Eddie George. Photo: Courtesy of Tennessee State University Athletics
Being a first year head coach is tough for anyone at any level, but being one of the greatest running backs in the history of the NFL and a Tennessee Titans legend can add some extra stress. Eddie George is entering his first year as skipper of the Tennessee State University football team but in Monday’s Ohio Valley Conference Football Media Day on July 19, he seemed as cool and confident as ever.
“I’m looking forward to compete against these great universities, these wonderful coaches, and really to inspire and mentor these great young men,” George said. “We’re just really excited about this first year.”
George, a graduate of Ohio State University and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, had no intentions of becoming a coach. He wanted to spend time with his family, work on his acting career, and focus on his other independent ventures. Yet he decided to take the job after much consideration and realizing just how much he could get out of it–working with young men, helping them both on the field and in the classroom.
“I never thought that I would enjoy [coaching] as much as I have,” he said. “From being a player and looking at every level, I saw the grind and the stress involved in coaching and wanted no part in that. Now that I’ve done my due diligence, some soul searching, and since I’m in the business, it’s been really rewarding. This has been a tough season for me personally, losing both my parents in a span of two months. I realized I needed this opportunity more than it needed me.”
The upcoming 2021-2022 season will look a bit different from past seasons, as the OVC and many conferences underwent a spring season in early 2021 and will now have to play a normal fall season. This unprecedented schedule pushes up and rearranges the normal workouts and training that college football players are used to. Because of this, George and his new staff have had to get players ready and healthy in a shorter amount of time, in addition to getting accustomed to their first year of coaching.
“There are four different phases to a season. There’s the actual season, winter conditioning, the spring season, and then summer conditioning. This year has been interesting because between the spring and summer there was maybe a month where these kids had a chance to recover, get their bodies right, and really get ready for the rigors of the season,” George explains. “We had to keep that in mind as a staff to not put too much on them too early on.”
The Tigers struggled last season, going 2-5 snd winning their sole two games against Eastern Illinois and UT Martin. In this year’s OVC Preseason Football Poll, TSU was picked to finish fifth in the conference behind UT Martin, SEMO, Austin Peay, and the expected winner, Murray State. Among the Tigers roster were eight players who were named to the All-OVC Preseason Football Team, the most only behind Murray State who had 10. This list includes OVC Freshman of the Year Devon Starling.
“I feel it’s exciting [to play for George] because I get to pick his brain and learn from him. I know he can help my game go to another level,” said Starling. “All I ever wanted was an opportunity to get better and become the best I can be as a player and a person. I feel like Coach George coming here has become a great role model.”
Starling, who led all freshmen nationally in rushing, finished the season with 648 yards on 124 carries and three touchdowns. The Antioch, Tenn. native averaged 5.2 yards per carry, 92.6 yards per game, and ranked 16th nationally. Last season, he recorded three 100-yard games with a season-best 149 yards at Murray State, one week before running for 134 yards against UT Martin.
“As soon as we came in, we introduced ourselves and had a long conversation about what he expected from me and what I expected from him,” Starling shared. “One thing about him is he asked me what I needed from him. It wasn’t just him asking what he needed from me, so I could tell he cared about more than just the football aspect.”
As a Hall of Fame running back himself, George plans to build his team around Starling and the offensive line. With a great running game, it can take pressure off of the quarterback and allow him to succeed while forcing the defense to stop both the run and passing game.
“It’s important for us to establish a culture. I believe in winning and establishing a team from the inside out,” George said. “I believe by having a strong and powerful running attack, it allows us to become more efficient.
George will be taking the field as head coach of the Tigers on Sept. 5 as the team takes on Kentucky State for their first home game at none other than Nissan Stadium, the arena that the former Titan accomplished so much in. While George’s journey to this head coaching position was not a quick and easy one, it was one that he never imagined he’d love so much.
“It’s been fulfilling and fascinating.” George explains, “Every morning when I wake up, I have the opportunity to be a difference maker. It’s not about me anymore, it’s about serving these young men.”