By his own admission, Dr. Bruce Grube stays out of the process of hiring the football coach at Georgia Southern University. But the newest top Eagle, Chris Hatcher, is drawing a thumbs-up from the school’s leader.
Hatcher, who led Valdosta State to a Division II national championship as a coach and was named Division II’s top player as a quarterback there, was named the Eagles’ seventh coach since the school restarted football in 1981.
“The one we brought in last year did not work so well,” Grube said Thursday to the Effingham Rotary Club. “I think we’ve got the right person.”
Hatcher replaced former Georgia defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who went 3-8 in his one year at the helm before becoming linebackers coach with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. VanGorder had been linebackers coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars before coming to Statesboro.
VanGorder’s brief tenure with the Eagles was marked by only the second losing season in Georgia Southern history since the late Erk Russell revived the program and a contentious, if not hostile, relationship with the press.
One of the differences between Hatcher and VanGorder is Hatcher, a Macon native, grew up a Georgia Southern fan.
“Chris speaks the language,” Grube said.
He’s also noticed a difference in the players when he talks to them about their new coach.
“The motivation seems to be different,” he said.
Grube also said Hatcher’s approach to building a team differs from his predecessor’s. VanGorder was pilloried for scrapping the Eagles’ legendary triple option offense and installing a pro-style offense. Upon his departure, VanGorder blasted fans and the media for not understanding what he was trying to do with a team that was built for a completely different style of football.
“Chris has a philosophy of football I like,” Grube said. “You assess your talent and then you build your systems around your talent, not the other way around.”
In Grube’s first two years as president, the Eagles captured their fifth and sixth Division I-AA national championships as then coach Paul Johnson directed the high-powered and famed triple option attack.
“And I just assumed that happened every year,” he said. “I was spoiled rotten after two years. Then you realize Georgia Southern, having won six, has won more than any other school in the country and how difficult it is to actually do that.
The Eagles have been to the playoffs just three times since their last national title, and their last two forays were first-round losses.
“I think Chris is the guy who can get us back into the playoffs,” Grube said.
Athletics has been a part of the university’s massive building program over the last few years. A new football office has been erected, as has a new football fieldhouse, the Bishop Building.
“The way the whole display area has been created is magnificent, and there’s a whole section dedicated just to Erk Russell,” Grube said of the football offices.
The Bishop Building replaced the Lupton Building, which had been in use since Paulson Stadium opened in 1984. The original building had been built by Morris Lupton, owner of a chain of convenience stores.
“What the old building was was two Time Savers stacked on top of one another,” Grube said. “But that’s gone, and the new one is spectacular.”
More improvements are on the way for Paulson, dubbed by Russell as “the prettiest little stadium in America.” Work will begin on the concourses soon, Grube said.
“We’re going to turn those into areas we can be proud of,” he said. “What happened was, the minute we started putting the bricks on the stadium and the wrought iron and brick fencing around the system, it made the parts that weren’t looking so good not look good at all. Things we were content with and able to live with were sticking out like eyesores.”
Georgia Southern also has built, with the help of Mondo, an Italian firm renowned as a builder of track facilities, a soccer and track stadium.
“The Southern Conference (track) championships were held there, because it’s the best surface in the conference,” Grube said.
Changes were made last year to J.I. Clements Stadium, home to the baseball team, and more changes, including a new wall and scoreboard, are planned. Also, the softball team’s complex will be redone.