Tony Samuel had his moments as a head coach on the Division I-A level.
Now he's interested in seeing what Division I-AA Southeast Missouri State has to offer.
Samuel, an assistant at Purdue and a former head coach at New Mexico State, was the third finalist for the vacant Southeast coaching position brought to campus for a series of interviews on Thursday.
Samuel met with various Southeast administrators early in the day, followed by a midafternoon public forum at the University Center that was attended by Southeast football players, boosters and media members.
"I see a lot of potential here. A lot of work, of course, but a lot of potential," Samuel said. "I wanted to come down here and ask some questions."
Samuel, who at New Mexico State was one of just four black head coaches among 117 Division I-A programs, was actually pursued regarding the Southeast position by athletic director Don Kaverman.
"I called him and asked if he would be interested," Kaverman said. "He is very impressive, and he obviously comes from a great football background."
Samuel said he would like to get back into head coaching but stopped short of saying that he would definitely accept the Southeast job if it is offered to him.
"I have to think that once you're a head coach, you would like to do it again," he said. "When Don called, I checked on it as much as possible. I still have questions to ask."
Samuel, 50, was 34-57 in eight seasons at New Mexico State from 1997 to 2004.
That record might not sound very impressive, but it is certainly respectable for a program that has struggled over the years.
Samuel, who in 2002 led the Aggies to a 7-5 record for their most wins since 1967, is the third-winningest football coach in New Mexico State history. The Aggies have had just four winning seasons in the last 37 seasons -- and two of them were under Samuel.
New Mexico State was 5-6 under Samuel in 2004, after which he and his staff did not have their contracts renewed. This year, the first season after Samuel's departure, New Mexico State went 0-12.
"New Mexico State is not an easy place to win, but he had some good seasons there," Kaverman said.
Said Samuel of the New Mexico State program when he arrived: "That was the ultimate low at the time when we took over. When we took over, there was nobody lower."
Of not having his contract renewed, he said: "That's water under the bridge."
Samuel also helped the Aggies succeed in the classroom. He earned a USA Today Top 10 Division I-A Academic Achievement Award while at New Mexico State, and the 2003 NCAA graduation report showed the Aggies ranked tied for 13th in graduation rates among Division I-A programs at 76 percent.
"We hear all the time that everybody is a student first and an athlete second. Somewhere along the line, we got away from that," Samuel said. "The bottom line is, why can't you do both?"
Samuel's tenure at New Mexico State also was marked by a bit of controversy, as he received a written reprimand from university administrators after an altercation in 2002 with the team's video coordinator.
Samuel was alleged to have punched the video coordinator, although no criminal charges were filed. The incident apparently had no role in his being let go two years later.
Samuel recently completed his first season as an assistant at Purdue, coaching defensive ends.
A two-year starter as a defensive end at Nebraska in 1976 and 1977, Samuel coached linebackers and defensive ends at his alma mater from 1986 to 1996, mentoring six first-team All-Americans and 12 future NFL players. He was part of two national championship teams with the Cornhuskers.
"I did a lot of my learning the game at the University of Nebraska," said Samuel, an honorable mention all-Big Eight Conference selection in 1977 and a participant in four bowl games. "I was part of coach [Tom] Osborne's first recruiting class in 1973. He was a great influence on everything I've done."
Samuel, who has also been an assistant at Stanford and Western Michigan, said his recruiting philosophy centers around freshmen when possible, although that often isn't the case.
"In a perfect world, you bring in freshmen and have them four or five years," he said. "Is that realistic anymore? No.
"The first thing is you have to identify what your needs are. If you have immediate needs, you have to look at some junior college players. But you always want to go high school as much as possible."
Added Samuel: "You always want to bring as much talent as possible from close to home, then you still have to go out and fill voids. You don't want a quick fix. You have to have a happy medium."
Samuel also touched on his philosophy regarding offense, defense and special teams.
Offensively, he said, "I like ball control, whatever that means anymore. You can do it with the run or pass. In a perfect world, you want balance, meaning in the fourth quarter you can do either."
On defense, where most of his background lies, Samuel said, "You have to be multiple, mix in some man, mix in some zone. You also have to have an element of surprise. And you have to be able to run, run, run. When that play is over, everybody should be in the picture."
As for special teams, Samuel said, "Use the best available players. The most dangerous way to lose a game is on special teams. You can get your guts ripped out on a special teams play and not recover."
Samuel, who said without naming names that he already has a potential staff in mind if he takes over at Southeast, said there is never a magic formula when building a program.
"I've always surrounded myself with the right people. You come in with a plan," he said. "It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of hours."
The other two finalists are current Division II head coaches. Missouri Western's Jerry Partridge was in Cape Girardeau on Wednesday, while Washburn's Craig Schurig was in town last Friday.
Kaverman said he will meet with the search committee that he is chairing and decide in the next day or two whether to recommend one of the three to Southeast president Ken Dobbins or to bring in an additional finalist early next week.
"We had three great interviews, three great candidates. All have different things to offer, but all have been very successful," Kaverman said. "We need some time to process it, to sort it out, and figure where we go from here.
"We don't want to rush into this decision, because it's so important for the university. But we still plan to have the new coach in place before the university breaks for Christmas [on Dec. 22]."
Southeast is searching for a coach after the resignation of Tim Billings, who went 25-43 in six seasons, including 2-9 this year.