Welcome to the first in what I hope will be a weekly look at the men who will be leading their troops into battle against Mark Richt and your Georgia Bulldogs. I think it was either Patton or Gerry DiNardo who said that you don't know anything about an army unless you know everything about its General. That's nowhere more true than in college football, where the coaches often like to think of themselves as field generals and are occasionally, well, let's just put it out there, egomaniacal control freaks. Some are also allegedly kind of short and really sensitive about it (hat tip: EDSBS). Put that in your Golden Flake bag and munch on it.
But we're not here to consider vertically challenged SEC coaches with commitment issues (yet). No, we're here to take a look at Chris Hatcher, the fearless leader of the Georgia Southern Eagles.
Hatcher, like myself a Maconite, attended Mount De Sales high school, where he still holds several gridiron records including: most career passing yards, career touchdowns, and highest career completion percentage. Actually, I don't know if any of that is actually true, but given that Mt. De Sales hasn't won a state football championship since before Pope John Paul II started shaving*, I'd wager that it's probably "truthish", or at least "truthlike".
After a stellar career with the Cavaliers, Hatcher moved on to Valdosta State, where he played quarterback for Hal Mumme. That's the football equivalent of working for Amy Winehouse and having the job title "Cocaine Acquisition Specialist". Hatcher threw for 11,363 yards and 121 touchdowns during his Blazer career, and capped his playing days in Titletown, USA by winning the Harlon Hill Trophy, awarded to the best player in Division II football and sometimes called "the Division II Heisman".
Upon graduating Hatcher briefly attempted to make the roster of the Atlanta Falcons. He quickly however returned to his senses, packed up his dignity (everyone else on the team had mysteriously misplaced theirs), and moved to Orlando to become the quarterbacks coach for the University of Central Florida.
Determing that payment in Epcot admission vouchers and orange juice was not sufficient, Hatcher left after one year to be reunited with Coach Mumme, now the head ball coach at Kentucky. Actually, the football coach at Kentucky has never really been the "head ball coach". Just ask Bear Bryant. But I digress.
Hatcher's responsibilities at Kentucky included coaching the quarterbacks, carrying the clipboard for Hal Mumme's hair, maintaining plausible deniability about any recruiting violations committed by Hal Mumme's hair, and preventing incoming freshman quarterback Jared Lorenzen from eating the clipboard. Or Hal Mumme's hair.
"This man-mane is a full time job, Hatcher. You up to it???"
Hatcher did an outstanding job in Lexington, but realized that preventing Jared Lorenzen from eating things was at best time-consuming and at worst a fool's errand. Fortunately, he was awarded the head coaching position at his alma mater Valdosta State in 2000, thereby becoming one of the youngest head coaches in college football. In truth, most of the other candidates were scared away when the big money types from VSU elected to wine and dine them at the Fazoli's out by the interstate. But that's not Chris Hatcher's fault, now is it?
Thus began a 7 year reign of terror in the Gulf South Conference, during which Hatcher and his "Hatch Attack" once reeled off 35 consecutive victories and two national title game appearances. This was made all the more difficult, and the accomplishment all the more surprising, by the fact that it occurred in the Gulf South Conference. Seriously, do you have any idea how hard it is to gin up excitement from a squad playing the University of Arkansas at Monticello Boll Weevils year after year?
Chris Hatcher does. But he managed to do it anyway. Hatcher's highly successful tenure at VSU came to an end in 2007 when he was called on to replace the frequently burned in effigy and lucky to have escaped with his life wildly successful and hugely popular Brian Van Gorder at Georgia Southern, following the latter's somewhat farcical long and fruitful tenure in Statesboro.
Again, the Job Search Gods shined on the balding young man from Macon. GSU Athletic Director Sam Baker would have looked elsewhere, but he only had enough gas money to get to either Valdosta or Savannah. And Savannah State's football team sucked the blinding, scorching suck of a thousand sucking suns, sucking the life out of you during a Statesboro summer, solely because you suck. So Chris Hatcher it was.
All kidding aside, Chris Hatcher is one of the rising young stars of the coaching profession, due in large part to his innovative "Hatch Attack" offense. Oh hell. Who are we kidding? It's Hal Mumme's offense, if Hal Mumme had the faintest, foggiest clue what tailbacks are for. Chris Hatcher uses the running game both to stave off the Georgia Southern fans who would come after him with lanterns and pitchforks if he didn't use the phrase "Hamm-bone" at least once a day provide a change of pace and to control the ball.
Few realize how critical Chris Hatcher truly believes that ball control is to successful football. So enamored is GSU's head coach with hanging onto the pigskin that over the summer he recorded a version of Death Cab For Cutie's emo-tastic stalker song "I Will Possess Your Heart", but changed the lyric to "We Will Possess Our Balls". Yeah, that went over about as well as you would expect. But then kids can be so hard to reach these days.
In spite of a few early stumbles, Hatcher's emphasis on the running game and penchant for vaguely disturbing jingles ultimately helped propel the Eagles to a 7-4 record in his first campaign, including an upset victory over Appalachian State. Brian Cook cried upon learning of the outcome, by the way, but for a different reason than he cried for the rest of the 2007 season.
Looking into the future, you may expect Chris Hatcher to continue his first season success along the banks of Eagle Creek. As Erk (the lovable bald guy, not Kyle's daughter) once pointed out, Georgia Southern doesn't have enough money to cheat by buying players. So Hatch will look to shore up the Eagles roster with guys who were a step too slow or an inch too short to play at other more prestigious football schools like Vanderbilt, Duke, and Furman. The way to get the attention of those kids is to come out and shock the University of Georgia on Saturday in Athens. Will that happen? I doubt it. But if it does, Coach Hatcher will certainly look to the sky, and thank his departed mentor Hall Mumme** for showing him the way. Until tomorrow . . .
*Actually, they won a state title in 1996. But that was so darn long ago that I was in high school. Practically paleolithic in blog years.
**It appears, upon further review, that Hal Mumme is not in fact dead. He's simply coaching football at New Mexico State. I didn't think the distinction was significant enough to go back and change the article.
***I hope it goes without saying that I have immense respect for Chris Hatcher. But we don't play favorites here at Dawgsports, so he gets the same treatment I'll be lavishing on Phil Fulmer later this season. Only without the fat jokes.