Eagles still seeking first win

STATESBORO – Georgia State head coach Shawn Elliott knows all about the challenges of being an interim head coach.

 

When Steve Spurrier shockingly resigned as South Carolina’s head coach midway through the 2015 season after the Gamecocks fell to 2-4, his offensive coordinator, Elliott, was charged with keeping the team afloat.

Elliott made no bones about it in a phone interview on Wednesday: a football team is very fragile without its head coach, and if the interim isn’t careful, he can lose control quickly.

Elliott said assistant coaches are the glue that keeps everything together in such a situation, and that’s the best piece of advice he can offer Georgia Southern interim head coach Chad Lunsford.

“The challenge is handling the coaches that are also on staff with you,” he said. “You’ve got to understand the likelihood of being retained down there is few and far between. You’ve got to really keep your coaches’ feet to the fire, making sure they’re coaching those players as hard as they can because in all actuality, it’s coming quick to the season’s end, and there are some hard choices that will have to be made, and those guys have to take care of themselves and their families too. You’ve got to be stern with those guys, otherwise the football team will think it can run itself.”

As was the case with Spurrier, Georgia Southern was left with an interim head coach six games into the season, only former coach Tyson Summers was dismissed after an 0-6 start.

The Eagles are looking for their first win of the season as they host Elliott’s Panthers at 3 p.m. today at Paulson Stadium. The Panthers (4-3) have won four of their last five games and are hovering near the top of the Sun Belt with a 3-1 league record.

At opposite ends of a young but heated rivalry, old friends Lunsford and Elliott and worked together as assistant coaches at Appalachian State during the 2001 and 2002 seasons. Elliott said he did not have a chance to speak with Lunsford when he was promoted to interim head coach but sent him text messages congratulating him after the announcement was made two weeks ago.

“We’re great friends, and we’re going to be great friends after this game, regardless,” Elliott said. “Those things go way deeper than this game. He’s a good man, has a great family, and I wish him all the best.”

Rivalry heats up

This will be Elliott’s first venture into the rivalry brewing between two schools whose names often confuse the national media. The Panthers are looking for their third straight win over the Eagles, and the programs have only met four times.

“I understand there’s a little bit of a rivalry here between Georgia State and Georgia Southern that’s a little bit deeper,” Elliott said. “What is this? Only the fourth time we’ve played in football? Any time you go to Statesboro and pull out a win is very special.”

In a press conference on Monday, Lunsford said much of the rivalry stems from his Atlanta-based players who chose Southern over State.

“A lot of these players know each other,” Lunsford said. “A lot of them played together in high school, a lot played against each other in high school, so there’s a lot more invested in it.”

Slotback Myles Campbell said the trash talk is something he deals with when he returns to his home in Duluth.

“I was in high school when they started their football program (2010), and I was thinking about other schools,” Campbell said. “Losing to the them the last two years has been real tough. I’ve got some friends who go there, and when I go home I get the usual smack talk. Hopefully that will change after this weekend. I have a lot of respect for them and what they’re doing.

Right now, beating Georgia State and the Eagles’ other arch enemy, Appalachian State on Thursday, would add a lot of fire to a frustrating season, he said.

“I look forward to the game, not necessarily because it’s Georgia State but because it’s another opportunity to play a game of football,” he said. “If we could win the next two games against two rivals it would take some of the sting out of this season. The next two games will give us a chance to salvage something. There’s a lot of pride on the line and we seniors have to continue to step up and set an example for these young players. It’s important for us to finish the season strong.”

Elliott said his players aren’t overlooking the Eagles, and he hasn’t heard a lot of talking from them about the game.

“We’re not into a whole lot of talking,” he said. “I told the team this morning, we’ve got to respect this university, and we’ve got to respect their players. Let’s go down there and let what we do on the field represent exactly who we are.”

 

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