The end of the regular season in college football annually produces as much news about coaching changes as the pending postseason. Things are no different in 2017 with coaching exits, searches and entrances at high-profile schools such as Florida, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Arizona State and UCLA.
This year, the focus on the future for coaches extends into Orangeburg, where S.C. State’s Buddy Pough is at the end of a contract and coming off his worst season in 16 years leading the Bulldog program.
After the homecoming loss to Howard on Oct. 28, first-year Athletic Director Stacy Danley went public with a statement of support for Pough amid the standard fare of fan complaints that comes with losing football games. Danley said then that he supported Pough but qualified his remarks by stating that season’s end would bring an evaluation of the coach and the program. He said S.C. State expected to win its closing two games.
But the Bulldogs did not win, even falling 34-10 on the final Saturday to Savannah State, a team that has not defeated S.C. State since 2001. The loss left the team at 3-7 and gave Pough his worst mark as the head coach of a program that boasts 16 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference football titles.
Alumni, stakeholders and fans are not happy – and neither is Pough. But this is not the time to look at changing the guard at S.C. State. It’s been a long road since lawmakers in 2015 threatened to close the university if high-profile fiscal woes and other problems could not be resolved. Two years later with a new board and a new administration, things are heading in the right direction, but the necessary cutbacks have affected many aspects of operations.
Not the least of those is the football program, where success has been the norm but is harder to come by in leaner times. Since 2014, the athletic department's budget has been decreased by 14 percent – a $2.5 million cut for operations. The football team was forced by budget cuts to only recruit in-state players this past recruiting cycle, limiting the talent pool to within the borders of the Palmetto State.
"At the end of the day, we need more resources," Danley said after homecoming. "We are down the ladder in our conference, in terms of budgets and resources that have been allocated to our athletics program. We are in rebuilding mode because we had to have those budget cuts for this campus to thrive as a university, not because we wanted to have them.”
And the competition in the MEAC has gotten better. Former T&D Senior Sports Writer Thomas Grant warned of what was to come with or without S.C. State’s fiscal woes. In a column titled “It will take more than coaching to keep S.C. State ahead,” Grant wrote in 2009 about the importance of facilities and resources in recruiting top players.
“It’s no secret that S.C. State has managed to overcome a distinct disadvantage among its Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference brethren when it comes to location and facilities. Out of the nine conference schools competing in football, S.C. State has the smallest population and most rural setting. ...”
“In addition, the majority of the schools are in metropolitan areas with more available resource outlets to call upon to help either improve the current athletics facilities or build new ones. ... It’s clear as other schools improve their athletics facilities, S.C. State will need more than just quality coaching to keep up with its MEAC and non-MEAC rivals in the coming years.”
With so many maintenance needs at other key facilities on campus, athletics is unlikely to move near the top of the list soon. Not only is that an issue in recruiting, it would also be an issue in attracting a new coach to guide the Bulldog program. Sure and simple, S.C. State is not in the position to hit the marketplace looking for a new coach.
But even if it were, this is not the time to abandon Buddy Pough.
From a purely football standpoint, consider these facts as pointed out recently by T&D Sports Editor Chris Clark:
• It took a full 16 seasons for every MEAC team to get at least one win against Pough's teams.
• Out of the 16 MEAC titles in program history, Pough has been a part of 14 as a Bulldog player, assistant coach or head coach.
• Pough is nine wins away from passing his former coach, Willie Jeffries, as the all-time winningest coach in program history.
• Pough has a head coaching record at S.C. State of 120-64, including a 94-33 mark in MEAC play.
• In eight of 16 seasons with Pough at the helm, the Bulldogs have won eight or more games, including 10-win seasons in 2008 and 2009, and an 8-4 season as recently as 2014.
Pough acknowledges that things went south in the 2017 season, which wasn’t supposed to be all that bad. But as the coach said after the season-ending loss: "You thought it couldn't get worse at the end, but it did -- maybe one of the worst scenarios that you can fathom. We've got a lot of fixing to do. That's what we're working on now.”
The coach is due an opportunity to handle the rebuilding. A respected coach with a proven track record, he is a solid recruiter for a program that needs an infusion of talent. Buddy Pough has been and will be good for S.C. State football. He is a winner.
And he is a great ambassador for the university and an integral player in the Orangeburg community -- which we join in hoping that Pough will want to remain as head of the football program as much as S.C. State should seek to make that reality.