Southeast's Samuel earns nation's top coaching award

Friday, January 7, 2011 ~ Updated 1:53 PM
Southeast Missouri State head coach Tony Samuel reacts after the Redhawks defeated Tennessee State 19-17 Saturday, October 9, 2010 Houck Stadium. (Laura Simon)

Tony Samuel maintained his usual humble demeanor after capturing the biggest award ever by a Southeast Missouri State football coach.

Samuel became the first Southeast coach to win the Eddie Robinson Award, which honors the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) national coach of the year.

Samuel was recognized during Thursday night's Sports Network FCS national awards banquet in Frisco, Texas, on the eve of the FCS national championship game.

"It's a great honor, but I look at it like all the other honors. It's not about me, it's about the entire team," said Samuel, who recently completed his fifth season at Southeast. "If the players didn't play the way they did and the coaches didn't coach the way they did, I wouldn't have gotten this. I get it because I'm the head coach and my name is on the door.

"This is a national award for the program. It really shows you what we're capable of."

Coach Tony Samuel glances at the scoreboard in the final minutes of Southeast Missouri State's 37-17 loss to Eastern Washington in Cheney, Wash. (KIT DOYLE)

Samuel handily beat out the field of 20 finalists for the Eddie Robinson Award. A panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries voted.

"I met him before. He's one of the all-time greats. He did a lot for the game and helped opened a lot of doors," Samuel said of Robinson, the late, legendary former Grambling coach. "It's a great honor to win an award named after him."

Two of Southeast's top players said they were elated that Samuel won such a prestigious award.

"That's awesome. That's a big award. I'm really happy for him," junior quarterback Matt Scheible said. "All his philosophies finally came to a head this year. It showed what he's all about."

Said sophomore safety Tylor Brock: "It makes me excited for him to get that. He definitely deserves it. I figured he would have a good chance from the turnaround we had."

Southeast Missouri State coach Tony Samuel hands the OVC trophy to Southeast linebacker Joshua Jackson after athletic director John Shafer, right, made the presentation to the team in November. (Fred Lynch)

Samuel had been named Ohio Valley Conference coach of the year and the American Football Coaches Association Region 3 coach of the year in recent weeks.

The AFCA recognizes five FCS regional coach of the year winners. They will be honored at the AFCA coach of the year dinner Tuesday as part of the 2011 AFCA convention in Dallas. The AFCA also will announce the national coach of the year at the convention, so Samuel might be in line for another national award.

"It's all great for the program," Samuel said.

Samuel directed the Redhawks' remarkable turnaround after they went 2-9 a season ago, including a last-place 1-7 OVC mark.

Southeast went 9-3 overall and 7-1 in league play this year, winning its first OVC title to earn the first playoff berth in the program's 104-year history.

The Redhawks posted the program's first winning season since 2002 and only the third since joining the FCS in 1991. They tied the school record for wins, matching the 1937 and 1955 squads that went 9-0.

Southeast, after receiving a first-round bye, lost at Eastern Washington in the second round of the FCS playoffs. Eastern Washington will play Delaware tonight for the national title.

"It was a great season. We haven't gotten this much national attention ever," Samuel said. "You've got your center winning best center in the country, an All-American running back, the other awards."

Senior tailback Henry Harris finished fifth in the voting for the Walter Payton Award, which honors the FCS's top player. He made four All-American teams and was the OVC offensive player of the year.

Senior center Sean Middleton was selected to three All-American teams and won the Rimington Award as the FCS's top center.

Senior offensive guard Frank Knights and Brock both made one All-American squad.

Additionally, Southeast had a school-record eight players earn first-team all-OVC honors.

"All that attention is really good," Samuel said.

It certainly can't hurt recruiting, which Samuel and his staff are in the middle of as the Feb. 2 national signing day approaches.

"The kids might not see the awards, but the parents do," Samuel said. "The kids see the records, the national rankings.

"The reception has been great, especially in St. Louis. I was there the other day recruiting. People know what we've done here."

Brock, a St. Louis native, said he has noticed a big difference in the public's perception of Southeast while he has been home during winter break.

"There's a lot more people taking notice. They're talking about SEMO," Brock said. "When I first went to SEMO, I don't think anybody had even heard of us."

Samuel is only the second OVC coach to win the Eddie Robinson Award since its inception in 1987. Mississippi coach Houston Nutt captured the honor while at Murray State in 1995. Nutt is the older brother of Southeast men's basketball coach Dickey Nutt.

Samuel received 31 of the possible 130 first-place votes and 269 points.

Western Illinois' Mark Hendrickson -- who spent one year as a Southeast assistant, serving as offensive coordinator in 1993 -- was the runner-up for the award with 15 first-place votes and 218 points.

Eastern Washington's Beau Baldwin finished third. He received 16 first-place votes and 180 points.

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