Coaching in the Division II Football Championship is becoming almost a regular event for Valdosta State’s David Dean.
The head coach of the Blazers will be a part of the title game for the fourth time Saturday when Valdosta State faces Winston-Salem State at Braly Stadium.
Dean served as offensive coordinator for the Blazers in two championship games — a loss to Grand Valley State in 2002 and a victory over Pittsburg State in 2004. Dean was promoted to head coach in 2007 and became just the second coach in Division II history to lead his team to a national championship in his first season when Valdosta State defeated Northwest Missouri State in the title game.
That experience has proved valuable for Dean this week as he prepared his team for the trip to Florence.
“If you’re not used to dealing with the championship game it can catch you by surprise,” Dean said. “I know our first time here we were not prepared for all the attention that you receive. It’s really like a bowl week.
“Having been there three times before I’ve been able to tell our kids what is going to happen. I hope they now know what to expect and are not overwhelmed. Aside from myself we have only one assistant coach and two graduate assistants that were there in 2007.”
Valdosta State was picked to win the Gulf South Conference this season in the preseason coaches’ poll. But the Blazers got off to somewhat of a slow start, losing 28-24 at Saginaw Valley State in their season opener. After winning their next two games, Valdosta State lost 39-28 to West Alabama in its GSC opener.
Dean said the loss to West Alabama, which left the Blazers with a 2-2 record, was a turning point for his team.
“We certainly were not playing at our best at that time,” Dean said. “West Alabama come here and played a near-perfect game, while we made too many mistakes.
“At that point we had to convince our kids that they were a good football team if not for the mistakes we had been making. The kids seemed to buy into that and we started to get a little better each week.”
Since that loss the Blazers have reeled off nine consecutive wins. They avenged the loss to West Alabama, beating the Tigers 49-21 in the second round of the playoffs.
The Blazers advanced to the championship game with a 35-19 victory at Minnesota State-Mankato this past Saturday. The playoff run has been very gratifying for Valdosta State, which was not selected for the playoffs in 2011.
“We lost three games last year and lost each one in the final minute,” Dean said. “That really fueled the fire for us this season. Our seniors have stepped up as leaders and really kept our team focused each week.”
Dean said the key to the Blazers’ playoff run has been the way they have responded to adversity.
“We trailed at halftime in our first two playoff games,” he said. “It’s very similar to the 2007 team, which trailed at halftime in all four playoff games. Our guys are used to being in tough situations.
“The thing I love about this team is no matter what the situation is they have the same look in their eyes. It’s a really fun group to coach.”
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.