(Stats Perform) – It felt so familiar and surely so right for Austin Peay football when Scotty Walden was hired as head coach in late October.
Walden became Division I’s youngest head football coach – 30 at the time and since turning 31.
His hiring was reminiscent of a 30-year-old Will Healy taking over after the 2015 season as D-I’s second-youngest head coach. Healy turned around the Governors’ moribund program over three seasons, stopping a 29-game losing streak and reversing a 1-46 span to set up the program’s best season ever under former coach Mark Hudspeth in 2019.
“I’ve very, very fortunate and blessed to get that opportunity at such a young age and something that I don’t take for granted,” Walden said Tuesday during the OVC’s virtual media day.
When he hired Walden, Austin Peay athletic director Gerald Harrison called him “a new-age CEO for a new era of college football” – reflecting on the youth as well as an energetic, personable style of coaching.
Seniors such as FCS All-America nickelback Kordell Jackson began their Austin Peay career under Healy and expect to complete it in Clarksville, Tennessee, under Walden.
“They’re very similar,” Jackson said. “They’re both young in age, so (it is) very understanding, they both have a lot of energy. I feel like Coach Walden is more culture-based as far as just building us as men and on the football field.”
Walden didn’t only guide Southern Miss for four games this past fall, he also went 7-3 in 2016 at Division III East Texas Baptist when at 26 he was college football’s youngest head coach. At that point, the native Texan had already been an offensive coordinator for four years, first at his alma mater, Sul Ross State, and then at ETB.
Since taking over at Austin Peay, Walden has worked to establish his coaching principles within the program and lay the groundwork for the Governors’ upcoming OVC season, which was pushed back to the spring semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Preseason practices begin Saturday and lead up to their opener on Feb. 21 at Tennessee Tech.
“Obviously, we knew going into this that this quick turnaround was going to happen,” Walden said. “We’re going to need to get our offense, defense and special teams installed very fast, but more importantly, and the thing that we haven’t sacrificed is getting our culture instilled. Everybody does things, but I’m a firm believer it’s not what you do but how you do it.
“I think the advantage (in being a younger coach),” Walden added, “is, obviously, I can relate to these guys, I can relate to these players, being able to kind of know and have a feel for some of the things they’re going through because not too long ago I was blessed to play college ball.”
Walden’s mantra for the Govs is “Fearless. Fast. Physical.” While they went 0-3 during a challenging nonconference schedule in the fall under then-interim coach Marquise Loving, their nucleus captured a share of the 2019 OVC title and won the program’s first two FCS playoff games in an 11-3 campaign. Before the OVC postponed its fall schedule, Austin Peay collected the most selections on the conference’s preseason team, seven, led by wide receiver DeAngelo Wilson and Jackson, the offensive and defensive players of the year, respectively.
“I think the big thing for us on the field is we’re going to play extremely fast, not only offensively, but defensively and special teams, which we call ‘we-fense’ around here because that’s going to take offense and defense,” Walden said.
“Off the field, very simple, we want to coach the whole player. When a kid signs to our program, we want to make sure that every single part of his life is going to be touched. This is more than just football.”