Scott Farmer has a unique perspective on Georgia Southern’s transition from the Football Championship Subdivision to the Football Bowl Subdivision Sun Belt Conference.
He spent 17 years at Georgia Southern as a member of the swim team, a swimming coach and an administrator. Then in 1999, Farmer went to Troy, where he was present for the Trojans’ move from the Atlantic Sun to the Sun Belt. He was there for the program’s first bowl win, and after rising to the rank of senior associate athletic director, in 2007 he went to UL Lafayette, and was named the director of athletics in 2011.
Now, the Ragin’ Cajuns are the defending conference champions in football (co-champions with Arkansas State), men’s basketball, baseball, softball and men’s tennis. The Cajuns beat Tulane in the New Orleans Bowl, advanced to softball’s Women’s College World Series and won more baseball games (58) than anyone else in the country while advancing to the NCAA super regionals.
His program is the best in the Sun Belt. It wasn’t when he first got there.
“Seven years ago, when we got there, it was a school that had one of the lowest athletic budgets in the nation,” Farmer said. “We knew we had to create some momentum, so we did the grassroots stuff — cleaning this facility or painting that facility. We started the Ragin’ Cajun athletic foundation, which allowed us to bring in some unrestricted dollars we didn’t have, and we used those dollars to do even more. Over the years, we made some coaching changes and brought in people who were good coaches and good salesmen, and we were able to double our budget over six years, basically because of our fans.”
If anybody knows the importance of success in more than just football, it’s Farmer. He’d tell his alma mater the same thing.
“I think they have to grow all aspects. I know Georgia Southern is a great football team with a great football tradition, and they’ll come in the league and compete,” Farmer said. “But like all of us, they’ll need to concentrate on all their sports. It’s not about one sport.”
And you concentrate on a sport by investing money. Georgia Southern has seen increased revenue from student fees, but built its football operations center with private donations.
Another unique perspective comes from UL Monroe head coach Todd Berry. He was the head coach at Illinois State in 1999, and visited Georgia Southern in the semifinals of the Division I-AA playoffs giving the Eagles their toughest test, losing 28-17.
Berry has been an assistant coach in the SEC, ACC and Big 12 and also was head coach at Army for three-and-a-half seasons. He guided UL Monroe to the Independence Bowl in 2012, and agrees with Farmer on what it takes to be successful in the FBS.
“Quite honestly, the formula for success is very, very easy,” Berry said. “All you’ve got to do is look around the country — I’m always amazed that people don’t do this — and you get a good staff together, you recruit guys with good athleticism and character, and you invest money in the program. You look at the guys investing in their program, even in our league from Arkansas State to Lafayette. A couple of years ago those guys decided they were going to invest in their programs, and look where they are now in relation to their history. … If you invest, you win. It’s like anything else in life.”
Finally, Farmer’s parting words of wisdom were to look within. He’s worked at schools trying to compete with Georgia, Alabama, Auburn and LSU, so he knows better than anyone it’s not about what they’re doing, it’s about what you’re doing.
“I would take south Georgia. How many people live in south Georgia? I would try to put 25,000 of them in Paulson Stadium every week,” he said. “That’s what I’d do.”
Dates to remember
• July 30: Players report for preseason camp
• Aug. 30: Season opener at N. C. State
• Sept. 6: Home opener vs. Savannah State