Written by Gabe Burns, Asst. Sports Editor
When the Valdosta State Blazers defeated West Alabama last Saturday, it meant more than just another conference win. The victory was the 76th of head coach David Dean’s career, tying him with Chris Hatcher for the most in program history.
Hatcher, now the coach at Samford, developed VSU into a division two powerhouse. Dean, who had been the Blazers’ offensive coordinator since 2000, assumed the top coaching position upon Hatcher’s departure to Georgia Southern.
While Dean has been part of the program in Valdosta for 15 years, it was not his first stint in the red and black. He was wide receivers coach at VSU from 1988-1991.
A former walk-on receiver for Georgia Tech, Dean’s coaching career began as a graduate assistant for the Yellow Jackets in 1986. After a year as an assistant at Avondale high school, Dean joined the blazers for the aforementioned three-year span before moving on to West Georgia. Dean was an offensive assistant for the Wolves from 1992-1999.
Dean returned to VSU with Hatcher in 2000 as the offensive coordinator. His offensive prowess was a large part of turning the Blazers into a 10-2 team just a season after finishing 4-7. His quarterback, Kentucky transfer Dusty Bonner, won the Harlon Hill Trophy (D-II MVP) and later received a tryout with the Atlanta Falcons.
The success didn’t stop there. Dean guided one of the conference’s top offenses for a school that finished the 2001 and 2002 seasons with an unblemished regular season record, and won its first national championship in 2004.
Filling big shoes was not intimidating for Dean. In his first year at the helm, he became only the second D-II coach to win a national championship in his debut season on the job. Valdosta State topped Northwest Missouri State, 25-20, in what became a third straight loss in the national title game for the Bearcats.
Overcoming an up-and-down five year span that saw an exodus of upper-level talent, Dean once again delivered a national championship for the Blazers in 2012, defeating Winston-Salem State, 35-7. That win completed Dean’s ascension to becoming the most illustrious coach in school history with two rings to his name.
While his success has been acknowledged frequently in the community, Dean has put the Blazers on the national map more so than any of his predecessors. That is not just for his offensive prowess, but also for his emphasis on player development, which has been nothing short of outstanding. Just this season alone, over half of the NFL has sent representatives to Valdosta to scout players in Dean’s program.
Under Dean, the NFL has welcomed 10 Blazers to its brotherhood. Among current players is Larry Dean, who became a special teams extraordinaire for the Minnesota Vikings and has maintained a steady career. Ryan Schraeder has impressed as the starting right tackle for the Falcons. Guard Edmund Kugbila became the highest Blazer ever drafted when the Carolina Panthers selected him in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. Receiver Seantavius Jones and defensive tackle Lawrence Virgil are both currently in the New Orleans Saints organization.
For VSU’s game against Mississippi College, the New York Giants had a scout to evaluate current players in game action. Expect this trend to grow as long as Dean leads the program.
As admirable his coaching success is, Dean’s impact has gone deeper than football. Firmly entrenched in Valdosta culture, the coach has built a reputation for caring about the citizens of the community. Dean has been active in helping the local youth and is a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Dean’s spouse, Stacie Scott, is a VSU alumnus. They have three daughters named Caroline, Allison and Natalie.
Now, Dean is a single triumph away from holding the university’s win record to himself. He can achieve that milestone with a Blazers’ win this Saturday against Delta State, the school that happened to hand him his first loss as VSU coach in 2007. Fittingly, coming out on top Saturday would all but clinch the Blazers a spot in this year’s playoffs.
Not that that is anything new for David Dean.