Fresh off winning a national championship last Friday night in his fifth season as Richmond’s defensive coordinator, Russ Huesman now faces a new challenge: reviving the football program at his alma mater.
A coaching search that lasted nearly nine weeks came to an end Sunday morning when University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletic director Rick Hart offered Huesman the Mocs job, an athletic department source told the Times Free Press.
Huesman, 48, will be introduced as the program’s 22nd coach at a 2 p.m. news conference today at Finley Stadium’s Stadium Club. He will be taking over a team that lost as many games last season, 11, as he did in his UTC career (1978-81).
Neither Huesman nor Hart would discuss the situation, but in a statement released Sunday afternoon by UTC announcing the hiring of a new coach — the statement did not mention Huesman — Hart said today “will be a very important date in the history of our football program.”
As word spread of the hiring Sunday, it drew very positive reviews from both current and former players, including Roy Gregory, who played for legendary Mocs coach Scrappy Moore and was an assistant during Huesman’s playing days.
“Russ was a heck of a player, has had an outstanding coaching career and I think he brings more to the situation than it being just a job,” said Gregory, the coach at Austin Peay from 1991-96. “He’s the right man at the right time.”
After seeing what Richmond’s defense did to Montana in the Spiders’ 24-7 win in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision national championship game, freshman defensive tackle Nick Craig said he was excited about the hire and the future of the program.
“Just to see Richmond’s defense fly around to the ball the way it did was exciting, and that’s really the kind of defense I want to play,” Craig said. “I came to UTC knowing we were going to change this program around. I look at this as Step A, and I’m looking forward to being a part of the rest of the turnaround.”
Huesman was selected over UT-Martin coach Jason Simpson, a former UTC offensive coordinator, and Lambuth University coach Hugh Freeze. All three coaches went through extensive on-campus interviews last week. According to UT-Martin’s Web site, Simpson withdrew his name from consideration late Saturday night.
A native of Cincinnati, Huesman was a four-year starter at defensive back — he had nine career interceptions and also played baseball — and is the first UTC graduate to lead the program since Harold Wilkes was promoted in 1968 following Moore’s retirement.
Huesman played for Joe Morrison for two seasons and Bill Oliver for two, and the Mocs had a record of 31-11-2 during his playing career — they were Southern Conference co-champions in 1978 and ’79.
The Mocs went 1-11 in 2008, the first 11-loss season in school history, and Hart announced on Oct. 21 that coach Rodney Allison’s contract would not be renewed. In his six seasons at UTC, Allison had a record of 17-51.
Allison was the fifth coach in a row to leave with a losing record.
Huesman moved around early in his coaching career before staying at William & Mary from 1985 to 1997. In 1998 he began a six-year stint at the University of Memphis before being hired by former Richmond coach Dave Clawson in 2004.
“He’s just an outstanding coach,” said Clawson, who left Richmond after last season to be the offensive coordinator at the University of Tennessee and was recently named the head coach at Bowling Green. “He’s a great teacher, is great at taking away what other teams do best and is simply one of the best coaches I’ve ever worked with.
“He’s a very good coach and Chattanooga would be lucky to have him.”
In Huesman’s five seasons at Richmond, the Spiders were 42-23 and reached the playoffs three times. They advanced to the semifinals in 2007 and won the school’s first national championship last Friday night.
The Spiders were sixth in the nation this season in scoring defense, allowing just 15.6 points per game, and were 10th in total defense, holding opponents to 268.8 yards a game.
The Mocs have a lot of room for improvement on both sides of the ball. This season they were last in the Southern Conference in scoring offense, scoring defense, total offense and total defense. They were winless in the SoCon (0-8) for the first time since 1992.
John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...