FLORENCE, Ala. (WHNT) — After six seasons and a 1-7 start this year, the UNA football program has made a change and Chris Willis is no longer part of the program. On Monday, Ryan Held led his first practice as interim head coach and the message was clear: he wants his guys to stay motivated and he says there’s still a lot to play for in these final three weeks of the season.
“We want to make sure that we finish it out the right way and do it for the future of the program and whoever becomes the head coach here, that they have stability of kids that finish things out,” Held stated. “Because in life, things are going to happen that aren’t going to go your way and what are you going to do, are you going to quit or are you going to fight? These are life lessons that sports allow you to go through.”
With just three weeks left in the season, UNA Director of Athletics Dr. Josh Looney said that this change is based on timing.
“November 21 you’ll have the FCS portal window 45 days open and then the FBS portal opens December 4 and you have the early signing period in mid-December I felt that to put us in the best spot moving forward, we needed to have our coaching search completed at the beginning of that cycle. That’s an unfortunate piece, I want Coach Willis to finish out the season as our coach but it was calendar related. But on the other side of that, we’ve had an offensive coordinator that’s made a great impact on us in his first year and he’s got three games to be the leader of this program and for us to evaluate him as well,” Looney added.
But for now, this is Ryan Held’s team and he’s no stranger to leading a program.
He’s been the head coach at five different programs during his 20-year career, and most recently was the running backs coach at Nebraska. Now he’s just trying to get these players to buy in as their season comes to a close.
“We have guys that are motivated and they want to be great, we’ve just got to channel all of that energy in the right direction and put our guys in a position to be successful. We’ve got to play with energy, [and] enthusiasm, it’s got to matter. Our number one focus is getting better. Last week we didn’t play to the standard that we want, we’ve got to continue to fight and reduce the mistakes. These are three games I want to go out and show what we can do. You can’t worry about the past, I can only control today and what we do tomorrow,” Held said.
Held will make his UNA interim head coaching debut on Saturday as the Lions host Austin Peay. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. in Florence.