Less than a month after finishing with its best record in decades, Savannah State was faced with the task of picking a new head coach.
Shawn Quinn, who was fresh off Savannah State’s best season in two decades, left his post on December 1. Four months later, it has named Howard University cornerbacks coach Aaron Kelton as its new head coach.
Savannah State Director of Athletics Opio Mashariki broke down why it took four months to come to the decision to hire Kelton. He said the plan was not to rush the process.
“We started it sometime around the middle of January. We remember Coach Quinn — when he left — was December. Then you had the holidays. So once we resumed back in school and we started the process, meaning getting the committee together, starting to put the applications up and having applicants to apply for the position and then vetting those applications…”
“So to answer your question is that we didn’t have a timeframe we wanted to get it done as quickly as possible, but we wanted to be thorough as possible as well. So we weren’t going to put a timeframe on it as we saw that we had quite a few applicants. We needed the committee needed to be able to vet those applicants and then come back, interview the ones that they felt like they wanted to interview, whether it was on Zoom. And then finally we brought the applicants onto campus. The four finalists. And then from there, we had discussions. I had discussions with them, each one individually and then the decision was made probably about four or five days later. So like I said, we didn’t want to rush the process. We didn’t want to take too long either.”
One of the four candidates was Russell DeMasi who has served as the interim head coach since Quinn’s departure. The former Georgia Southern player had been an assistant at SSU since 2013, and was instrumental in bringing in SSU’s most recent recruiting class.
Recruiting is a forté for Kelton, who also oversaw it under head coach Larry Scott at Howard. That experience will likely come in handy as he now has to re-recruit the players that are currently on the roster as well as those who committed to the previous staff.
“I think I think a major part of what we what we’ve gotten away from in recruiting is not only are you’re committing to a university — you are committing to a coach — but you’re committing to a university to get your education as well,” Kelton said. “And I want to talk to them about that part of it with the things that they loved about Savannah, and football is not going to change. We’re going to still get after it and play good football.”
Kelton said he hopes to keep the family atmosphere, but he will understand if some players don’t want to pull up to the new table.
“I certainly understand if somebody makes the decision to not come, that’s their every right that they have,” he said. “But I want them to know that I accept them. It would be no different if Coach Demasi was the coach and decided to bring in some other assistants, he would be the only constant face. Well, we’ll have a couple of assistants around who they’ll be familiar with. And so we’re going to make that work and make it mesh. And I’ll talk to him honestly about, you know, what our plans are for them as a student-athlete. You know, I mean, that’s all I can do for them.”
Kelton has previously been a head coach at Williams College from 2009 through 2010 where he went was 31-25. He also served as head coach at Shorter University as the program migrated to NAIA to Division II football and went 0-11 in back-to-back seasons.
Now he’ll take over a Savannah State program that has gone 16-6 since moving down from Divison I football and has a lot of eyes looking to see if he can keep it together.