Samford football coach Pat Sullivan begins his sixth season with the Bulldogs on Saturday in a Southern Conference season opener against Furman at Seibert Stadium.
It remains to be seen if Sullivan will be on the sideline. Samford announced Monday that the 1971 Heisman Trophy winner at Auburn had pneumonia and would need "a few days away from the team."
Associate head coach and defensive coordinator Bill D'Ottavio filled in for Sullivan on the Southern Conference media teleconference Tuesday. Asked if he thought Sullivan would coach Saturday, D'Ottavio replied, "Right now I believe so, and we'll just have to take it as it comes."
D'Ottavio said Sullivan has been in contact with the players and staff and his absence hasn't had a big impact on the team's preparation for the Paladins.
"It's not a 100 percent the same if he's not there, so he's got words for them every day and we're in constant contact with him," D'Ottavio said. "It's not like his message is not getting across to them. They're working very hard and they're excited about opening up the season."
Saturday's game is the only SoCon matchup in the first week of the season. Georgia Southern and The Citadel meet in Charleston, S.C., next week.
Speir era starts
Western Carolina will kick off the Mark Speir era with a Thursday night game against Division II member Mars Hill. Speir was hired in December and inherits a team that went 8-37 during the past four seasons under former coach Dennis Wagner, with a total of three SoCon wins in that stretch.
Speir, who took over the Catamounts after nine seasons on the Appalachian State staff, said Western Carolina will be relying on some young and inexperienced personnel -- the first-year coach included.
"There's nine true freshmen that are going to have a major part in this ballgame Thursday night," Speir said, "and in reality, a true freshman head coach out there, as well."
The Catamounts haven't finished above eighth in the SoCon standings since a fourth-place run in 2005.