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UTC Fans See Hope in Huesman Hiring
Finally, a moment to celebrate. An excuse to brag. A reason to talk about University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football without rubbing your head or looking at the ground or using sarcasm to hide the pain.
All for the first time in 24 years.
The news conference introducing Russ Huesman as the UTC coach is the most inspiring moment for this program since it shared the Southern Conference crown in 1984. Very few have suffered more than UTC fans.
* Seventeen consecutive losing seasons in conference play;
* Seventeen losses by 30 points or more in the last six seasons;
* One winning season since 1997.
Russ, you will not recognize the place. When you left Chattanooga in 1982, you shared two conference titles and 31 wins as a player. (The Mocs have totaled 32 wins in the last 10 seasons.) You left a team that would share another title in 1984. After that: yikes.
Sure, there have been good moments. The Mocs beat No. 1 Marshall in 1993. Finley Stadium, a wonderful facility, opened in 1997. The Mocs started 5-2 in 2005. But those good feelings never lasted long.
Not until you got here, Russ. You could sense the anticipation and joy among the UTC faithful Monday afternoon at Finley Stadium. The room was absolutely packed. We saw current players and former players and faculty members and even a senator. For 24 years, UTC supporters — and my goodness, they are loyal — waited for a reason to believe. Hope is here, and the navy UTC hat fit him perfectly Monday.
“It’s a great start. We’ve got to begin to feel good about what we’re doing and believe in what we’re doing and have some hope,” UTC athletic director Rick Hart said. “I think Russ provided that today, and hopefully people will focus on the positives and get behind this team and help us get to where we’re trying to go.”
The defensive coordinator for the national champions took a head coaching job, and he took it at UTC. Think about that.
“I’ve been here for 25 years after I left the school. I hadn’t gone anywhere,” said Don Lepard, a UTC teammate of Huesman. “I haven’t felt the excitement until now.”
We don’t know if you will succeed, Russ. But your presence provides numerous reasons for hope. You were the defensive coordinator at a downtrodden program, Richmond, and won the national championship. Only two Richmond opponents scored more than 20 points all season. You convinced talented athletes to attend Richmond despite its troubles. We saw your work on display, in person, last Friday when the Spiders dominated Montana.
And that reminds me of all the Chattanooga folks I met at the championship game. As I wrote last Sunday, I could not believe how many Chattanoogans with no rooting interest attended the game. That tells me the people in this town will watch an FCS winner. You cannot blame people for bailing on the program during the last two decades. It’s been shameful football.
“You can tell the people in Chattanooga want to be good in football,” Huesman said, and then he noted he didn’t even plan to make such a comment. He saw the crowd at his news conference and just blurted it out.
Russ, you said the first time you pictured yourself coaching the Mocs was in the final moments of the title game against Montana. You said you looked up at the noisy Richmond section and thought, “Man, would this be cool to coach here with this environment.”
We dare to picture it as well. You mentioned how it’s been 25 years since your days at UTC. It has not been the same since you left. Welcome back.
UTC Fans See Hope in Huesman Hiring
By Darren Epps, The Chattanooga Times Free Press