Written by Gabe Burns, Asst. Sports Editor
Two weeks ago, Blazers football head coach David Dean achieved a feat no other coach in Valdosta State history has reached: 77 wins. Becoming the winningest coach in school history is the latest accomplishment for the coach that has been present for all three of VSU’s national championships.
“It’s an honor, but to me, having an opportunity to coach here as long as I have means more. I say this in a truly sincere way: I share this with a lot of people,” said Dean. “I had an opportunity to coach a lot of great guys and I couldn’t have done this without them. That’s not a line; that’s honesty.”
Coincidently, the milestone came against the very team that handed Dean his first loss as a head coach in Delta State. The Blazers followed that win with their fifth straight victory, a 39-21 triumph over Florida Tech on Homecoming day. Not only did that conquest ensure that Dean stayed perfect on Homecoming games (9-0), but it also sent his Blazers to a familiar place: the playoffs.
Since Dean took over the program in 2007, the Blazers have only fallen short of the postseason twice. Valdosta State has become a model of consistency under the record-setting coach.
One player that has served a vital role in the Blazers’ postseason berth is starting quarterback EJ Hilliard. The Florida International transfer was drawn to VSU by Dean’s reputable offense and aptitude for winning.
“He just gave me a chance. He is a great coach and he is a winner,” said Hilliard. “That’s what stood out the most, his winning ways. As a player, that’s something you look forward to and that’s something that drives you.”
“He is an offensive minded coach and that’s something I wanted to be a part of.”
A former walk-on receiver at 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 in 1988-1991 as wide receivers coach. He departed to become an offensive assistant at West Georgia, where he coached from 1992-1999.
The experience at UWG allowed Dean to connect with offensive-minded head coach Charlie Fisher, who Dean credits as the most influential coach of his career. In Fisher’s 30 years of college coaching, he has worked with players such as Torry Holt, Koren Robinson, Jay Cutler and Christian Hackenberg. He recently served as the quarterbacks coach at Penn State under current Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien before becoming the offensive coordinator at Richmond.
“He (Fisher) has had the most influence on me as far as game planning, the approach to games, what to look for, how to film study, those types of things,” said Dean. “He’s had the most influence on me with the X’s and O’s. Obviously, from a motivation standpoint, it’s from being around so many different people. I try to gather information from everyone I’m around.”
Before the 2000 season, Dean was presented the chance to return to the place he said he loves, and that was too good of an opportunity to ignore.
Dean came back to Valdosta when he accepted the position of offensive coordinator under Hatcher. His offensive prowess was a crucial part of turning the Blazers into a 10-2 team just a season after finishing 4-7. His quarterback, Dusty Bonner, won the Harlon Hill Trophy (Division II MVP) and later received a tryout with the Atlanta Falcons.
The success did not stop there. Dean guided one of the conference’s top offenses for a school that finished the 2001 and 2002 campaigns with an unblemished regular season record, and eventually won its first national championship in 2004.
Dean accepted the head coaching job upon Hatcher’s departure to Georgia Southern prior to the 2007 season. The challenge of filling big shoes did not appear intimidating to Dean. He would go on to become only the second Division II coach to win a national championship in his debut season. Valdosta State topped Northwest Missouri State, 25-20, to capture its second national title.