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High praise for Hatcher
SoCon coaches: GSU has the right man for the job
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Southern Conference coaches think highly of Georgia Southern football coach Chris Hatcher. Above, Hatcher instructs receivers in route running during spring practice.

Bobby Lamb audio

Furman coach Bobby Lamb gives his take on first-year Georgia Southern coach Chris Hatcher at this week's Southern Conference football rouser.
    Chris Hatcher has admitted he doesn’t know much about the Southern Conference, but league coaches certainly know him.
    They spoke highly of Georgia Southern’s new leader this week, dishing out praise at the conference’s annual football rouser in Greenville, S.C. Hatcher, the Eagles’ third head coach in as many seasons, is working to revamp a GSU program coming off of its worst season in modern history. While the task isn’t likely to be easy, SoCon coaches are optimistic he’ll get the job done.
    “I think the world of Chris Hatcher,” said Furman coach Bobby Lamb. “I think they’ve got the right guy in there.”
    Western Carolina’s Kent Briggs said the Eagles could be the league’s X factor this year, just one season after finishing 3-8 with a 2-5 mark in SoCon play. WCU was one of GSU’s three wins last year as the Eagles left Cullowhee, N.C., with a 24-14 victory.
    “They’ve still got Georgia Southern players, and they’ll always be a contender in my opinion,” Briggs said. “What Coach Hatcher is going to do there is going to be tremendous for them, and I can see them doing a lot of great things. It’s hard for me to put Wofford ahead of Georgia Southern (in preseason polls) just because of who (the Eagles) are.”
    Though some teams might need a little time to get back on track after a three-win season, Lamb thinks the Eagles are capable of a speedy recovery.
    “You look at what they did last year,” he said. “They played three playoff schools. They beat Coastal, they took us down to the wire, 13-10, and then they took App to double overtime. So there’s a lot of talent still there, it’s just a matter of them getting it going in the right direction, having the confidence and getting back to old Georgia Southern football, which is winning Saturday. I think they’ll bounce back quicker than most programs would.”
    Wofford coach Mike Ayers was well aware of Hatcher’s success at Division II’s Valdosta State and said the Eagles’ offense was the team’s main difference in 2006 when the Terriers picked up a 28-10 win in Statesboro, their fourth over GSU in the last five years.
    “Georgia Southern last year was Georgia Southern from an athletic standpoint,” he said. “They played as hard. They played as well. They had a couple miscues that we took advantage of. The crowd in Statesboro was the crowd in Statesboro. Those guys sit right behind your bench, and they’ll let you know how you are doing coaching-wise.”
    Ayers predicts the 2007 Eagles will be well-coached, play hard and deep with talent.
    “Coach Hatcher is an excellent football mind,” he said. “Are they reeling from what happened to them? I’m sure that it caused a little bit of difficulty, but at the same time, I’m sure Coach Hatcher has come in, and he’s a proven guy. He’s done it, and he’s done it very well. I’m sure it’s going to be a great challenge for us. Every game you play in the Southern Conference, you’ve got to bring you’re A-game, you’ve got to play your best.”
    Lamb knows Hatcher — a Macon native who played and coached at Valdosta State — is well-connected in the state of Georgia, which concerns the Furman coach when it comes to recruiting.
    As far as being the third head coach in three seasons, The Citadel’s Kevin Higgins can empathize. Higgins halted the revolving door of Bulldog coaches when he took over three years ago.
    “I know what a challenge it is for a person going into the program, having three coaches standing in front of those guys three years in a row,” he said. “It takes time for guys to buy into what you are doing. You’ve got to get a good feel for the place and make your changes. But the good news for Georgia Southern is they have so much talent and tradition that the learning curve will not be great. I’m sure they’ll be very successful early.”
    The first order of business is winning the players’ trust, Higgins said.
    “If you say something, you have to do it,” he said. “One of the things we try to sell our guys on was that we are going to make things different for them.”
    Appalachian State’s Jerry Moore and Elon’s Pete Lembo both described Hatcher as easy to get to know.
    “The timing is perfect for Chris and those players,” Moore said.

    Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.