These are uncharted waters for the South Carolina State football program — enduring a second consecutive losing season, concerned about the direction of the team in coming years.
With Saturday's 28-20 homecoming loss to Howard, the Bulldogs (2-6 overall, 1-5 in Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference play) are at the bottom of conference standings and entered this, their bye week, with two games left on the schedule and more questions than answers.
On Monday, Buddy Pough -- in his 16th season at the helm for S.C. State -- tried to answer some of those questions while dealing with just his third losing campaign with the Bulldogs. And perhaps more importantly, first-year Bulldogs Director of Athletics Stacey Danley gave his support for Pough and the program through the remainder of the season.
Danley said he hasn't looked at Pough's contract, which expires after this season. But he stated that he will evaluate the football program, along with every other fall sport at the school, once the season is complete.
"We are here to support; we don't really talk contracts during the middle of a season," Danley said. "We have two more games that we expect to win, and we are going to go out and compete with that expectation.
"I'm just trying to give him everything he needs to succeed. We've had some tough losses, but we plan to get it on track over the next couple weeks."
Trying to salvage two wins to close out a disappointing campaign is unfamiliar territory for a Bulldogs program that has won 16 MEAC titles. But just as unfamiliar are the budget cuts across the S.C. State campus, some of which have impacted the athletic program.
"As I look at our program, and the stresses that the institution went through over the last few years, the lack of success that we are having athletically is an indicator of that stress," Danley said. "That stress affected every unit on campus. It's unrealistic for anyone to expect it not to affect athletics.
"We have a long way to go, but we are a lot healthier under the leadership of President Clark. Now we are identifying the areas that we can improve in ... recruiting, facilities, assistant coaches and their salary pools. I'm encouraging everyone out there in Bulldog Nation to support our program now, because we need that more than ever. We are in survival mode and rebuilding mode, but we are getting healthier every day."
Danley said the department of athletics has hired an outside firm to help the program "undergo an independent, strategic assessment, so we know exactly who we are and who we can be in the future."
Since 2014, the department's budget has been decreased by 14 percent.
"We were hit with a $2.5 million budget cut, from an operations standpoint, a year ago," Danley said. "The president told me that when I came aboard here.
"We have a long way to go. But what we are doing now is creating that plan to get us back to that championship level that we all want to see again."
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. The 2016 season began with road losses in "revenue games" at FBS programs Central Florida, Louisiana Tech and Clemson. That started a 5-6 season. Then, both coordinator positions for 2017 were filled during the summer months, after spring workouts were complete. It wasn't the ideal prelude leading to a successful season.
"At the end of the day, we need more resources," Danley said. "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.
"We've got to stay the course, keep working hard, and good things are going to happen in the future I believe. Buddy Pough is our head coach and he has my 100 percent support, and I fully expect us to go out and win these last two ball games on the schedule. We expect to win, and this hurts; but I believe Bulldog Nation will rally behind us through this time."
Pough admitted that it has been tough in recent weeks, dealing with losses in five of the last six games.
"This is a time to reflect and do self-scouting," he said. "Our recruiting is ongoing, even though the meat of it is later, once the season is done. But as far as I know, I'll be back (for next season). I tell our guys that we will be around here until they tell us differently.
"The big deal at this point is getting a team together that can win down the road a piece. It is now officially rebuilding."
In his 16th season, this has been the toughest campaign for Pough and his football team, despite 5-6 years in 2012 and 2016. But those seasons included losses to FBS programs (Arizona, Texas A&M, etc.).
"This is the hardest time that we've had and the challenges are mounting," Pough said. "But with any South Carolina State football team, we are going to fight and compete to the end. I think our administration is impacting us in a positive way, and I think that we can look to put the pieces in place to get ourselves going again as a football program.
"Our administration has done a fine job of stabilizing some of our financial woes and helping our university turn the corner some."