Savannah State University’s Athletics Department starts its first year in the SIAC with new coaches, new hope, and new passion.
In the year leading up to Savannah State’s transition to Division II, there have been 56 layoffs at the school due to loss of revenue. These staff cuts have significantly affected the Athletics Department, including the loss of many paid assistant coaches throughout the department.
Out of the paid assistant coach positions in the 2018 fiscal year, salaries ranged from $7,000 - $65,000 per year, according to public records.
Despite the loss of assistant coach’s positions at the school, many head coaches remain optimistic about the prospect of competing for SIAC titles within the new conference and plan to use Savannah State Athletics alumni and volunteers to fill the void created by the position cuts.
Deputy Athletic Director Kimberly Miller said at least one paid assistant position was cut from each of the 15 teams at the school. She also said the women’s volleyball team was the only team to change head coaches after the transition of division. Head Men’s Basketball Coach Horace Broadnax said he lost two paid positions on his staff.
Miller said she believed the changes would not prevent the school’s teams from competing at a high level.
“The changes have little to no bearing on our ability to compete because of the high-quality head coaches at our school,” she said in regard to the staff cuts.
She emphasized the importance of the head coaches and said the teams will succeed based on how the head coaches run the programs. According to Miller, the department is in good hands due to the long tenured head coaches that run the programs. She pointed out that every head coach outside of women’s volleyball has been at the school for 10 years or more.
Eric McCombie, Ohio Coaching Education alumni and current East Georgia State College baseball head coach stressed the importance of his two paid assistant coaches on recruiting and running practice.
“It’s hard to have 36 players and one coach” he said.
He also said there are some difficulties that arise when depending solely on graduate assistants. “Sometimes it’s hard to rely on a grad assistant to the same degree as a coach because of the similarity in age between the assistant and the players,” McCombie said. “There will also inevitably be friendships between current players and the assistant.”
Although it’s difficult, McCombie said it is entirely possible to find a volunteer coach who can bring the same passion and knowledge as one that is compensated for their work. McCombie began his career as an unpaid assistant. “In this profession, you got to put your time in to advance up the ranks and there are plenty of very qualified coaches who are willing to do the job well just because they love it,” he said.
Despite potential consequences for some athletic teams at Savannah State, these staff cuts have undoubtedly created a unique opportunity for former student SSU athletes and volunteers to contribute to the athletics programs at the university.
Many assume there will be a drop-off in coaching quality when the teams must start heavily relying on younger assistants and volunteers, but feelings were mixed within the department about the reliance on unpaid coaches. Joshua Peacock, assistant athletic director for media relations, said, “Volunteer positions are great stepping stones for former athletes who can work around a job and help the university.”
Former Savannah State baseball player and current graduate assistant, Caleb Hill, is one of the new additions. When asked what Hill hopes to gain from his position as a graduate assistant, he said “I originally did it for scholarship money to finish my degree but I ended up liking it more than I expected.”
With gained experience and a new-found love for coaching, Hill has landed a job as a pitching coach for a collegiate summer team in California. Hill credits his graduate assistantship at Savannah State for helping him land his first professional coaching job.
When asked what he could contribute to the program, Hill was confident he would make a positive impact on the team’s first season in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. “I believe my time here as a student athlete gives me a unique passion for the team and I have gained a lot of knowledge that I think I can pass on to the younger players here at Savannah State,” Hill said.
The coaching transition to a more volunteer-dependent system for athletic teams affects how the teams operate on a macro level. Ultimately, the players at Savannah State will be the ones most affected by the coaching adjustments being made in the athletic department.
Junior Savannah State football player, Awni Alshafei, was optimistic and excited for the future of the football team with the coaching changes.
Alshafei said there was “no drop-off whatsoever” in terms of coaching from last year to this year. He said Head Football Coach Shawn Quinn has brought in a staff that “knows how to persevere” and “preaches being a better person.”
It seems to be working for the football team as the Tigers have started the season at 3-2 and 2-0 in conference.
Junior baseball player Joey Roberson said, “Yeah it sucks to lose the coach who recruited me because we had a good relationship, but ultimately, I still believe in this team’s ability to win games this season and Coach [Carlton] Hardy’s ability to build a good support system for his players,” Roberson said.
Hardy has been at the university as head baseball coach since 2006 and led the 2013 MEAC championship team.
Savannah State enters a new conference with high expectations and all eyes are on athletics. With a revamped athletic staff, along with an increased reliance on unpaid staff members in 2019-2020, the Tigers hope their first year in Division II lives up to Savannah State standards.