With two years remaining on his contract, is Hatcher still the right fit?
Editors Note: An earlier version incorrectly mentioned Chris Hatcher coaching at Georgia State. He did not coach there, but instead at Georgia Southern.
The Samford Football program has been led by head coach Chris Hatcher since his hiring on Dec. 11, 2014. After just completing his seventh season with the Bulldogs, how has the Hatch Attack handled the pressure of playing in the Southern Conference?
Through his seven year tenure at Samford, Hatcher has an overall record of 40-36 and a SoCon record of 30-24. Prior to Samford, he was the head coach at Valdosta State (2000-2006), Georgia Southern (2007-2009) and Murray State (2010-2014) creating a total career record of 161-91.
Hatcher is well known for his fast-paced, pass-heavy offense, otherwise known as the “Hatch Attack.” This high-flying system has made Samford not just a top offensive unit in the SoCon, but also among the top units in the FCS.
His creative offensive play calling has produced some interesting statistics over his Samford tenure – especially for his quarterbacks. Hatcher has coached two Walter Payton Award finalists in his seven years at Samford, essentially the equivalent of two Heisman trophy finalists for FCS programs.
Devlin “Duck” Hodges took the FCS by storm. In four seasons as the Bulldogs’ starting QB, Hodges averaged an astounding 331 yards per game 28 touchdowns per season. He has the most career passing yards in the history of the FCS (15,601). Hodges is now playing in the Canadian Football League after a brief stint with the NFL.
Liam Welch, who just concluded his Samford career, has cemented his legacy as one of the best to ever do it in Seibert Stadium. In 2021, Welch led the conference in yards per game (306) and passing touchdowns (22). Welch could potentially be drafted in April, which would be Hatcher’s second quarterback in the NFL from his time at Samford alone.
There’s no question that Hatcher’s system has produced some incredible talent and daunting records, but has the Hatch Attack yielded a feared program? Are Hatcher’s weaknesses overshadowing the positives that come from his unique system?
As for the negatives associated with Hatcher’s tenure, most of them have come from the past three to four years.
Though Hatcher reached the FCS playoffs in 2016 and 2017, the Bulldogs have not earned a playoff bid since then. Even in 2016 and 2017, the Bulldogs lost in the first round and did not win the conference title for either season.
From 2019-2021, teams coached by Hatcher posted a total record of 13-17 (11-12 SoCon), compared to his 2016-2018 record of 21-14 (16-8 SoCon). The 2021 season was Hatcher’s second losing season in three years and resulted in his first losing conference record in his Samford career.
With incredible quarterback talents like Hodges and Welch, and equally as impressive wideouts like Kelvin McKnight and Montrell Washington, how has Samford not won a playoff game in Hatcher’s entire tenure?
Unfortunately for Hatcher, an aggressive air-raid style offense usually results in a below-average defense, and Samford’s history under Hatcher is no exception.
This season, Samford’s defense was dead last out of the entire 123 teams in the FCS in yards allowed per game (505). Previously, the defense allowed 444 YPG in 2021 (spring) and 457 YPG in 2019.
With these defensive disparities, many Bulldog fans might be led to wonder, “would Samford just be better off with a more typical offensive system?”
In order for Hatcher’s system to consistently produce playoff teams, there would likely need to be significant defensive improvement and even more consistency from the offense. Other aggressive systems like the Hatch Attack rarely have significant and long-term success, but in instances when they do, the offense is typically consistent and the defense is average or better.
As for recruiting, Samford tops the SoCon in most active-rostered players in the NFL with four. Though two of these players, along with Hodges, played under Hatcher, none of them were recruited by him. Though landing an NFL talent at a SoCon school is a rare occurrence, Samford’s well-respected NFL alumni can be largely attributed to Samford’s previous coach, Pat Sullivan.
Hatcher has undoubtedly landed some uber talented athletes, such as Liam Welch and Montrell Washington. But there is no doubt that Hatcher could stand for some improvement in the recruiting game.
One of Hatcher’s most talented recruits in his tenure happened last offseason with three star cornerback Jordan Oladokun. Oladokun announced that he would be leaving the Bulldogs on Nov. 3 after just one season.
In 2019, Hatcher signed a contract extension that runs through the 2023 season. With just two seasons left on his current contract, he will have a limited amount of time to prove that his system can be effective in the Southern Conference. If his future teams fail to do this, it will likely be much more difficult for Hatcher to earn another extension.
Through the past seven seasons, it appears that Hatcher has been able to keep his head above water. He has led some very talented teams to the FCS playoffs, but he will need to prove that he can do it again if he wants to stay in Homewood past 2023.