Defensive coordinator replaces Hardman

Updated: December 3, 2003, 5:03 PM ET
Associated Press

PINE BLUFF, Ark. -- Arkansas-Pine Bluff named Marty Steward interim head football coach Wednesday, the day after Lee Hardman resigned.

Hardman hired Steward as his defensive coordinator three years ago. Steward said Wednesday that "if the opportunity arose" he would be interested in the permanent head coach position, but was mainly concentrating on "keeping us afloat" by carrying on with recruiting.

Hardman resigned Tuesday, assuming an administrative position that hasn't been determined yet. The Golden Lions had just completed their third straight losing season, but Hardman was also the team's winningest coach, posting a 64-58 record in his 11 years at the helm.

"The breaks didn't go our way and it caught up with me," he said in announcing his resignation. "I hate that it happened, but I know why it happened."

Steward said the coaching staff was "shocked" to learn of Hardman's resignation.

There had been speculation that Hardman was going to be fired before he stepped down, but Athletic Director Craig Curry told The Associated Press "that's all academic now."

"I'm not disappointed at all with the way this happened," Curry said. "I'm strictly looking at the past through a rearview mirror and moving toward the future, moving full-speed ahead to find a coach who can bring this team to the recognition it deserves, which is a (Southwestern Athletic Conference) championship."

Curry said he named Steward to the temporary post so the program wouldn't fall behind in recruiting and he hoped to close the interviewing process as soon as possible.

Curry declined to discuss who has expressed interest in the permanent job or the future of three former NFL players Hardman hired as assistants -- former Washington Redskins star linebacker Monte Coleman, journeyman tight end Jackie Harris and wide receiver Willie Davis.

Coleman said Wednesday he was applying, even though he has only one year experience as a linebackers coach. Observers have speculated that he would be groomed as Hardman's successor.

Curry would only say that all current assistants are under contract until June 30 and are free to seek other jobs, apply for the UAPB head job or wait to interview for an assistant's post with whomever is hired.

Steward said he would be willing to return to an assistant's role if he didn't earn the head slot. He said the team was lucky to have former pros on staff, adding that "anyone on the staff can move this program forward and can help players get to the next level."

Steward said he expects a permanent coach to be named by January.

Curry said the team's 11-22 record over the last three years under Hardman was not the main issue.

"We have seen a dwindling fan base in recent years and, financially, we have to fill the stadium," Curry said. "This was the time to make a coaching change because we feel we need an injection of enthusiasm and a fresh strategy and approach to matters."

Hardman was the state's longest-serving college football coach at the time of his resignation.

After the losing seasons in 2001 and 2002, Hardman hired the three former NFL players. Coleman played 16 seasons for the Redskins and was named one of the franchise's 70 greatest players. Harris, a tight end who caught 393 passes for 25 touchdowns over 12 years; and Willie Davis, who had 286 catches and 33 touchdowns in eight years as a receiver.

Curry said he doesn't have a replacement in mind, but will begin searching immediately. He said current coaches would be allowed to apply for the head coaching job.

The Golden Lions finished 4-7 on the season, 3-4 in the SWAC. John Pierce led the team with 1,359 yards passing on the year.

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press