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Turnaround is familiar work for new Stonehill coach

EASTON -- Chris Woods is coming home.

 

Stonehill College has hired the Milton native to pilot its football program, which has not had a winning season since 1996.

Woods, 34, knows something about turning around losing football programs.

The former Boston College High School star took over a Mansfield (Pa.) University program in March 2001 that was abysmal. The Mountaineers had not had a winning season in 28 years. But in two years Woods, without any major commitments from the school or additional scholarship money, led the Mountaineers to an 8-3 mark this season, the best in 57 years.

The American Football Coaches Association selected Woods as its Division 2 Regional Coach of the Year.

The Stonehill position opened Nov. 20, when Rich Beal resigned as head coach after five fruitless seasons during which the Chieftains posted an overall record of 9-44. The team went 1-10 this year, including an embarrassing season-opening 78-6 loss to Northeastern University.

"They might have gotten tired of me comparing my situation at Mansfield and the situation here at Stonehill when I interviewed for the position. But there are so many striking parallels," said Woods.

Woods revealed that Stonehill promised to make a bigger commitment to the football program than it did during the Beal era. "It will be a different mind-set at Stonehill," Woods said.

Paula J. Sullivan, Stonehill's athletic director, says she wants a winning program. "This is a tremendous step forward for our football program as we look to climb the ladder in the Northeast-10 Conference," she said.

What sold Sullivan on Woods was his record and the enthusiasm he will bring to the program. Woods "has a great passion for his trade and is someone that will have an immediate impact on our student-athletes," said Sullivan.

"Passion is so much a part of football," said Woods. "You have to generate energy. It's a different sort of sport that demands commitment. If you are just going through the motions, you are doomed to failure."

Woods has been a winner at every level as a coach.

He began his career in 1994, when he served as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Plymouth (N.H.) State College under Don Brown, the current Northeastern head coach. They had back-to-back undefeated seasons.

Woods was then assistant head coach and defensive coordinator at Wittenberg (Ohio) University, where he helped guide the Tigers to an overall mark of 40-4 that included two NCAA Division 3 tournament berths before he moved on to Mansfield in 2000 as defensive coordinator.

Woods had never intended to coach. After earning Southern Conference All-Star honors at Davidson (N.C.) College, he spent three years as a corporate salesman in Georgia. But he realized that the corporate culture was not what he wanted.

"So many of my peers from high school and college were coaching," said Woods. "I realized that was what I wanted to do." Although he was not even a coach, he attended the annual college coaches convention when it was held in Atlanta, and eventually secured his first position at Plymouth State.

Woods and Stonehill agreed on a pact last Monday night. For the next 48 hours, Woods's life was a whirlwind. He tried to personally contact as many of his Mansfield University players as he could to inform them of his decision to leave the program.

"We're on Christmas vacation, and it's difficult tracking them all down, but to a man, they all wished me the best," said Woods.

He also had Stonehill send him the list of potential recruits that Stonehill was scouting before Beal resigned. "I tried to contact as many of them as I could," said Woods.

Normally, he would have wrapped up all his recruiting visits last weekend if he had continued coaching at Mansfield University. But at Stonehill, he's just about starting from scratch.

"We're a little bit behind the eight-ball," admitted Woods. He said he doesn't think it would be a problem selling Stonehill, or the new atmosphere surrounding its football program.

His first order of business when he walks into his new football office tomorrow morning at Stonehill is putting together a staff.

"I will meet with the coaching staff," said Woods, who isn't sure whom he will keep and whom he will hire. He may bring some coaches on board.

"I have some ideas about hiring an offense coach," said Woods, adding that his own forte is "setting up the defense."

He will also meet with as many of the 48 returning lettermen at Stonehill and will implement a "structured off-season program" for every player.

Woods also said that it will be a different brand of football. "It should be entertaining football to watch," he said. "It will be an attacking and wide-open offense that depends on play-making. On defense, there will be a lot of schemes and blitzes."

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