By Sean Kernan
Daytona Beach News-Journal
Reprinted with permission
Stetson is on the verge of naming the coach who will lead its start-up football program.
Few know what to expect when a college starts playing football -- or in Stetson's case -- brings the sport back after a 55-year hiatus.
Campbell coach Dale Steele has some first-hand knowledge.
Steele has guided the Fighting Camels through their first three seasons. Campbell, which is in Buies Creek, N.C., is a member of the Division I non-scholarship Pioneer Football League -- the same league Stetson was accepted into last week.
But just as Stetson will hire a coach a little more than two years before playing its first game in fall 2013, Campbell brought Steele on board in June 2006 to prepare for the Camels' debut in 2008.
"My advice to Stetson is to be patient, have a plan and stick with that plan," Steele said in a phone interview. "The one thing that they'll learn quickly is that this is a very competitive league. There are a lot of good coaches in this league."
Steele, 55, had 28 years of coaching experience behind him when he was hired at Campbell, and even he went through some things he'd never seen before.
The first season Campbell played with only sophomores and freshmen. That made it tough to compete, and it showed with a 1-10 record. Opponents outscored the Camels by an average of 46.6 to 8.9. Campbell was 0-8 in the PFL and lost by a combined score of 376-35.
The Camels went 3-8 the next year, cutting the average score to 28.6 to 19.5. In 2010, they repeated their 3-8 mark but were much more competitive with a scoring average of 26.7 to 23.7.
Being patient and realizing progress comes in small increments hasn't been easy for Campbell's coaches or players.
"That's probably been the worst part of it, to be honest, for the staff and the kids, to understand that we had to move forward in smaller increments than we would have liked," Steele said. "It was difficult for players and coaches alike, because we are by nature competitive."
Recruiting is never easy, but it was especially difficult in the early stages, Steele said.
"A lot of times you wanted a player, but he'd go somewhere else because they already had an established program," Steele said. "But you have to turn that into a challenge. So many of the players in our league are players that come in and develop. The better football teams in our league are the teams that have so many seniors and juniors.
"Building the program from scratch is a process, and we were lucky here in that our administration was patient and understood that it was going to take time."
And now that Campbell is going into its first season with a senior class, some of the smaller obstacles are becoming a thing of the past. Now, Steele can look back at that 2008 season and laugh at times when his first-year players were making rookie mistakes, not all of which came on the field.
"The first year, we learned as coaches that we had to carry a bunch of extra gear, because we had a bunch of freshmen, and they would forget stuff," Steele said with a laugh. "We had kids going to away games walking out of here without their helmets. They'd walk out without their shoes, their jerseys. Anything that you could imagine freshmen would do, they did."