Richardson leading UNC Pembroke football into a Braves new world

After leading the Braves to their best season ever, Shane Richardson is well on his way to disproving the belief that Its tough to be the man who replaces The Man

UNC Pembroke announces Shane Richardson as the new Head Football Coach at a press conference on Friday

History tells us that it’s tough to be the man who replaces The Man. Because of that, there’s a lot less pressure on the man that replaces the man who replaces The Man.Shane Richardson is well aware of that widely held belief.And yet, he took on the challenge of replacing Pete Shinnick as the football coach at UNC Pembroke anyway.Shinnick, the son of former NFL linebacker Don Shinnick, started the Braves’ program from scratch in 2007 and, over the next seven years, built it into one of the Southeast’s best. UNCP won 50 games under his leadership and twice qualified for the NCAA Division II playoffs while suffering only one losing season — the first one.Richardson was there for the entire process and played a big part in the success as defensive coordinator. So when Shinnick decided it was time to leave for another startup program, this time at West Florida, he was the logical choice to assume command.”Pete Shinnick is a fantastic coach, a friend of mine, a mentor of mine and I learned a lot from him,” said Richardson, whose team recently completed a 10-2 season that included the Braves’ first ever postseason victory. “A lot of what we do in our program [was] started by him and a lot of things I believe in are a direct reflection of the impact and influence he’s had on me.”I can’t say enough about him as to how important he’s been to me. He groomed me to step into this position. He was very intentional about that in terms of taking me under his wing and teaching me about certain aspects of the program I needed to be aware of.”Even with all that preparation, it wasn’t until Shinnick was gone and Richardson actually took over before he learned the most challenging thing about becoming the Braves’ new leader.”Taking that job after he left was extremely difficult,” he said.Being the man that replaces The Man always is.In Richardson’s case, extenuating circumstances made his mountain just a little steeper to climb.Not only did Shinnick leave, but he took four of his other assistant coaches with him. And if that wasn’t enough, Richardson and his new staff were left with a roster that lost 26 seniors from the previous year’s 9-2 playoff team.The result was an unsightly 2-8 record that was, at least at the time, an ominous sign for the future of the program.”Obviously when I took over as head coach, going 2-8, there was probably some doubt from a lot of people,” Richardson said. “I had a lot of nights where I would have to do some soul searching, trying to figure out how to do this the right way. But I always believed in who I am and what I stand for, and I was very confident I could do the job.”His faith began to pay off in 2015 when the Braves recovered from the previous year’s disappointment to improve to 6-4.But even that noticeable improvement wasn’t good enough for Richardson or his players, who had too high of a standard to uphold to be satisfied with little more than a winning record.”Going 6-4 has driven us and motivated us to what we’re doing this year,” Richardson said. “6-4 is very average and it’s something our program talked about. 6-4 is not good enough for us. If we’re going to be the premier team in the country, then we’re going to need to fix a lot of things in the process and I think we’ve done that.”Many of those responsible for turning things around are the same ones that were forced to play prominent roles before they were ready during that first season under Richardson.They include senior wide receiver B.J. Bunn, who caught 70 passes for 1,142 yards and 10 touchdowns and running back Rontonio Stanley, who led the team with 928 rushing yards and nine scores. Linebacker Elijah Williams ranked second on the team with 68 tackles, two forced fumbles and an interception while defensive lineman Aarace Brooks recorded 4.5 sacks.Kicker Matt Davis made 27 of 38 field goals including a school-record 58 yarder on Oct. 29 against West Virginia State. He also broke the UNCP mark with a 78-yard punt in that same game.Led by that group of seniors, all of whom are from N.C., the Braves rallied from the worst season in school history to post their best this fall.The momentum started with a gritty 20-17 road victory at Winston-Salem State on opening night and built from there, with the only hiccup coming on Oct. 1 with a five-point loss at 11th-ranked Tuskegee. The high point in the season came two Saturdays ago when Richardson and his team travelled to South Georgia and upset perennial Division II power Valdosta State 24-21 for the first playoff win in UNCP history.The victory also marked the first time in the program’s 10 years that it has reached double figures in wins.As gratifying as that accomplishment might be, the Braves aren’t ready to start celebrating. According to Bunn, that won’t happen until the season ends with a trophy ceremony rather than a loss, such as last week’s second-round defeat at the hands of top-seeded North Alabama.”We’re not satisfied,” said Bunn, who became the first player in school history to reach the 1,000-yard receiving mark in a season. “We have one goal in mind and that’s to be the premier team in Division II football. The goal is to win the national championship. We have the mindset that we’re not going to celebrate until the work is done.”It’s a mindset Richardson said was established from Day One of the program by the man he was groomed to replace. As much as he admires Shinnick and has learned from him, though, the man who replaced The Man is already starting to put his own stamp on football at UNCP.”Pete Shinnick and I are very similar in how we see things and believe in things, but we’re still two different coaches and his style and my style are different,” Richardson said. “Obviously Pete set a high expectation because he’s a winner. He wants to do well and succeed, and the same thing goes for me as a head coach. I don’t want to take a back seat to anybody.”The way our program is set up, we’ve got some things that really help us to be successful. No matter what you have or don’t have, you still need to get guys on the same page and believe in a certain direction your heading. I believe we’ve got that now at an all-time high. We just have to keep riding that wave of momentum. “We expect to be the best and we’re trying to do that.”