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Coaching at Ga. Southern is a tough gig

By Doug Gorman

There are certain things that happen in sports that just make me shake my head in disbelief.

Like why some coaches are fired or forced to resign from a team despite a winning record.

That's why I was stunned when I heard Georgia Southern football coach Mike Sewak was told his services were no longer needed at the Statesboro school. His entire staff was let go too making for a not so merry Christmas.

During a four-year stint as head coach at Georgia Southern, Sewak posted a 35-14 record, put the Eagles in the playoff three times, and earned Southern Conference Coach of the Year honors once.

By most definitions, that's success. Granted the Eagles have been eliminated from the playoffs after first-round losses the last two seasons, including last Saturday when they blew a large lead in the fourth quarter against Texas State, but that's no reason to fire a coach.

At my alma mater Elon University, which like Georgia Southern is a member of the Southern Conference, that type of record would be enough to get the coach a long-term contract and a ticker-tape parade through the campus.

Since joining the Southern Conference in 2003, Elon has posted a 3-25 record in league play and hasn't beaten any of the conference heavyweights in Georgia Southern, Furman, Appalachian State or Wofford. (They did beat Furman before joining the conference.)

This year the Phoenix went 3-8, but 0-7 in the Southern Conference. When head coach Paul Hamilton resigned on Sunday, I wasn't surprised. Even though he was only there for two season, his program wasn't getting any better.

At Georgia Southern, the Eagles are always going to have one of the premiere football teams in Division I-AA football, but perhaps expectations are too high.

With six Division I-AA titles as part of its rich history, the bar is very high for the Eagles.

It didn't help that Sewak had to follow Paul Johnson, who left to coach at Navy. During Johnson's tenure, Georgia Southern went 62-10 and won two of its national titles.

It's never easy to follow a legend, but Sewak had a firm track record at Georgia Southern and was a good hire.

After all, Sewak served as Johnson's offensive coordinator and had worked on Erk Russell's 1985 and 86 national championship teams. However, in 2003, Sewak fired Rusty Russell, Erk's son, as the team's defensive coordinator.

After that, Erk Russell severed ties with the program he built from scratch. That sort of divided the fan base in Statesboro.

Georgia Southern won't have trouble attracting a qualified candidate. According to a story in the Associated Press, Sewak was making $109,000 a year and had other perks.

In addition to a nice salary, the new coach will also have the backing of administrators who know what a winning football team can to for the overall promotion of a college.

Georgia Southern Athletic Director Sam Baker made his thoughts on the subject very clear during a news conference Tuesday when he said “I want to win a national championship. I want to bring in a coach to focus on that.”

Baker should be commended for his desire to win, but he is already putting pressure on his next coach

His next hire is going to have to be someone who knows what he is getting into.

Georgia Southern may not be USC, Notre Dame, Georgia, Texas or one of college football's other heavyweights, but for a program that plays on a smaller scale, the expectations are just as great

One thing is for sure, coaching at Georgia Southern is a tough gig, and winning a national title might be the only way to gauge success.

(Doug Gorman is sports editor of the Daily. He can be reached at dogrman at News-Daily.com).