A year of change for CCU football

It’s debatable what the greater shock was last December – longtime Coastal Carolina University football coach David Bennett being dismissed of his duties after nine seasons or former TD Ameritrade CEO Joe Moglia being selected as his replacement.

Regardless, both decisions reverberated through the Chanticleers’ fan base in the months that followed, leaving behind deep fissures that in some cases remain and probably always will. There was outcry and heated opinion, disappointment and derision and all the other emotions and reactions that come when the first and only leader of a mostly successful football program is not only replaced but replaced by a man with perhaps the most unique background in college athletics.

The move – spearheaded by CCU President David DeCenzo – was not only outside the box; it was outside the zip code of the proverbial box. And how the process unfolded only served to further exasperate the thoughts of those who couldn’t make sense of it in the first place.

And then something happened this fall.

The Chants weathered the setbacks of a tough early schedule and strung together six straight wins, surging into the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs for the third time in program history and earning their first-ever playoff victory on the way to an 8-5 finish – the most wins Coastal had seen since 2006.

DeCenzo, who bore the brunt of the criticism since last December for his handling of the coaching change in light of emails that surfaced regarding a secret meeting with Moglia as far back as last November (before the end of the 2011 season), reflected publically last month for the first time since the season began and said the start to this new era of CCU football had gone better than even he could have expected.

“I fully anticipated a two or three-year ramp up,” he said in advance of the Chants’ playoff opener. “It looks like it may be happening sooner than that.”

For Moglia’s part, he has simply asked fans and critics to give him a chance. He said he recognized what he was walking into and that many followers of the program weren’t ready to give the benefit of the doubt to a man who had not held a paid college coaching job since 1983 prior to his ascent in the financial and business world. As the 2012 Big South Coach of the Year and a finalist for a national FCS coach of the year award, he’s no doubt swayed some opinions in the last 12 months.

“I’m hoping over time our community starts to embrace us and take pride in what we do,” he said earlier this month, offering his own reflections after the season ended. “I think we’ve worked very, very hard, but I’ve said all along we’ve got to be able to earn that. Hopefully we’re doing that.”

So where does it all go from here?

Well, Bennett, who launched the Coastal program from scratch in advance of its debut 2003 season, has remained a fixture in the news since his contentious split from the university. After going 63-39 in his CCU tenure – while seeing the program’s initial growth seemingly plateau in his final five seasons – Bennett formalized his departure with a $925,000 buyout, flirted with a run at Congress in the new 7th District and eventually settled in just down the road at Socastee High School as a first-time athletic director.

And now he’s linked to the athletic director and head football coaching jobs at River Bluff High School in Lexington, a new school set to open in 2013. Bennett confirmed last week that he interviewed for the opening but did not return a phone call over the weekend in regard to whether he has formally received an offer.

Then there’s the program he was forced to leave behind.

The previous coaching staff had a belief that 2012 was going to be a big year for Coastal Carolina football – regardless of who was in charge. With a fifth-year senior quarterback and a bevy of veteran playmakers on both sides of the ball, the roster was set up for success, they felt. That said, many of those playmakers and the offense in general exceeded past performance and, in many cases, expectations.

So where does most of the credit belong – to the roster the new coaching staff inherited or to the coaches who pulled the operation together during one of the more memorable seasons in program history? Time will tell.

Moglia’s tenure – and the bold decisions made a year ago by DeCenzo – will be judged over the long haul. It remains up to Moglia and his staff to show they can recruit and develop players well enough to build a program capable of repeating the Chants’ 2012 successes on an annual basis.

But so far so good.

“There was and has been a strong foundation,” DeCenzo said in his comments last month. “There were just some tweaks that needed to be made, and it’s happening. Now we just need to keep it moving forward.”