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Stan Becton | | August 18, 2023

New faces in new places: 6 FCS coaches primed for success in year one

Grambling State football's Sundiata Anderson on upcoming season, NFL Draft aspirations

There are 27 new head coaches in the FCS, and six have a better shot than most at ending with the 2023 season being deemed a success. Here’s a look at some of the new head coaches and what will make this season a successful one for them.

Cal Poly

New coach: Paul Wulff
Former coach: Beau Baldwin
What will make the season a success: Finish with at least two wins with one being a Big Sky game

A successful season for new Cal Poly head coach Paul Wulff will look a lot different than most of the coaches on this list. The Mustangs finished 2-9 last year and in 2021, while going winless in the spring 2021 season. Cal Poly only won three games in 2019 and one game in 2017. A 5-6 season in 2018 is the closest the Mustangs have gotten to a winning record since 2016.

That said, 2023’s schedule won’t make returning to a winning record any easier. A win over Lincoln (CA) will be the bare minimum for Wulff in his first year, leaving the rest of the schedule up for grabs. 

Wulff has already found success on the recruiting trail this offseason, landing former five-star quarterback Sam Huard out of the transfer portal. If Wulff can transition this success off the field onto the gridiron, he’ll win at least one conference game. Games against Portland State and Northern Colorado could be what helps Wulff find “success” in a first year that figures to be a rough season. 

📊: Way-too-early FCS tiers for every team entering the 2023 season

Jackson State

New coach: T.C. Taylor
Former coach: Deion Sanders
What will make the season a success: A Celebration Bowl win

New Jackson State head coach T.C. Taylor replaces Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders at the helm at Jackson State with less fanfare but the same expectations. Taylor is one of two new head coaches that have a national championship — albeit, a Black College Football title, not an FCS title — as the baseline in 2023. 

Jackson State is coming off two straight SWAC titles and Celebration Bowl losses. The expectation Taylor has set for himself, his team and the Tiger fanbase is that Jackson State won’t miss a beat and will return to the Celebration Bowl for the third straight year. The Tigers don’t just want to make the Celebration Bowl, they want to win it for the first time in program history.

The expectations are lofty for a first-year head coach who is replacing almost every contributor offensively, but T.C. Taylor has reloaded the Tiger roster through the transfer portal. These new additions, including the head coach, could lead Jackson State to new heights.

Sacramento State

New coach: Andy Thompson
Former coach: Troy Taylor
What will make the season a success: A return to the FCS playoffs

Andy Thompson replaces Troy Taylor at Sacramento State after the latter left to become the head coach at Stanford. In Thompson’s first year, he’ll already have playoff expectations.

Sacramento State plays a much harder schedule than in years past — on paper at least — with trips to Idaho, Montana and UC Davis and a home game against Montana State on the schedule. Thompson will even get to play Taylor on Sept. 16 as the Hornets travel to Stanford. That schedule combined with a new head coach, a new quarterback(s) and a new running back, tempers the expectations for the three-time defending Big Sky champs. 

Yet, there’s still talent on a roster that earned the No. 2 seed in the FCS playoffs a year ago. Thus, Coach Thompson will have a successful season if he leads the Hornets back to the playoffs in his first year.

QB1: The top 10 returning FCS quarterbacks in 2023

San Diego

New coach: Brandon Moore
Former coach: Dale Lindsey
What will make the season a success: Be a PFL title contender entering November

Brandon Moore, the reigning AFCA DII National Coach of the Year, is the newest coach at San Diego. Moore led his last program to the DII title game and he should be able to keep San Diego in contention for a title during most of the 2023 season.

San Diego lost three conference games last year, all by one score. Only one of San Diego’s conference wins was by one score. The goal for Moore should be to figure out a way for the Toreros to win more of those close games. If he can do that, San Diego should be a contender in the Pioneer Football League entering the final month of the regular season.

If Moore can quickly transition from the DII to the FCS level, he should live up to these expectations, giving the Toreros a successful season.

South Dakota State

New coach: Jimmy Rogers
Former coach: John Stiegelmeier
What will make the season a success: An FCS National Championship win

No coach in the entire FCS has bigger shoes to fill than Jimmy Rogers at South Dakota State. Rogers replaces legendary Jackrabbits coach John Stiegelmeier after he led South Dakota State to its first FCS title. The expectations remain the same in Brookings, even with a new headman.

South Dakota State arguably brings back the most talented roster in the FCS after only losing three starters from its championship team. Rogers is now tasked with guiding that talent back to the mountaintop in 2023. Luckily for Rogers, players like quarterback Mark Gronowski, running back Isaiah Davis, linebacker Adam Bock and more will be able to help. With a loaded roster, Rogers, the former defensive coordinator, should have an easier transition than most that will allow South Dakota State to contend for a title all year long.

🏆: How South Dakota State won the 2022 FCS title


New coach: Clint Killough
Former coach: G.J. Kinne
What will make the season a success: A Southland title and a playoff win

UIW is on its third coach in as many seasons after their last two head coaches left for the FBS ranks. Luckily, new head coach Clint Killough has been on the UIW staff since 2018, giving him familiarity with how the Cardinals work.

Killough will enter his first team replacing a head coach that led UIW to the FCS semifinals last year, only places away from a national championship berth. Killough will also be replacing the UIW starting quarterback for the third straight year, with incoming transfer Zach Calzada via Texas A&M and Auburn tasked with following Walter Payton and Jerry Rice Award winners. 

While introducing a new head coach and a new quarterback might be difficult for most teams to handle, UIW proved it could do so last year reaching new heights. That’s why a Southland title remains the expectation for the Cardinal, especially after not winning the conference outright last year. One playoff win would typically be the bare minimum for a team coming off a semifinal appearance, but with a new head coach, that goal is justified and within reach as Clint Killough is primed for success.

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