University of Richmond defensive coordinator Russ Huesman has accepted the head coaching position for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, just three days after his defense held Montana to 39 yards rushing in the team's 24-7 national championship win.
Huesman, a 1983 graduate of Chattanooga, was announced as coach during a Monday press conference at the same stadium where 48 hours earlier, he had helped Richmond win its first NCAA national championship in any sport in school history.
"This is my dream job," Huesman said. "This is where I want to be. It's great to be back, great to be home. I'm really excited to be here."
In a phone interview with The Collegian from his office in Richmond on Tuesday, Huesman said he had already contacted several players about his decision and would be talking to several more, adding that he believed they understood his decision.
"Everybody aspires to be a head football coach," he said. "[Richmond] is going to be good for a long, long time. If you had asked me five years ago, 'Can we win a national championship?' I would have thought, 'No way.' It goes to show that you can accomplish anything with hard work and good football players.
"I have to give all the credit to the players," he continued. "You can't win a championship without great football players."
Huesman praised the university, its coaches and administrators, saying the experience was incredible and that he loved living and coaching in Richmond.
Richmond coach Mike London called Huesman a good friend and coach, adding that he was an integral part of Richmond's win.
"Obviously we are disappointed to lose such a great person and a great coach," London said in a statement. "But I'm extremely happy for Russ and his family, and this is a tremendous opportunity to return to his alma mater."
Huesman is accepting the job at a grim time in Chattanooga's football history. The team has won just six games during the last three seasons -- including its 1-11 record this season -- and has had one winning season since 1997.
"We expected to win," Huesman said during the press conference about his days as a standout Chattanooga defensive back. "And I think the alumni expected us to win. And when we ran out on the field ... I think some of the teams we were playing expected us to win. We need to expect to win. And we're going to win."
Huesman faced the same challenge at Richmond when he arrived in 2004. That was a year after the Spiders finished 3-8 and then-President William Cooper proposed moving the football team to the Patriot League, a non-scholarship football conference.
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"The president came in and said: 'You can't win. You've shown you can't win,'" Huesman said. "We've not only shown we can win. We showed we can win a national championship. That can happen [in Chattanooga]."
During the press conference, he credited former Richmond coach Dave Clawson -- now leading Bowling Green State University -- with teaching him to aim his goals high.
"Russ was my right-hand guy as we built Richmond from a team that was struggling into a national championship team," Clawson said in a statement. "He was involved with every defensive recruit and very instrumental in developing that defense."
Huesman first started thinking about the Chattanooga job on the sidelines just before Richmond won the game, he said.
"I just kinda looked up [at the stadium] and thought, 'Man, would it be cool to coach here in this environment,'" he said. "I was such a small piece of the Richmond puzzle," he said. "There were so many reasons why we won a national championship. It was tough, but I'm glad it worked out the way it did."
This year, Richmond -- cited for its so-called "stonewall defense" -- finished second nationally in turnover margin, sixth in scoring defense, tenth in total defense and held 12 of 16 opponents to less than 100 yards rushing. The defense also forced Appalachian State -- the three-time defending Football Championship Subdivision champions -- into seven turnovers.
Huesman spent a year at Chattanooga as an assistant coach after graduating, then two years at the University of South Carolina, 14 seasons at the College of William & Mary, and six years at the University of Memphis before arriving at Richmond.
Athletics officials say that a search for Huesman's replacement will begin immediately.
Contact staff writer Dan Petty at firstname.lastname@example.org
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