|« Big Goals For UNH Athletics||Hall Returns to SSU Staff »|
After 9 Years, Pough Still Having Fun
After nine years, the job is still fun for South Carolina State head football coach Oliver “Buddy” Pough.
What’s not to love about coaching his alma mater in his hometown? From leading the Bulldogs to three Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference titles, two Top 15 finishes in the national Football Championship Subdivision rankings and a black college football national championship, Pough has reached many of his goals since succeeding Willie Jeffries in 2001.
Pough’s 67-26 record after eight seasons is virtually identical to the legendary Jeffries’ after nine seasons (66-27-4). Nevertheless, Pough begins preparation for Year Nine of his tenure with the start of spring practice Monday with many unattained goals on his agenda.
In this week’s Sunday Conversation, Pough discusses the program, life in Orangeburg and what to expect during the spring.
Q: Heading into Year Nine, what is your mindset in regard to where the program stands right now?
POUGH: It’s pretty clear I think that our goal is to continue to improve a little bit each year. We’ve gotten to the point where I think we’re a decent enough football team. We’ve just got to accomplish more of our goals. As we improve our recruiting, as we get a little bit higher level of guys, as we get a little bit higher level of recruit, as we maybe get a little bit higher level of student recruits, I think you’ll start seeing this team continue to get better.
Q: As you look at the state of the Bulldogs right now, is it safe to say that it’s at a higher level of where you thought it would be or right on schedule?
POUGH: Well, I always like to be further along. You’re proud of what you’ve done. I think we’ve had some nice gains in our progress, but I wish we had done more and it’s not something that you sometimes can accomplish any faster than you see it happening now. I don’t know if we can cut corners and try to make gains or something of that kind. I’m proud of the fact that we’ve done it the right way and that our kids are going to school and finishing school and that kind of stuff. So we’ve got some neat things going on and you wish you’d done more. But at the same time, you’ve got to be a little bit realistic in the fact that you have done some good things and you might ought to sometimes be happy for what you have done.
Q: For all the accomplishments, what do you think is missing?
POUGH: Wins in the playoffs. It took us so long to get here. It took the better part of six seasons to get to the playoffs. Now that we’ve gotten here, you want to try to do even more. So I think that may be the main ingredient now. The one missing element in the whole scheme of things.
Q: S.C. State is currently going through a run similar to what Hampton enjoyed under Joe Taylor in the first half of the decade in the MEAC before suffering a slide. Is there a concern that the program will suffer a similar fate soon?
POUGH: You always are (concerned). There are two ways you can go with any decision you make in this line of work. You can get better and you’re steadily trying to get better, but as you’re attempting to get better and you tinkering and experimenting, sometimes the experiments don’t work and you end up getting worse. I don’t think that will be our case. I think that we’ve got the full support of our administration. We’ve still got a staff in place that’s still hungry. I think our players are still hungry. Our department as a whole is pulling together to try to give us an opportunity to have the kind of success that I think that we’re aiming toward. So I just don’t see us going backwards. I think that as long as we have the sense of urgency to try to reach those goals that we’re trying to reach. I think that will be something that will keep us going. At least to help us continue to improve.
Q: Speaking of Coach Taylor, he recently told the Tallahassee Democrat that the Oct. 2 matchup between the Bulldogs and Rattlers will “define” the season. When you hear such comments, do you consider this a sign of respect?
POUGH: It does. It at least lets you know what people think of you outside your program. It’s one thing to be inside and to perceive yourself in a certain way than to be outside and to get information from the outside that makes you think people outside think you’re doing a pretty good job. At the same time, the game looks like it’s going to be our first conference game. So for that reason, it’s a big game for us too. Yeah, I’m sure it’s a target for him. Those guys are all planning and looking forward to South Carolina State when they come to Tallahassee. But at the same time, I guess we need to be doing the same thing with (FAMU).
Q: You and Morgan State’s Donald Hill-Eley are currently the longest tenured coaches at the same school in the MEAC. When you first started here and looked at all the changes, did you expect to still be here?
POUGH: (laughing) You’d hope you’d be here. It’s the longest single tenure I’ve had at any place. This is the longest I’ve been anywhere. You don’t foresee that. I’ve been kind of a nomad of sorts. They say that behind every man is a surprised mother-in-law. I remember my mother-in-law said 30 years ago, “Boy, you have a hard time keeping a job!” because I was going from place to place. I was at (Orangeburg-Wilkinson) for 2-3 years. I was at (South Carolina) State for 5-6 years. Then, I was at O-W. Then, I was at (W.J.) Keenan. So every 3-4 years, I was looking for another job.
Out of all the jobs I’ve had, I’ve only been fired twice. I was at South Carolina State with Bill Davis and I was on (former University of South Carolina head coach) Brad Scott’s staff. So I’ve had a little bit of every kind of situation you can think of when you talk about actual tenure of a job and this one has been a little bit surprising, to be perfectly honest with you. So I’ve got to take my hat off to South Carolina State because I can imagine there are times when I’m not the easiest guy to take.
Q: Have there been occasions (i.e. the controversy involving the firing then reinstatement of defensive line coach Gerald Harrison, breach of contract issues) when you’ve had frustration at S.C. State?
POUGH: Well, there’s always the possibility of frustration. I’ve never really had. I’ve always wanted to be here. That’s the one ingredient in this whole scheme that’s probably the most important part of all. I like being here and being from here and having your family here and your wife’s family being here, I do like being here. It’s a place where I think there are just so many different comfort zones and I’ve got so many good friends here and so many good relationships. I don’t know if you can have better friends than what I’ve got here. I really like it and for that reason, you just kind of hope that things continue because you’ve got no reason to go anywhere unless you just totally somehow or another just can’t get along. I think I haven’t run into anything since I’ve been here that I thought was bigger than the overall bigger picture of enjoying being here.
Q: You want to end spring practice having a good feeling about the team heading into the fall. Which position with the biggest concern has to perform up to your standards?
POUGH: Our receivers need to do good on offense. Running back-wise, I think we’ll survive there. We’ve got enough talent there that I think we’ll be OK there. But our wide receivers really need to step forward and have a big spring. Maybe on defense, we need a couple of defensive linemen to come up and then we’ve got some secondary guys that ought to be kind of interesting to watch this spring as they find their way. We lost some big guys. When you lose Phillip (Adams) and (Rafael) Bush … maybe Rafael Bush is the biggest loss we had on the team. I know we lost Will (Ford). I know we lost Tre (Young). But Rafael Bush was real important to what we did. So he might be the hardest guy to replace in our whole scheme. So, heck, I don’t know. Hopefully, we can get people in those positions that can do something close to what those guys have done and then we can kind of make up some of the (other areas) because I think we did upgrade in some spots.
By Thomas Grant Jr., Times and Democrat