Mark Hudspeth

Mark Hudspeth, a Mississippi State assistant coach last season, has led Tennessee’s Austin Peay into the second round of the FCS playoffs.

Wherever Mark Hudspeth has gone, success has soon followed.

Hudspeth led North Alabama to the playoffs in five of his seven seasons as head coach and two Gulf South Conference Championships and guided Louisiana-Lafayette to a bowl game in five of his seven years there and shared a Sun Belt Conference title.

However, Hudspeth’s latest success story might be his most impressive. He inherited an Austin Peay team that had never reached the FCS Playoffs and had not won a conference championship since 1977.

With Hudspeth at the helm, the Governors were able to accomplish both feats this year. He led Austin Peay to an Ohio Valley Conference title in his first season as head coach and now has the 10-3 Governors preparing to play in the second round of the playoffs at Sacramento State tonight at 8.

“We had aspirations coming in of turning this thing around,” said Hudspeth, who was named OVC Coach of the Year. “We were No. 1 in the conference in both offense and defense but to me it was more of a culture change. Those early morning workouts in January, February and March were where we really developed the culture of our team.”

Austin Peay’s roster features eight former FBS players, including four from SEC programs. First team All-OVC center Blake Mitchell and linebacker Cameron Miller followed Hudspeth from Mississippi State, where he was the tight ends coach in 2018, while wide receiver Keenan Barnes transferred in after playing for Hudspeth at Louisiana.

“We needed to fill a couple of spots when we got here,” Hudspeth said. “We had some good players but were hit hard in certain areas by graduation so we needed to plug in some guys. We were able to bring some guys with us and that really helped.”

Several coaches came along, too. Tim Zetts, Eddy Morrissey and Maurey Bland accompanied Hudspeth from MSU, Kevon Beckwith and Jordan Frazier joined him from Louisiana-Lafayette and Marquase Lovings and Mark Powell worked with Hudspeth at both of his previous stops.

Hudspeth also has a pair of his former players on staff. Craig Candeto, who played quarterback for Hudspeth at Navy, is the Governors’ running backs coach and Chad Bumphis, who played receiver during Hudspeth’s first stint at MSU, is now in charge of Austin Peay’s wideouts.

“It’s different obviously going from playing for him to coaching for him but it’s good,” Bumphis said. “He’s still as detailed as anyone I’ve ever met and it’s obviously paying off. We’re doing some good stuff and everybody is buying in.”

Bumphis, a Tupelo native, began his coaching career at Iowa Wesleyan in 2016 and also has stops at Buffalo and Utah the past two years as a graduate assistant.

“I was really glad to give him his first real opportunity as a full-time coach Hudspeth said. “He’s really made the most of it. He works awfully hard and is a good recruiter. He’s even got some guys from Mississippi committed to us. I’m just proud of him.”

Bumphis played at MSU from 2009-12 and has the third-most receiving yards in school history. He spent time with the Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars’ practice squads before concluding his playing career with the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League in 2015.

“I love the game and knew that I couldn’t play forever,” Bumphis said. “I still wanted to be connected to it in some way. I love being able to help young men and give back. Some of the most influential people I’ve had in my life were coaches. It’s an important time to have a positive role model in your life and I feel like I can be that person because I’m not too far removed from where they are.”

Twitter: @loganlowery

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