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New coach wins 'em over
04.29 hatcher front
New Georgia Southern football coach Chris Hatcher, left, signs “The Southern Century,” chronicling the first 100 years of Georgia Southern, for Stephen Andrews at Thursday night’s Effingham Eagle Club meeting. - photo by Pat Donahue

Eagle Club complete

Children at the Eagle Club meeting

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In less than 30 months, the Georgia Southern University football program has had three head coaches.

But the newest, former Valdosta State University coach Chris Hatcher, is re-energizing an Eagle fan base that had grown accustomed to championships.

Hatcher, a Macon native and former star quarterback at Valdosta State, greeted one of the largest Effingham Eagle Club meetings ever at Effingham County High School on Thursday night.

“It’s very exciting,” said Effingham Eagle Club President Wendel Wilson. “It’s a new beginning.

“He’s the right man at the right time.”

Wilson said as soon as the meeting was announced and Hatcher was confirmed as a speaker, he began getting requests for tickets.

“They wanted to know what he had to say,” Wilson said. “It’s an exciting time.”

From its first year in Division I-AA football in 1984 through 2000, Georgia Southern claimed six national championships. The Eagles have been to the playoffs four times since their last title, but were bounced in the first round in the last two appearances, in 2004 and 2005.

Longtime assistant Mike Sewak, who had been promoted in 2001, was dismissed, and former Georgia defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder was hired. But VanGorder’s stay in Statesboro was brief, lasting one tumultuous 3-8 season that ranked, in terms of wins and losses, as the worst since Georgia Southern restarted football in 1981.

“People were ready for a change,” Wilson said. “Not that (VanGorder) was a bad coach by any means. He just didn’t click with the fans.”

VanGorder changed some of Georgia Southern’s traditions since the rebirth of its program, which had been dormant since World War II. He eschewed the familiar, rickety yellow school buses and changed the color of the facemasks from the factory-issue gray to blue.

“He embraces the traditions of Georgia Southern,” GSU alum and fan Stuart Exley said of Hatcher.

Exley was glad to hear Hatcher is bringing back the yellow school buses,which take the players from the football fieldhouse to Paulson Stadium on game days.

“That’s one of the traditions I’m glad to see he’s bringing back,” he said. “It’s a working class program, and that embodies that part of it.”

VanGorder also scrapped the potent triple option offense for a more pro-style approach. Fans point to that helping ease the transition to Hatcher’s passing-heavy attack.

“We’re at a point where we can move forward,” Wilson said. “We’ve been converted to a passing offense.”

At Georgia Southern, where the expectations are simple — win — fans are taking to the newest coach and his Georgia drawl quickly.

“I think he’s going to be an asset to the program and the community as a whole,” Exley said.