Flora Made the Right Call in Stepping Down

It was the appropriate decision, but Flora isn't completely to blame for the Pioneers' lack of success.

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Alex Evans, Opinions Editor

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William Paterson officially announced a few weeks ago that Jerry Flora would be stepping down after a decade-long tenure as head football coach for the Pioneers.

It wasn’t a particularly successful stint for Flora, and, although it’s unfair to place all of the blame on him, he made the correct decision to relieve himself of his duties and pursue other opportunities within the university.

The Pioneers won just four games only four times, three games only once and two games just twice with Flora as head coach.

They were able to reach the five-win total twice, playing to a 5-5 record in both 2009 and 2012. The three most recent seasons for the Pioneers have been worse than usual, with the team going a combined 4-16 overall in 2015 and 2016, and 2-16 in NJAC play over that span.

The 2017 season, however, was the worst on record for William Paterson in 20 years. The team went 0-10 for the first time since 1997, including an 0-9 record in the NJAC.

This sustained lack of success cannot be solely placed on Flora’s shoulders, although the head coach has always receives the brunt of the blame in these situations. There’s no excuse for the program’s overall performance in recent seasons, but other factors have undoubtedly contributed to the problem.

The Pioneers have had a difficult time recruiting and retaining players for the duration of their four years on campus.

In 2014, the Pioneers had 12 seniors on the roster. The team lost 21 seniors to graduation in 2015, and 13 in 2016.

The 2017 senior class featured just seven seniors. That’s a sizeable drop off, and although the coaching staff and athletic department don’t keep track of actual numbers, it’s a sign that retention rates are not high.

A grueling NJAC schedule is another factor that has to be considered as to why the Pioneers struggled under Flora.

It is arguably the toughest Division III football conference in the United States, with four teams this past season alone—Montclair State, Wesley, Frostburg State and Salisbury—finishing with records above .500. Wesley, the 13th-ranked team in Division III, Frostburg State and Salisbury all qualified for postseason play.

William Paterson should be able to compete with a student enrollment of over 10,000, but the new conference schedule has made it tougher to do so. It stacks up well against the in-state schools, but doesn’t with those outside of New Jersey.

The disparity among these national powers and William Paterson was on full display this season. Salisbury cruised to a 63-7 victory, while Wesley recorded a 66-0 landslide win and Frostburg State a 59-7 thumping over the Pioneers.

In the meantime, it is never too early to speculate on who Flora’s replacement could be. Although the university is planning a “nationwide search,” they might find their next head coach on their current staff.

It was announced in the statement from the William Paterson University Athletic Department that Shaun Williams, the team’s defensive coordinator since 2013, will serve as the interim head coach for the time being.

The eight-year NFL veteran safety and 2001 Super Bowl XXXV runner-up with the New York Giants should at least be in consideration for the position.

Williams is familiar with the program and the roster, and has the ability to teach established NFL techniques that can only make his players better.

Hiring a former pro in Williams would show current and prospective players that the university is fully behind the program and is taking active measures to improve it, which is the best way to excite, attract and hold onto student athletes.

The play from Williams’ defense this season can only strengthen his chances as well.

The Pioneer defense finished the season ranked a respectable 100th out of 243 teams in Division III in total defense, having allowed 350 yards per game and 55 total touchdowns.

The offense, which Flora took control of this season as offensive coordinator, was less than stellar, finishing the season as the worst total offense in the country, averaging 164 yards per game and 2.87 yards per play.

Additionally, William Paterson had the 13th-worst passing attack in the country with a touchdown to interception ration of 7 to 17 and 104 yards per game. The Pioneers were outscored 400-73, losing by an average margin of about 35 points-per-game.

The bottom line is, the Pioneers had done just about all they could with Flora leading the way. His years of dedication to William Paterson football are to be commended, and it’s great to see that he will remain involved with the university.

However, to get the program on the right track, a monumental change such as this was needed.

Whether it be an outsider or someone already within the organization, a fresh face will hopefully be the first step in turning the Pioneer football team around and creating a sustainable winning culture.

*The athletic department denied The Beacon’s request to interview Flora, Williams and Athletic Director Sabrina Grant, citing that the press release provided the university’s comments and that interviews would not be available.