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Mocs Recovering from Slow Academic Progress Start
Russ Huesman inherited an academic mess when he became the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s football coach in late December. The mess has led to the Mocs being banned from the postseason this fall, and it won’t be cleaned up for at least a year or two.
But the program’s Academic Progress Rate problems will be resolved, he said.
“I have no questions that we’re going to get it fixed,” Huesman said. “I feel strongly about that.”
UTC chancellor Roger Brown said Huesman expressed his high academic expectations early in his interview for the Mocs’ coaching job.
“That was one of the first things he ever talked about,” Brown said of Huesman, who spent five seasons as Richmond’s defensive coordinator before returning to his alma mater.
“The very fact that he came here from an institution that has a rather elite academic profile is wonderful. He comes with high expectations for his student athletes and … he accepted the challenge of improving the academic success of our football players.”
Because of poor multiyear APR scores, the NCAA Division I Committee on Academic Performance has banned the team from the 2009 postseason, athletic director Rick Hart announced Wednesday. The Mocs also were docked 3.15 scholarships for the coming season and four hours of team time per week.
Richmond, the 2008 FCS national champion, was recently recognized by the NCAA for having a multiyear APR in the top 10 percent of all Division I programs.
As eager as Huesman is to bring on-the-field success to the long-struggling program, a significant part of achieving that is correcting the APR problems that make it even harder to compete with the other teams in the Southern Conference.
While SoCon stalwarts such as Appalachian State and Wofford are making the most of 20 hours of team time allowed per week — that’s three hours per game and 17 combined hours of weights, meetings and practice — the Mocs will have to make do with 16.
“They’re going to practice longer than we are, so we’ve got to be smart in how we go about our weekly schedule,” Huesman said.
The NCAA began the APR early in Rodney Allison’s six-year run as the Mocs’ coach. Allison said mistakes were made during the first few years, by himself and others. Some of those mistakes led to very little academic progress toward graduation and poor player retention, the two components that make up the APR.
That’s why the Mocs’ score was 816 (out of 1,000) for 2004-05 and 827 for the following year. The past two years’ scores were 924 and 915, thanks in large part to better player retention, but the four-year average of 870 is 30 points below the NCAA benchmark of 900.
“We should have done a better job earlier, I’m not going to deny that,” Allison said. “It was me, (then-athletic director Steve Sloan), the people in academics and elsewhere. Everybody involved was not on top of it. There was not a plan or strategy in place.”
That changed soon after Hart replaced Sloan in 2006, when an APR improvement plan was implemented. The plan included making sure the administrators have a better understanding of the APR and improving academic support services. It also meant recruiting more players capable of being student-athletes.
“Once we understood that there was a problem, we began taking steps to correct it,” Allison said. “Early on, we just didn’t understand it, and it hurt us.”
The athletic department will soon get some help in the area of academic support, Brown said. Part of the $500,000 donation given by Renee Haugerud and John Murphy in February will go toward hiring an additional staff member.
“That will free us up to use one individual just for football,” Brown said.
Huesman also has instituted several academics-related rules and programs. Among them, he will not sign junior college transfers, except in rare situations, and players will have to prove themselves academically before they will be allowed to live off campus.
Mocs recovering from slow academic progress start
By John Frierson, The Chattanooga Times Free Press