Northeast Conference on Saturday night.
The playoffs, after three years with a 20-team bracket, now have expanded to a more-workable 24 teams. There will be 11 teams with auto bids and 13 at-large entrants.
The top eight teams will be seeded and receive first-round byes, with the other 16 teams paired off.
Now if we could only convince the Ivy League to accept a 12th auto bid.
And then there are the new teams.
Here is a big welcome to Abilene Christian, Incarnate Word, Mercer, Stetson and UNC-Charlotte, part of the biggest first-year FCS in this writer’s memory.
Abilene Christian hopes to continue its success from the Division II ranks and plays its D-I opener Saturday at 8 p.m. against Concordia.
The Charlotte 49ers, which are making just a quick stop in FCS before moving to Conference USA, host Campbell at noon on Saturday for the first game in program history.
Incarnate Word faces a huge challenge in its opener against playoff-tested Southland Conference co-champion Central Arkansas on the Bears’ purple and silver BarneyTurf at 8 p.m. on Thursday.
Mercer, which is coached by former Furman quarterback star and longtime head coach Bobby Lamb, entertains Reinhardt at 6 p.m. in an easy opener.
Stetson is also taking an easy start into its first D-I campaign, as it hosts Warner at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
There will be many interesting FCS vs FBS matchups during the Labor Day weekend, including an intriguing matchup of North Dakota State at Kansas State.
The Bison, who have been FBS killers since joining the FCS ranks, will get a nice challenge off the bat against the Wildcats of the Big 12 as NDSU starts towards its goal of a third consecutive national championship.
And if you haven’t had enough football after Saturday night, two compelling HBCU matchups are on hand on Sunday.
Mississippi Valley State meets Florida A&M in the annual SWAC-MEAC challenge at 11:45 a.m. Sunday at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando, a game being shown on ESPN.
An even better matchup may be the battle between MEAC favorite Bethune-Cookman and tough and talented Ohio Valley Conference squad Tennessee State on Sunday at 8 p.m., a game that can be seen on ESPN3.