Tony Coaxum, the man who revived Bluefield State football, unfazed by January exit

Jan. 11—BLUEFIELD — The news that Bluefield State University head football coach Tony Coaxum was leaving the football program he resurrected three years ago hit Mercer County like a bombshell.

For Coaxum, his surprise departure was nothing to get overly stirred up about. As far as he sees it, one of the normative features of having a college head football coaching job — is suddenly finding oneself without a job.

"This is a profession that is, for lack of a better term, a very unstable environment with a lot of people moving around," said Coaxum, who was hired in 2020 to revive a Bluefield State football program that had been defunct for four decades.

The news that Coaxum would be leaving Bluefield State leaked onto the internet earlier this week but the university did not issue its formal announcement until Wednesday:

"Bluefield State University and Head Football Coach Tony Coaxum have mutually agreed to part ways," the announcement read.

"We want to thank Coach Coaxum for his dedicated service to BSU over the past three years," Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Derrick Price announced on behalf of the University.

"Since his hiring on October 9, 2020, Coach Coaxum has worked tirelessly to build Big Blue football from the ground up," Price said. "His student-athletes have received scholastic awards in the classroom and league honors on the playing field, while contributing to our campus community, as well. Coach Coaxum is a leader of upstanding character and integrity. We wish him all the best, moving forward."

Starting literally with nothing, Coaxum went 9-16 overall during his two seasons with the Big Blue, which went 4-3 in its return season during 2021 and posted a 4-4 record during 2022. Bluefield State went 1-9 in 2023, which marked the program's historic return to membership in the CIAA.

Coaxum was hired under the administration of Bluefield State University President Robin Capehart, who decided to revive Bluefield State's football program in the first place. Capehart retired from his post on Dec. 31 and that seat has been filled by Interim President Dr. Darren Martin, a Bluefield State alumnus.

There has been no confirmation that Capehart's retirement had any connection to Coaxum's exit from the university.

"I've enjoyed my time here and have really enjoyed the people. I can't say enough about the people and I thank former President Capehart for bringing me on and giving me the chance to lead a program for the first time," Coaxum said.

"I really enjoyed the community. The people embraced me from the get-go and I just had to be myself and do my best to bring the right type of young men here to do things. I'll always remember that and cherish that time."

Since this past autumn, Bluefield State University has faced scrutiny from the Higher Learning Commission over its policies and procedures and university officials have been asked to appear before an Institutional Actions Council hearing in March in Chicago. The meeting stems from the findings of a highly critical report from a Higher Learning Commission review team that visited the Bluefield State University campus this past September.

There has so far been no indication that the Bluefield State University football program was in any way connected with the concerns of the Higher Learning Commission. Coaxum declined to discuss what specific issues precipitated in his ultimate departure, except to indicate that like running a football program itself "there were a lot of moving parts."

Coaxum, for one, speaks as cheerfully and forward-looking on his way out of Bluefield State as he did on the way in. He said he is exploring a number of options.

"As coaches we learn to adapt and move within the environment and players are pretty resilient. They'll adjust to it," said Coaxum, who came to Bluefield from Northern Colorado.

"I tell the guys, you get hurt and upset about things but life goes on. You need to adapt to it and just keep going."

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