VALDOSTA, Ga. — A new era of Valdosta State football was ushered in Tuesday as Gary Goff was introduced as head coach at the VSU P.E. Complex.
Goff takes over much of the first undefeated football team in school history after eight years as head coach at Tiffin University in Tiffin, Ohio.
In 2018, Goff led the Dragons to their best season — a 9-2 record, a 6-2 record in the Great Midwest Conference and ranked as high as 15th in the nation by the American Football Coaches Association Top 25 — since 2007. In addition, 16 Dragons were all-GMAC selections.
“One of the things I’m most pleased about is the opportunity to bring an alum back to Valdosta State,” VSU Athletic Director Herb Reinhard said. “Somebody who was a Blazer, who knows what it means to be a Blazer — that’s exciting. I’m overjoyed. You would not believe the response that I got, the number of alumni that reached out to me, ‘Thanks Herb. Home run. Great job.’”
Goff added: “It’s very exciting. I look forward to getting all my former teammates and alumni back involved with the program. I think that’s very important for recruiting and what’s taking place at this phenomenal university. We couldn’t be more excited, me and my wife, just coming back home and being a part of something special.”
Twenty-six years ago, Goff arrived on VSU’s campus as “a big-eyed freshman”, uncertain of what his future held and “not knowing if (he) would even survive to be on the football team.” Goff eventually made the roster and developed as a kick returner and slot receiver under coach Hal Mumme. In 1996, Goff was named a team captain for the Blazers as they won their first Gulf South Conference championship.
Inheriting an offense that ran roughshod over the competition last season — to the tune of a nation-leading 52 points per game — Goff doesn’t foresee much changing for the Blazers under his watch. In fact, Goff plans to install the famed “Air Raid” offense pioneered by Mumme as well as former VSU offensive coordinator and current Washington State head coach Mike Leach in the present day.
“The Air Raid has evolved a little bit over the years,” Goff said of the offense the Blazers will run this season. “Obviously, I played here with Hal Mumme and Mike Leach so we still run the Air Raid. It’s a spread offense that utilizes our running backs a lot in the backfield — we’ve always had a 1,000-yard rusher. But we’re an attacking, no-huddle offense so very similar to what you saw Coach (Kerwin) Bell do here a year ago. Defensively, same thing — attacking style defense, putting pressure on our opponents. You’ll see a lot of similarities between the two teams.”
Goff takes over for Bell, who accepted an offensive coordinator position under Charlie Strong at the University of South Florida on Jan. 10. As Goff explained during the press conference, everything happens for a reason.
As fate would have it, Goff was in attendance when the Blazers defeated Ferris State in McKinney, Texas, to win the national championship.
“It’s funny, you look back and things happen for a reason,” Goff said. “I was put on the national football committee a year ago and we go out and kind of helped run the national championship in Texas. I was out there all week and got a chance to reconnect with Herb and just talk ball and talk about my path and everything. And then, there was no news about anything. Out of nowhere, he came calling that the job was going to be open. So, I just went through the application process, got a chance to interview with Herb and got the job [laughs].”
Unlike his start at Tiffin, Goff takes over a VSU team built to contend for years to come. When Goff took the reins of a fledgling program at Tiffin in 2011, the Dragons were just 2-31 from 2008-10.
When asked if there’s a difference from taking on a reclamation project at Tiffin to a talent-laden roster at VSU, Goff maintains the ultimate goal won’t change, but he’s excited to get started with the Blazers.
“In some ways, yes,” Goff said. “I think there’s 18 returning starters from the national championship team, so absolutely. We’ve got a lot of great talent on campus. I think every coach goes into every season with expectations of winning a conference championship, getting into the playoffs and making a playoff run. This won’t be any different, but it is exciting that I can come into a program that is established and has a lot of tradition and success.
“Tiffin was not that way. We had to start the program from scratch — we started with 20 true freshmen playing that first year I was there. Building a program that way is difficult, but hats off to the faculty and administration there. They did a great job of getting us what we needed and giving us time to turn the program around.”
