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On heels of first-ever bowl win, Eagle Nation meets new head coach
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Georgia Southern mascot Freedom and handler Steve Hein lead the victors in the alma mater following the Eagles win over Bowling Green at the GoDaddy Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala., on Dec. 23. - photo by Scott Bryant/Statesboro Herald

STATESBORO — The Georgia Southern football program wrapped up its 2015 season on Dec. 23 and, just three days later, turned the page to the newest chapter of its history.

Hundreds of media members and fans packed the Ted Smith Family Football Center at Paulson Stadium on Saturday as Tyson Summers was officially introduced as the Eagles’ next head coach.

The event came a few days after the Eagles pummeled Bowling Green 58-27 in the GoDaddy Bowl on Dec. 23 in Mobile, Alabama, marking the program’s first bowl appearance and win.

Summers comes to Statesboro from his 2015 position as the defensive coordinator at Colorado State University. Other collegiate stops for the Tifton native include Central Florida, Alabama-Birmingham, Georgia, Troy, Presbyterian and also a previous stint at Georgia Southern as the Eagles’ safeties coach in 2006.

Summers was selected from a deep pool of candidates that GSU Athletic Director Tom Kleinlein said included coaches from all levels of college football, as well as some inquiries from current NFL staff members.

Kleinlein stated that Summers checked off all of the items on his list for the type of person who would make the best head coach for Georgia Southern. Other candidates may have also met those requirements, but Summers also brings along an appreciation — and some experience — for what makes Georgia Southern a unique place for players and coaches.

“I grew up around football coaches. They’ve shaped my life,” Summers said. “In high school, Mike West, Taz Dixon and Ken Burnette were my coaches, and we’d hear stories every Friday night about Beautiful Eagle Creek.”

Summers continued to reminisce, speaking of playing for “Erk Russell’s guys” during his collegiate career at Presbyterian.

“Clearly his passion, along with his track record, makes him a great fit,” Kleinlein said. “The guy has been part of Georgia Southern football since he was about 8 years old. In his interview, he really made an impression talking about how he wants to shape the school, the players and our community.”

As of now, Summers is a staff of one, although that won’t be the case for long. He declined to state specific names that might make up the ranks of his assistant coaches, but also said that he has a notebook full of different names and how they might link up to work together.

While assembling a staff, Summers will also have plenty of work to do on the recruiting trail. The Eagles’ current prospective class is rated at the top of the Sun Belt, but nothing is certain until letters of intent are signed in April, and two recruits have already backed away from their verbal commitments.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Summers said. “It’s hectic during the holiday season, but I’ve already been able to talk to some of our recruits. The goal is to make contact with everyone by (Sunday).”

The Eagles are more than eight full months away from taking their next snap, but with a program that is so immersed in history, tradition and a certain way of doing things, there were plenty of concerns about X’s and O’s and what the team will look like in 2016.

Previous head coach Willie Fritz also came to Georgia Southern as a defensive coach, but brought with him offensive coordinator Doug Ruse, who easily tweaked his spread pass/run attack to adopt the option that has made Georgia Southern famous. Ruse is headed along with Fritz to Tulane, but Summers said Saturday that the Eagle offense, which led the NCAA in rushing yards per game for a second consecutive season this year, won’t look much different under his watch.

“We’ll be a gun-option team,” Summers said. “Let me rephrase. We’ll be a gun-triple-option team.”

As for the defense, Summers has a career full of succeeding as the coach of linebackers, secondaries and as a coordinator. With more specifics likely available during spring practice, he described his ideal defense as “11 guys running angry to the ball.”

Many other introductory questions to Summers aimed at his willingness to stick around.

In the first 20 years of their modern existence, the Eagles had just three full-time coaches. In recent years, both Fritz and Jeff Monken have found success, only to leave town for other head coaching jobs before fully entrenching themselves in Georgia Southern folklore.

Eagle fans have learned the hard way over the last few seasons just how uncertain life on the fringe of the Football Bowl Subdivision can be, but if Summers is to be taken at his word, Georgia Southern could have itself a coach willing to stick around while the program continues to grow on college football’s highest level.

“When I heard (about the head coach opening at GSU), the first thing I did was to sprint to coach (Mike) Bobo’s office to get his blessing to put my name in,” Summers said. “I had told other coaches and players previously about Georgia Southern, and I probably got 30 text messages in just a few minutes from them when they saw that the spot was open.

“This was the first head coaching spot I’ve ever interviewed for, and I might have waited a year or two years or 10 years for (the Georgia Southern job) to open to interview. I hope it’s the last head coaching spot I interview for.”

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