Former UTC coach Russ Huesman says no football for Richmond this fall is gut punch

Spiders Athletics photo by Scott Brown / Richmond football coach Russ Huesman, who guided UTC to a 59-37 record in eight seasons (2009-16), will have to deal with a fall without football due to the cancellation of conference games by the Colonial Athletic Association.

College football coaches such as Alabama's Nick Saban, Tennessee's Jeremy Pruitt and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's Rusty Wright have no idea what the 2020 season will look like, but former UTC coach Russ Huesman already knows his fate amid the coronavirus pandemic.

There will be no fourth autumn of guiding the Richmond Spiders of the Colonial Athletic Association, which Huesman readily admits is the biggest setback of his coaching career.

"By a million miles, to be honest," Huesman said this week. "When they canceled our season, it felt like I had been punched in the gut, and I know our players felt the same way. Right now, there is just the unknown.

"What do we do this fall? Do we get practice time? There are all these different scenarios, and these questions won't be answered for a while for us, for sure."

Concerns about the coronavirus have resulted in the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences opting for league-only schedules this season, while other conferences such as the Ivy League and Patriot League have scrapped fall semester athletics altogether. The CAA revealed a slightly different decision last Friday, announcing the cancellation of its conference schedule but allowing each member to play as an independent and formulate its own schedule.

Richmond, a tradition-rich Football Championship Subdivision program that won the 2008 national title at Finley Stadium with Huesman as its defensive coordinator, quickly chose not to go the independent route.

"I think it's just James Madison that has made the decision to do that," Huesman said. "We play football in the CAA, but a lot of our other sports are in the Atlantic 10, and that made it hard because of what other conferences are doing and the decisions that they're making. Villanova is in the Big East, and they've been canceling fall sports.

"It was really hard for the CAA to say they were playing football but not other sports."

Word of the CAA's decision began to leak last Thursday, so Huesman was able to arrange a meeting with players that night. It was not a face-to-face gathering, as Spiders players were on the verge of beginning voluntary workouts but had yet to convene.

Huesman said there are roughly 15 players from the Richmond area who will be able to use the athletic facilities for the remainder of the summer, and the school is on track to have in-person classes this fall.

"The players were scheduled to come in last week, but we held off on that," he said. "We didn't want to bring them in and then send them home. It's just all been very tough. Maybe we can play in the spring so we don't lose the whole year, but the challenge of the spring would be playing a schedule that could run into April or May and then have that quick turnaround of playing next fall."

Huesman inherited a UTC program coming off a 1-11 season in 2008 and produced a 6-5 debut season. He went 59-37 in his eight years with the Mocs, leading the program to three consecutive Southern Conference titles and three straight trips to the FCS playoffs, where they advanced on all three occasions.

He has not replicated that success at Richmond, which is reflected by a 15-19 record through three seasons.

"I was really eager for this season," Huesman said. "I think we've got a really good team. We've got six fifth-year guys who decided to come back and not jump into the (NCAA transfer) portal. They are excellent players.

"It's a special place here. We can win. This was going to be a great year for us."

Should UTC and the Southern Conference elect to play this season, Huesman's Saturdays would suddenly be spoken for again. His son, former UTC quarterback Jacob Huesman, is entering his second season as tight ends coach for the Mocs.

"I'll go to every one of their games," Huesman said. "I've already told Amy, my wife, that I'm going to every game if they play. I've obviously got mixed feelings, because I want them to play, but if they play, then there will be playoffs in the fall and not in the spring."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.