Goff agreed to become the head coach Jan. 24, the same day the Blazers celebrated their national championship.
Since that day, life for VSU’s new head coach has been “a dash.”
“It is (surreal), but I haven’t really had time to slow down and let it sink in,” Goff said of returning to VSU as head coach. “I got here Friday, went straight to (human resources), had a recruiting meeting, talked to the team, had another recruiting meeting and the next day we had official visits on campus so it’s been...a dash [laughs].”
While the timing of his transition is far from ideal, Goff already finds himself immersed in the process of preparing for next season. After working closely with current holdovers from last year’s staff, Goff praised the coaching staff for the leg work it’s put in amid all the turnover.
“The current staff here has done a great job getting out on the road and recruiting through all this transition,” Goff said. “I don’t think there’s ever a good time for a transition like this, but towards the end of recruiting, it makes it a little more challenging. I’ve already been out on the road. I’m leaving this press conference and getting back on the road to see some high school students. It is a bit of a challenge, but we’ll be just fine. Staff, I like everybody here — they’re hard workers. I really want to keep this group of men together. I’m excited about it, I’m excited about the hard work they’ve put in place, and let’s be honest, they’ve just gone undefeated and won a national championship so they know what they’re doing.”
Goff intends to bring in a few familiar faces from his Tiffin staff, stating, “We are talking to several people.”
During his time with the Dragons, Goff has learned to trust the process in the coaching profession and as a father of two, he believes the experience he has accumulated over the years has prepared him well for his next step.
“As a young coach, you think, ‘I’m ready to be a head coach,’” Goff said. “You’re really not until you sit in that chair and all the challenges come across your plate. What I’ve learned over the years is, I’m not only the offensive coordinator but I’ve also got to take care of my defense, I’ve got to take care of the special teams — I’ve got to oversee everything. I’ve got to manage every young man that comes in that office.
“One thing I always do is I try to run the program through the eyes of a father. And what I mean by that is every difficult situation and every part you want to praise, you’ve got to do through the eyes of a parent. My son’s about to turn 15 and it scares me to death to sit on the other side and hand him off to a university and a football coach and say, ‘Finish the job for me.’ I’ve learned that over the years and you’ve got to coach every individual differently. Everybody’s different. ... A little experience has gone a long ways for me.”
During his opening statement, Goff assured that the Blazers will “win more championships and have a good time doing it.” Not only that, Goff promised to make his mark beyond the football field.
“It is about developing these young men so one promise I’m going to make to you guys is we are going to have high-character young men who are going to make us proud around the community, on campus and we’re going to win a lot of championships along the way,” he said.
The confidence and enthusiasm Goff exhibited at Tuesday’s press conference should quell concerns of him feeling the weight of taking over a championship team. Rather than feeling the pressure, Goff welcomes the challenge of keeping the ship on course and dismissed the idea expectations should change during his tenure.
“From the outside, I can see why people would say that, ‘Oh, he’s following the national championship team. That’s got to be a lot of pressure,’ but it’s expected,” Goff said. “It’d be expected to win a national championship here even if they didn’t have success last year. I don’t think it has a lot to do with last season, even though it was great and they did an unbelievable job. But it’s about doing the best possible job you can day in and day out and try to be 1-0 each week and if you worry about those things, at the end of the year, you’ve got a chance to win a national championship.”
Now, Goff begins the process of leading a new cast of characters through the offseason, into spring practices, summer workouts and training camp leading into the 2019 season.
With so many returners from last year’s team, Goff admits he felt some mixed emotions in his initial talks with his players but senses everyone is ready to get to work and put the coaching change behind them.
“I think there were some mixed emotions, to be honest,” Goff said of his first interactions with the team. “Obviously, they lost their head coach that they were close to. I think a lot of them were relieved that there is somebody in place now and we can get to work and move forward. I understand the anxiety on all parts of this. I’ve been through this before as an assistant coach and as a head coach. I understand this is a delicate situation but at the same time, I think the young men are resilient and I think they’re ready to get to work and defend the title.”