Some of the Conway football assistants started acting giddier than fans.
The returning members of the staff saw their peer group grow back to full strength with names like Bob Hanna and John Gill, Josh Robertson and Chuck Fischer. The breadth of experience was clear. And it got folks talking.
Messages about the additions for the 2015 season started including multiple exclamation points. The coaches were as excited as anyone. They believe this group as a whole is the one that could turn things around, making Conway football great again.
“I do,” longtime assistant and current offensive coordinator Carlton Terry said. “I think you have an array of experience. From experienced coaches to guys just graduating from college, guys with a different outlook on football.”
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After five losing seasons in the last six, head coach Chuck Jordan has come under more fire for on-field performance than any other span of his illustrious career. The Tigers have had their first three-year streak of losing seasons since he took over in 1983, and back-to-back 2-9 records had even some of his biggest supporters changing direction.
He’s not immune to calls for him to retire, as much of the rumor mill never really stops. Stepping down from his role as athletics director gave him time to concentrate more of his efforts on football.
His offseason hires made it immediately apparent he was trying to build something special.
“You hire good people and you let them do their job,” Jordan said. “It’s my responsibility to manage everything. But the more you trust a coach, the more responsibility you give them. I give them the autonomy. They think a lot like I think.”
There’s a very good reason for that.
A pattern of loyalty
When Hanna was hired as an assistant coach in April, people noticed.
From Columbia, where he served as the head coach at Irmo for 20 years, to North Carolina, where he coached for two decades before that and then last season at West Brunswick, it made waves in the industry for two reasons.
First, guys with 262 head coaching victories on their resume seldom become position coaches. Secondly, it highlighted how unusual it is for Jordan to go outside his own tree. Eight of the 14 staff members played for him at Conway.
Of the six who didn’t, four are in their first season.
Gill, now in charge of special teams, coached with Hanna at Irmo before retiring and moving to the beach. Fischer also moved east after serving as an assistant coach and firefighter on the West Coast. Robertson, the team’s new strength and conditioning coach, joined on after serving at Appalachian State and Wofford.
Marcus Lott, who played at Union County and Coastal Carolina, is going into his second year. Receivers coach Steve Parsley, who went to nearby Marion, is entering his third decade under Jordan.
Considering there have been nine new coaches in the past two seasons, though, and that’s four former Tiger players returning to their alma mater in that time frame.
That’s nothing new.
“This is home to both of us,” defensive coordinator Kelly Andreucci said in advance of his 23rd season coaching under Jordan after playing for him. “It’s not just the football. It’s the school. This is our school. This is our town. We take a lot of pride in that.
“This is home. I don’t want to live anywhere else. I want to see these kids succeed. I want to see them succeed in school, on the field. I want to see them succeed when they get out of here, whether it’s military, college or just life.”
Andreucci and Terry (who returned to Conway as a coach in 1993) were freshmen at the school in 1983, the same fall Jordan was hired to take over the program.
Quarterback Peyton Derrick said that bond permeates to the players.
“With all the other coaches, we know they feel as proud of Conway as we do,” said Derrick, the third generation of his family to be affiliated with the school.
Take offensive line coach Will Bratcher, for instance. He’ll be in his second year at Conway after serving as an assistant football coach and head wrestling coach at Carolina Forest. But the writing was on the wall for him long before that.
When he signed with Charleston Southern for football as a senior in February of 2000, he told the Horry Independent it was his goal to eventually return and work for Jordan.
It may have been wishful thinking at the time. However, he followed through on a plan that could get him back. All the while, Jordan was paying attention to his former player.
“I don’t wait until I need somebody to start looking,” he said. “I have my eyes rolling all the time.
“Back in the spring when Bob retired from West Brunswick, I had been thinking on that for 18 months. I know which of my guys are out there in college working on their certification. I’m ahead of the curve.”
And if Jordan, now the longest-continuously tenured coach in the state after John McKissick’s retirement at Summerville, preaches patience on hires, it would make sense that he doesn’t apply knee-jerk reactions to firings, either. The three 20-plus-year assistants (Andreucci, Terry, Parsley) each have been at Conway longer than any two other Horry County head football coaches combined.
They weren’t scapegoated after a bad season, as assistants often are. They also never bolted for another job.
“It speaks volumes about the person who’s in charge, how much respect we have for him,” Terry said. “Sometimes we don’t always agree, but you agree to disagree.”
Ups, downs and turnarounds
Andreucci sounds like Jordan sometimes.
Without being prompted, the Conway linebacker-turned assistant makes the same declaration Jordan made the previous day: Coaches work harder during losing seasons than during the winning years.
If that’s the case, the back-to-back 2-9 records the Tigers have suffered through included a ton of extra hours. Other than 1989 boycott year, 2013 and 2014 served as the team’s two worst seasons under Jordan.
Those happened less than a decade after the last of four runs to the state championship game.
“There’s nothing that we haven’t seen – good, bad, indifferent,” Andreucci said. “We’ve been through it all with wins and losses. We’ve gone through a kid breaking his neck, those kinds of things – kids being killed off the field. It’s toughened us up. We don’t get overexcited when we win. We don’t get down in the dumps, want to kick your dog when you lose.”
They’d much rather trend toward the former.
Making the Tigers winners again would mean righting the ship for the nine alumni on staff, including Jordan.
As for mixing in a bit of new blood on the sidelines and coaching boxes?
“The bottom line is you’ve got to empower your people to do their jobs,” Jordan said. “But you’ve got to put the right people in the right place. Is this the staff I always wanted? We’ll find out when the season’s over.”