From the time Georgia Southern fans first caught wind of former head coach Jeff Monken’s departure to the United States Military Academy until Friday’s announcement that Willie Fritz will take the reins of Eagle football, it would be an understatement to say that there were quite a few different ideas as to where the program should be headed.
Dozens of names made their way through the rumor mill as the coaching search wore on. Easily found within the fan base were factions devoted to keeping Georgia Southern’s flexbone triple option, die-hard fans who wanted to hire a former assistant to keep things “in the family,” and big dreamers who set their sights on nationally known names that have already had an impact at the FBS level.
Even as word leaked out Thursday night that Fritz was the Eagles’ man, there were plenty of questions abound.
Some wondered how a guy who has spent his whole career in the outside the Southeast will fare as he recruits a new portion of the country. Others expressed fears that current assistant coaches employed by the university might also be on their way out. Pretty much anyone who had ever watched a GSU game wanted to know Fritz’s plans for the Eagles’ offense.
There are still 232 days until Georgia Southern kicks off against North Carolina State. Plenty of questions will be answered — and I’m sure some concerns will arise as well — in that span, but there’s little doubting that Fritz passed his first test with flying colors.
As the new top Eagle spoke of his past experience, coaching philosophy and hopes for the future, the masses that had crammed into Bishop Field House all seemed to fall in line.
New coaches often talk of getting their players to “buy in.” It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Fritz was doing the same to the Eagle faithful Friday afternoon.
When all is said and done, I’m sure there will be some growing pains.
If Fritz brings the same style of play to Statesboro that worked for him at Sam Houston State, there will be more offense run out of the pistol or shotgun (gasp), a big uptick in passing attempts (palms sweating), and little of the vaunted flexbone look that has been a staple of GSU (shooting arm pains).
All of that said, Fritz sidestepped all of those concerns by highlighting the one thing that all Eagle fans can agree on.
He’s here to win, to win quickly, and to win a lot.
Outside observers might find Beautiful Eagle Creek to be quaint. The yellow school buses might seem like a quirky inside joke, and Georgia Southern’s simple (mostly) unchanging uniforms might garner some praise from the older set who loves to remember the simpler times.
But there’s one trait inherent at GSU that seems to take a lot of new opponents by surprise — an unbridled, unflinching, unashamed certainty from players, fans and coaches alike that the Eagles will win every game. Go ask any Florida fan (or Alabama or Georgia, for that matter) and it won’t take long to hear stories of how they’ve rarely encountered underdogs that are so confident in what they can achieve.
It took Fritz all of one press conference to pick up that ball and run with it.
Georgia Southern is making the big leap from FCS to FBS. The Eagles will face top-tier opponents once again and will have less-heralded players on the roster than most teams they face, but Fritz didn’t hesitate to say that the goal — and expectation — is to win each and every game.
The triple option has been GSU’s calling card for much of its existence, but winning has been its permanent address.
Regardless of exactly what the playbook looks like in the coming seasons, Fritz’s first remarks to his new program and fan base certainly seem to have priorities in the right order and fit perfectly with the persistent success and advancement of the program that has been going strong for more than 30 years.
Fritz’s optimism and determination to oversee the Eagles’ journey is exactly what the fan base needed to hear.
Now that the program finally has its next coach, it’s time for everyone to find a seat on the nearest yellow bus and enjoy the ride.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.