Tony Samuel has been an assistant at a national championship program, he's coached NFL players, and he's won at a school where few head coaches have had success.
The next challenge for the 50-year-old coach will be to right a Southeast Missouri State football program which has just two winning seasons since moving to NCAA Division I-AA in 1991. Samuel was formally introduced as Redhawks head football coach at a news conference Wednesday at the Show Me Center.
"This is a great opportunity," Samuel said. "I was really tickled when I actually made my mind up this is what we were going to do."
Samuel, who was the head coach at Division I New Mexico State from 1997 to 2004, was one of three finalists who were brought into Cape Girardeau over the past two weeks. Missouri Western coach Jerry Partridge and Washburn coach Craig Schurig were the other finalists.
Samuel received a five-year contract with a base salary of $96,000.
Southeast athletic director Don Kaverman said Samuel made an impression with his professionalism, recruiting networks and his coaching experience.
"Tony Samuel represents the future of Redhawk football," Kaverman said.
Samuel, Schurig and Partridge were all sought out by Kaverman during the hiring process after former coach Tim Billings resigned. Southeast received roughly 45 applications for the position.
"We felt we wanted to be more proactive this time," Kaverman said.
During his eight-year tenure at New Mexico State, Samuel compiled a 34-57 record, making him the third-winningest coach in New Mexico State history. In 2002, the Aggies recorded a 7-5 record, the most wins for the program since 1967. New Mexico State's 6-5 mark in 1999 was the program's first winning season since 1992.
The Redhawks feature a similar history of futility, including just one winning season in the last 11 years. Southeast's 8-4 mark in 2002 was the most wins for the Redhawks since 1967. During the Redhawks' six years under Billings, Southeast had just one winning season and finished 25-43.
During the press conference, Samuel pressed the importance of the community in the success of a program, often referring to things as "we."
"You see some of the great programs come from small communities," Samuel said. "Well, it's a community that gets things done. It's not one guy. A lot of the time, the leaders are as good as the people around them to support them."
Added Samuel: "I know there's enough people in this community if they want to step up and be a factor, they can be a good factor."
Samuel talked about financial support as well as attendance.
Samuel said from looking at the information provided to him, he felt the budget provided by the school was comparable with the other Ohio Valley Conference programs, and he knew taking a job at a Division I -AA program would require raising funds in the private sector.
"What we can't do within the budget, I'll have to go and raise money," he said.
Early success could help those fundraising efforts, and the 2006 schedule looks favorable for Samuel and the Redhawks. Coming off its lowest win total since 1992, Southeast will have just one Division I opponent in its nonconference schedule next season, along with games against a Division II opponent and non-scholarship Division I-AA Austin Peay.
Despite their struggles, the Redhawks have been competitive in the mediocre OVC. The Redhawks were one game away from a conference title in 2003.
"I think he feels we're comparable to the other teams in the OVC and can be successful in our league," Kaverman said.
Added Samuel: "The ability to compete in the conference was big [in my decision]."
Samuel was hesitant to make any type of predictions involving the team's progress.
"I'll tell you what I will predict: We'll play hard every time we step out there," Samuel said.
The Redhawks had 15 seniors on their roster this year, including several key starters. Much of the starting lineup will potentially be back, though.
Samuel said he has not been able to watch much film to gauge the talent level at Southeast.
"I have a sense [of the talent level], from asking people that know the league," he said. "People I asked seem to think there's a lot of talent here relative to the league."
Samuel's background in coaching has primarily been on the defensive side of the ball, including acting as the defensive end's coach at Purdue this past season. From 1986 to 1996, Samuel coached the outside linebackers and rush ends at his alma mater, Nebraska, under legendary coach Tom Osborne. Samuel also acted as defensive line coach at Stanford in 1984 and 1985, and served in the same capacity at Western Michigan in 1982 and 1983.
During his playing days, Samuel was a two-year starter at defensive end after being a member of Osborne's original recruiting at Nebraska. Samuel played in four bowl games as a player and was honorable mention all-Big 8 as a senior.
Samuel said the key to having a good defense is by limiting its time on the field, which in turn means having a ball-control offense.
"Great defenses can only go 70 to 75 snaps a game, so you have to have a good offense to compliment your defense," Samuel said.
Samuel said in order to build a good team you have to have the defense, offense and special teams all working together.
"It's a full compliment," Samuel said. "It's three units. People don't always see that."