CEDAR CITY — Southern Utah University’s newly hired football coach received a warm welcome from players, fans and university officials on Thursday afternoon.
DeLane Fitzgerald comes to SUU with 22 years of college football coaching experience, including 13 as head coach, most recently at Frostburg State University, an NCAA Division II school in Maryland.
In his eight seasons at the helm of Frostburg State, Fitzgerald’s teams had a combined record of 62-19, including 10-1 this year, when the Bobcats tied for first place in the Mountain East Conference.
Speaking to players, students, alumni and members of the press and public during a half-hour introductory news conference inside SUU’s student center, Fitzgerald promised to bring a “culture of competitiveness” to SUU’s football program.
“There’s a lot of players in this room. I know you guys are coming off a 1-10 season. Guys, we’ll not be 1-10 again, OK,” he said. “And not promising national titles and not promising conference titles and stuff here today, but we’re going to be extremely competitive. We’ll have a football program that’s based on a culture of competitiveness and competitive greatness.”
He said they will do things the right way, adding that his players will be diligently attending class, weightlifting sessions, study hall, meetings and practices.
“We’re going to show up for things. We’re going to show up on time. And then after we show up, we’re going to work our rear ends off to be really, really good while we’re there.”
He said he promised SUU, Cedar City and Southern Utah that everything they do is going to be done at an “extremely high rate.”
“We’re going to finish what we start. Anything we do, we’re going to finish what we start … accountability, punctuality, discipline, all those things are really important to me.”
The 45-year-old Fitzgerald also talked about how important football has been to him throughout his life, starting at about the age of 7.
“Outside of my wife and kids, my three beautiful daughters … I don’t think about anything else but football,” he said. “It’s what I do.”
A native of Virginia, Fitzgerald played college football for James Madison University then started working as an assistant coach in 2000. His first head coaching job was at Southern Virginia from 2009-13, after which he became the head coach of Frostburg State.
Before Fitzgerald’s remarks, SUU Athletic Director Debbie Corum talked about the hiring process and said Fitzgerald had been chosen from a nationwide field of more than 100 applicants.
“We asked each of our five candidates to take 90 minutes and tell us what they would do with the program,” Corum said, referring to the final group of applicants. “Well, about halfway through his presentation, all I can think of is, ‘I would give anything in the world right now if I could become an 18-year-old man and come play for him.’ And that’s when I knew we had the right person that we were interviewing.”
Corum said the other members of the hiring committee also expressed similar sentiments, stating that they agreed he was the right person for the job.
Corum said that throughout the hiring process, “because we had such great candidates, I just kept hoping that somebody would separate themselves. And this man did.”
At the beginning of his remarks, Fitzgerald joked how his luggage hadn’t arrived in time, due to a flight cancellation.
“Everything you see on me right now was first purchased at Christensen’s about 30 minutes ago,” he said of his new suit. “If you see me yell or make funny faces, it’s because the pins in these pants have stuck me.”
Fitzgerald thanked Corum, along with SUU Interim President Mindy Benson, Senior Associate Athletic Director Jeff Tukuafu and the rest of the hiring committee, and said he’s looking forward to getting started right away on the process of building his staff by hiring coordinators and assistant coaches.
After his remarks, Fitzgerald also fielded several questions from the media and football players.
Fitzgerald spoke of the “multiplicity” of offensive tactics he likes to employ, which he said will typically evolve depending on the players.
“But if you’re trying to break it down, we’re going to be 45% run, 45% pass, and then the jet sweep stuff and option will be about 10%,” he said.
Additionally, Fitzgerald said the teams he’s coached have been among the top leaders in sacks and making other big plays.
“We go into games trying to block a punt and trying to return a punt for a touchdown,” he said, calling such plays “the quickest way to win a football game.”
“We will be exciting,” he added. “As this goes on, getting these young men to buy in and we start running like a well-oiled machine, we will get more and more exciting.”
Fitzgerald also said he plans to focus on “the 15,” meaning the Interstate 15 corridor that bisects Utah, as the starting geographic basis for the team’s recruitment efforts. He also said he plans to actively recruit top athletes from Arizona, Nevada and Southern California.
Starting with the 2022-23 school year, SUU will be exiting the Big Sky Conference and joining the Western Athletic Conference. The Thunderbirds are one of five new teams being added to the WAC, which will have 13 teams after the expansion. The WAC already includes two other Utah teams, namely Dixie State University and Utah Valley University.
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