first_imgIn his office, Paul Nichols sometimes looks up at a photo of Ohio State’s 2006 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl game against Notre Dame.A graduate assistant for the Buckeyes at the time, Nichols remembers standing on the sidelines as more than 75,000 cheered from the stands.Last Saturday, Nichols was once again on the sidelines, but his surroundings were entirely different. It was a rainy, overcast afternoon at Johnson C. Smith’s Irwin Belk Complex. Behind the goalposts stood shrubbery instead of fans. Behind the benches, the bleachers were empty.“Yeah, that was fun,” Nichols said of the Fiesta Bowl. “But you know, we coached in the game last week, when there was probably 2,000 people at the game, and it was the same. It doesn’t matter to me whether you’re coaching at Ohio State or coaching at Davidson College — the teaching, coaching, and competition, it’s all the same.”Now in his first season as head coach at Davidson, Nichols is well aware of the task that awaits him in bringing the Wildcats back to where they were when he starred as a quarterback for them.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThe Wildcats sit at 0-3, having lost their last two games to Division II opponents. Davidson has endured a losing record in eight of its last 10 seasons, including five straight.“It’s been difficult, especially when you’ve been involved in the program in a time when it was so successful,” Nichols said. “It’s the place where you’re from and the place that you call your own. It needs to be taken care of and cherished.”Nichols graduated from the school in 2003, and is one of the youngest coaches in Division-I football at age 31. He is widely considered to be the greatest quarterback in school history, having led the Wildcats to the team’s only perfect season in 2000. In 2002, he came back from a knee injury during his junior year to match a school-record with 25 touchdown passes.“I think it does give you some level of credibility,” Nichols said. “Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what level you coach at, if you’re an NFL or high school coach. Yeah, you might have some immediate credibility, but credibility is built over time, and that comes through trust and shared experiences.”During Nichols’ playing days, then-head coach Joe Susan said he had to earn his credibility every week. Nichols said that on several occasions during the team’s undefeated run, Susan would instruct the back-up quarterback to start getting loose.“I coached (Nichols) like an offensive lineman … with no love. And any love that was given was tough love,” Susan said. “I know any time I needed to upset him, I would just start the bullpen warming up, and he would rise above that. He’d look over, and we wound up winning every game we played.”Susan said he knew Nichols was going to be a football coach when he led the team in 2000. He noted Nichols’ leadership qualities, which helped him stand out.Susan, now the head coach at Bucknell, said that he and Nichols are still close, and Nichols often reaches out to his former coach for advice.“We use the term ‘student of the game.’ It was obvious right away that he was one of the better ones at that on that team,” Susan said. “A lot of the kids that go to that school and that go to (Bucknell), they go right into a three-piece suit when they leave college, and had he not done that, I knew that he had the ability to be a good football coach.”While an assistant at Illinois in 2012, Nichols reached out to athletic director Jim Murphy, knowing the team was looking to make a change. Murphy had been the athletic director at the same time Nichols had been the team’s quarterback. Last winter, he was given the job.In his first press conference, Nichols said there is only one agenda for Davidson football: win. That result hasn’t come yet, but there’s been a difference in attitude. Senior linebacker Dan Casey said that compared to his first three seasons, the team has higher expectations since Nichols took over.“We didn’t expect as much out of the team, we didn’t expect as much out of the players from a social aspect, being involved in the community,” Casey said. “We’re trying to set our character in the community. That’s one of the things that Coach Nichols is really focused on — it’s to not just be football players, but well-rounded individuals.”Nichols said he isn’t sure why the program has suffered so much since he left. He just knows what needs to be done to get it back to where it once was.“Every program I’ve been involved in has won championships,” Nichols said. “There’s been a tremendous trust and a tremendous care for each other. When I was with coach (Jim) Tressel at Ohio State, he always talked about winning with people.“I think we really have first-class people in this program.” Comments Published on September 26, 2013 at 12:51 am Contact Sam: sblum@syr.edu | @SamBlum3 Facebook Twitter Google+last_img