FORT VALLEY — The call came Tuesday night to return to the heart of Peach County to talk some more.
“I was in Albany,” Donald Pittman said. ‘I thought I was coming back up for an interview.”
Indeed, Fort Valley State president Dr. Larry Rivers wanted to hear more from one of the final three candidates to become the next head football coach at FVSU.
“I wanted to talk to him about issues relating to his thoughts on student-scholars and his strategy for making sure that not only do they perform on the field, but they also perform in the classroom,” Rivers said, “and that they graduate in a reasonable period.
“I was not as concerned with his expertise as I was concerned with his philosophy for making sure that the young men get coached as to how they can get through Fort Valley State academically.”
The two talked for almost three hours Wednesday morning, Rivers liked what he heard, offered Pittman the job and barely an hour later joined interim athletics director Sean Stanley in introducing FVSU’s 13th head football coach.
The news conference came on the parking lot next to what is now a big pit of dirt and rubble, of what used to be old Wildcat Stadium and what will soon be new, modern Wildcat Stadium.
Construction was stopped so about 100 fans, faculty members, assistant football coaches, boosters and school staff members could see who the new head coach was and hear what he and others had to say.
Pittman sat under a tent with several of the search committee members on either side of him and tons of construction vehicles behind him. Stanley and Rivers spoke before Pittman went to the podium.
“I’ve been waiting 30 years for this opportunity,” Pittman said. “I am ready to go to work.”
Not that he needed reminding, but FVSU’s football priorities surfaced quickly during a brief Q&A: success against rivals Tuskegee and Albany State.
“That is my vision,” Pittman said. “I know the expectations of this program.”
Stanley is certainly ready for that. He is an ASU graduate who worked there for a few years and saw Pittman’s ability in person.
“I’m ecstatic, I’m relieved and I’m tired a little bit,” said Stanley, part of the 14-person search committee who didn’t find out about Rivers’ decision until only an hour or two before everybody else. “He was the frontrunner in my mind of the (final) candidates. There’s a particular fit that we need here.”
And while it may be about 47 weeks until the Rams and Wildcats hook up in the 20th Fountain City Classic in Columbus, the talk has started.
“We’re coming after Albany State,” Stanley said. “That’s my alma mater, but we’re coming after them.”
Pittman was a little less hyped about facing his old team — after all, he was on campus by around 8 a.m. and still had a full day to finish — but knows what the priority is.
“Yes, yes, yes,” he said with a laugh following the news conference and after talking with a dozen or so on hand. “I am aware of it.”
Pittman was never part of a losing season at Albany State. In fact, the Rams were never worse than 7-4 while he was on the staff, and ASU went 58-24 (70.7 percent) in that span.
Pittman’s reputation is that of an offensive guru of sorts. During the past four seasons, ASU has averaged 24.2 points per game and 330 yards per game. The Rams have been in the SIAC’s top four in points and yards in three of those seasons, and have made the playoffs five straight years.
“Coming from a winning tradition, I’d say this was the perfect match for us,” Rivers said. “With Coach Pittman having the state experience, the background, the understanding of Georgia football, the understanding of recruitment requirements, I just think the committee brought me a person who would be a good fit for Fort Valley State.”
Interim director of football operations Wilson Gosier headed the search committee, and was as happy as anybody the work was complete.
“As the process neared the end, strong personalities surfaced,” he said. “That’s where I had to step in, but they were able to set aside their personal feelings and deal with facts as opposed to emotion.”
He said there were more than 40 applicants, ranging from someone whose only athletic experience was as an intramural referee in college to Guy Morris, the former head coach at Kentucky and Baylor, who, along with Southwest head coach Carror Wright, was a finalist.
Defensive coordinator Dedrick Dodge interviewed and wasn’t a finalist, but said his employer made a good decision.
“That’s what I thought we needed,” said Dodge, who hopes to be retained in his current position. “I thought we needed experience, someone who knew Georgia, a winner, offensively creative.
“Coach Pittman did a great job.”
Pittman is ready for a little time to take a breath and then roll up his sleeves.
“We’re going to win,” said Pittman, 57 and the father of two adult children. “We will win with honor. We’re going to bring winning back to the Valley.”