A bye week gave Rick Stockstill extra time to prepare for Saturday’s matchup at Florida Atlantic.
It also allowed the Middle Tennessee State coach to re-delegate responsibility among his staff after offensive coordinator/running backs coach Willie Simmons resigned last week due to “personal reasons.”
Quarterbacks coach Buster Faulkner now will call the plays and inside receivers coach Brent Brock will coach the running backs.
“The reason we did that was so our players, especially the quarterbacks, were comfortable, and I thought that was the smart thing to do, to put him in there as the primary play caller,” Stockstill said. “ ... Our players are focused. I say it all the time: It’s about the players, and it’s not about the coaches. We haven’t had any hiccups, and I don’t expect anything to be an issue or problem with how we have our coaching responsibilities now.”
Simmons was in his fifth year coaching the running backs but first as the play-caller. He resigned last Friday, stating, “I feel this is in the best interest for me and the athletic department at Middle Tennessee. I need to focus on my personal matters and allow Coach Stockstill to begin the process of moving his team forward.”
According to a published report out of Murfreesboro, Simmons was charged with domestic assault of his girlfriend just two days before he resigned.
“I support Willie’s decision and feel that his resignation is the best for all parties involved,” athletics director Chris Massaro said in a statement. “His concentration and focus needs to be on resolving his personal issues and our efforts need to turn to the needs of our football program.”
Stockstill recruited Simmons to play quarterback at Clemson, where he was an assistant for 14 years.
“He is like a son to me and I will continue to support him through this difficult time in his life,” Stockstill said.
The moves come at a crucial time for MTSU, which is off to a 1-4 start (0-2 in Sun Belt Conference play).
The offense has scored more than 30 points in the last five games. Quarterback Logan Kilgore ranks second in the league and 18th in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 282.4 passing yards per game.
Conversely, the defense has given up 36 points and more than 450 yards a game — both which rank in the bottom 10 in the country.
Still, only the Blue Raiders’ 49-21 loss to Georgia Tech on Sept. 10 was a blowout. They lost three games by three points, including a 36-33 double-overtime defeat two weeks ago to Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers were winless entering the game.
“I don’t think we’re that far off from where we want to be,” Kilgore said. “It’s not like we need to change that much. A couple different plays in each of those games and we’re sitting here at 4-1. I think it’s just a matter of believing in each other and putting it all together for 60 minutes.”
Florida Atlantic is 0-6 and 0-3 in Sun Belt play and is a must-win if MTSU hopes to keep its chances of qualifying for a bowl and staying in the race for the conference title.
The Blue Raiders host conference leader Louisiana-Lafayette (6-1, 4-0) on Oct. 29, before traveling to Tennessee the following week.
“I feel like we need to stay close as a team,” defensive end Omar McLendon said. “Right now we have our backs against the wall, and this is when we find out who’s going to step up and see what kind of team we’re going to be.”