Since its rebirth in 1982, the Georgia Southern University football program has won six national championships, 11 conference championships, 312 total games, have had 11 players drafted in the NFL and most recently found out who its 10th head coach would be.
Enter Tyson Summers, a Tifton, Ga. native who was formally announced as head coach to Eagle Nation three days after the Eagles routed Bowling Green 58-26 at the 2015 GoDaddy Bowl. Summers brings over 15 years of coaching experience from seven different schools across the nation. And at just 35 years old, he is one of the youngest coaches in the FBS.
Despite his youth, Summers has clearly garnered respect for himself in the Southeast. Although having just a month of recruiting after becoming head coach, he and the newly assembled staff were able to put together the top-ranked recruiting class in the Sun Belt according to ESPN and many other sports media outlets. Tom Kleinlein, Director of Athletics at GSU, expressed his support for Summers at the introductory press conference.
“What we get in Tyson is someone who knows Georgia, someone who was born and raised in Georgia, someone who has recruited Georgia his entire career, and someone who has been a part of a Group of 5 school that has played on New Year’s Day, which is the level we’re aspiring to reach,” Kleinlein said.
Summers is returning home to South Ga. where both he and his wife, Beth, were born and raised. It’s where he came to love the game, and where he wanted to eventually come back to. He said it was a big reason he was excited to come to GSU.
“That’s really how we wanted to raise our three sons. Being able to come back here to a place where football is important and where culture is important. Those things are important to us. That’s why this all fit for me,” Summers said.
Summers began his coaching career at Tift Co. High School before getting on at his alma mater Presbyterian College as a defensive backs coach. He then served as a graduate assistant at Troy and Georgia before becoming the safeties coach at GSU in 2006 under then head coach Brian VanGorder.
It was in that season that Summers saw GSU’s passion for football. He talked about how much he enjoyed the mental aspect of the game he learned under VanGorder.
“(VanGorder) was an extremely detailed person. He had a way of, from a coaching staff standpoint, really trying to raise the bar for each guy. He was outstanding to me and gave me an opportunity when I was young,” Summers said.
After leaving GSU, Summers landed a job at Alabama Birmingham, where he eventually worked his way up to co-special teams coordinator in his fifth and final year with the team. He then coached at Central Florida, where he was named defensive coordinator in 2014. He led a unit that ranked in the top-10 in the FBS in total defense, rushing defense, red-zone defense and scoring defense.
His one-year stint as defensive coordinator at Colorado State ended when he received the news from Klienlien that he had been selected to be the next head coach for GSU. Summers said that his experience with multiple coaches and programs helped mold him into the coach he is today.
“I’ve been blessed in the last ten years to be around a lot of good players and around a lot of good coaches as well. I think you take a little bit from everybody and try to take the best pieces of everybody you’ve been around and add those things in and try to do it with your own personality,” Summers said.
GSU football is in the midst of a crucial transition period. The program will be entering just its third year in the FBS this fall, but has already proven itself as an elite team in the Sun Belt. It’s a time where the team can establish themselves as a perennial powerhouse in the Group of 5 conferences if they continue to perform at the levels they have been in the last two seasons.
Summers will take over a program that’s coming off back-to-back nine win seasons and a pair of historic milestones. The Eagles won the Sun Belt in their first season in the league in 2014, and then won their first bowl game in 2015. He talked about what the next step the Eagles need to take in their ascension to become an elite team, or what Eagle Nation may be hopeful for, a dynasty.
“Well I think it’s for us to be, on a consistent basis, a team that can be in the top 25 in the country. We have to continue to have sustained success and how can we do that over a 10, 15, 20-year period of time. That’s what we’re looking at,” Summers said.