KENNESAW, Ga. | Sep 22, 2023
When Brian Bohannon’s phone rang in March 2013 with an offer to become Kennesaw State’s first head football coach, he didn’t hesitate to accept.
At the time, the University had already laid the foundation to launch the program. It was situated in fertile recruiting grounds in metro Atlanta. It had an 8,300-seat stadium with 101 lockers, enough to house an entire football team. Bohannon – then the quarterbacks coach at Georgia Tech – wouldn’t even need to relocate his family from their Woodstock home.
“It was a no-brainer,” said Bohannon, who recently celebrated his 10th year leading the football program. “This came at a point in time when I was ready to step out on my own, and I was excited about the prospect.”
Prior to interviewing at KSU, Bohannon had built an impressive coaching resume. In addition to his tenure at Georgia Tech, he had stops at Georgia Southern and Navy. Having learned under College Football Hall of Fame coach Paul Johnson, he was poised for his next challenge.
Building Culture from Scratch
It wasn’t until Bohannon sat at his new desk inside the KSU Convocation Center that he fully realized the task at hand. He had no footballs, helmets, coaches or players. With the 2015 inaugural season looming, he could only sell recruits and staff on a vision.
It was that vision that convinced recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach Liam Klein to join the budding program.
“The first time I heard Coach Bohannon's vision for the program, it was clear, direct and purposeful,” Klein said. “From the very beginning, this culture was established through the coaches and staff, bought into by a group of determined young men, and it still thrives today. Successful teams are built upon culture, and it is a big reason why there has been success from the start.”
Building a winning culture isn’t just “coach speak”; it’s reflected in the achievements the program has collected over the years.
Since 2015, Bohannon has produced the winningest startup program in college football history, leading the Owls to three conference championships and earning the 2017 American Football Coaching Association’s Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) National Coach of the Year award. In that span, KSU football players have received All-America honors 25 times, with former quarterback and current assistant coach Chandler Burks finishing runner-up for the Walter Payton Award, the highest honor at the FCS level. For their work in the classroom, Owls have also been named to All-Academic teams 13 times during Bohannon’s tenure.
“What we’ve done here, I couldn’t just go and do somewhere else,” Bohannon said, reflecting on the program’s success. “I take such pride not just in what we do, but how we do it. I love winning, but the greatest thing for me is seeing our guys come in and embrace our culture. We want them to graduate and be successful in whatever it is that comes next, and, when they come back, I want them to say they were proud to be a part of this program.”
To spend 10 years in one program is a rarity in the ever-changing landscape of college football. Only a handful of football coaches at the NCAA Division I level have longer tenures than Bohannon. KSU Athletic Director Milton Overton credits Bohannon’s longevity for the football program’s consistency.
“Across the board, it can be rare to find stability in this industry for this length of time,” Overton said. “Having consistent leadership over the program is a critical piece in what KSU football is and will be. We celebrate what coach Bohannon has built over the last decade and are excited about what our next chapter holds.”
Taking the Next Step
The next chapter involves transitioning to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) of Division I athletics, the highest level of football competition. KSU will officially join Conference USA in July 2024 as part of the move. While it’s not nearly as complex as starting a program from scratch, Bohannon said he sees similarities in retooling the program to compete at the next level.
“It’s a big jump to go to FBS, so we are definitely experiencing change in several areas, especially in recruiting,” he said. “We’ve seen several players graduate and coaches take opportunities at the next level. We also shook things up by changing our schedule, and players have responded well to it. I see parallels to the early years of the program.”
The team will also have more eyes on it than ever, playing games on national television against long established programs across the Southeast and beyond. Projecting out another 10 years, Bohannon hopes that KSU will become a household name.
“If we do everything we need to do and start off the right way at the next level, I truly believe the sky is the limit,” Bohannon said. “But it’s going to take everyone pulling in the same direction. We need students, staff, alumni and the community to get behind the program, and we can do great things together.”
If anyone is prepared to rally the KSU community, it’s Bohannon, said tight ends coach Stewart Cook.
“His leadership and expectation for our program to meet the Gold Standard hasn’t stopped with this success,” Cook said. “His tenacity to teach and develop makes a life-changing impact on players, coaches, staff, fans and members of the community. Our KSU community is better because of the influence of coach Bohannon."
– By Travis Highfield
Photos by Matthew Yung
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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 43,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.