The University of Rhode Island began its football season 13 years ago on August 30, 2001, coming off of a mediocre three-win season, much like the current squad. Little did people know it would spark a drastic turnaround and the team’s first winning season since 1995.
Heading into the 2001 football season, URI was looking to turnaround the fortunes of the program. Their previous head coach, Floyd Keith, guided the Rams to an average of just more three wins a year over his seven-year tenure. Taking his place in 2000 was former Georgia Southern Eagles head coach Tim Stowers.
While at the helm of the Eagles, Stowers had averaged more than eight wins a year and won the NCAA Division II championship in his first season there in 1990. As a player for Auburn University, Stowers made a living in the trenches playing offensive and defensive line as well as linebacker. While Stowers was not able to repeat his first season success here at URI, finishing 3-8 in 2000, he would have much better results the following year in 2001.
URI was led by a dominant rushing attack in the form of senior fullback David Jamison, sophomore Luther Green and senior Moses Tajong. URI started the season off with a bang when they upset the fourth-ranked Delaware Fighting Blue Hens, 10-7. Delaware had finished the previous season 12-2 and earned a spot to the Division I-AA Semifinals. Jamison rushed the ball 33 times and pumped out 99 yards for URI while senior quarterback Vince Nedimyer provided a rushing touchdown that proved to make the difference with 3:19 remaining in the second quarter. URI’s defense was stifling in that game, holding the Hens to 166 total yards on the day, their lowest such total since 1990. The defeat was the first season-opening loss for Delaware since 1994 and first loss to the Rams since 1988.
With the upset win, URI came out No. 19 in the NCAA Division I-AA polls the following week. If the Rams were fazed by the spotlight, they did not show it. They went on to beat fourth-ranked Hofstra, James Madison, longtime rival Brown, Hampton University, William & Mary and the University of New Hampshire. The Wildcats’ offensive coordinator at the time was Chip Kelly, current head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. With a spotless 7-0 record, URI ascended to as high as no. 4 in the rankings.
URI would finally be knocked off by the Richmond Spiders on Oct. 27. That was followed by two more losses to Maine and the University of Massachusetts respectively. Stowers would ink a contract extension after the season, but he would never be able to come close to duplicating his success that season. URI went 3-9 the following season and over the next five seasons, the team did not win more than four games in a season. URI football has struggled ever since: following Stowers’ firing in 2007, Darren Rizzi and Joe Trainer combined for a 28-73 record.
Like Stowers before him, new head football coach Jim Fleming has achieved success at other colleges and has a championship as a head coach previously. Last season Fleming was the defensive coordinator at no. 15 University of Central Florida, which went 11-1 in the regular season and upset no. 6 Baylor University 52-42 in the Fiesta Bowl. He was head coach at Sacred Heart for two seasons from 2000-2001, compiling a 21-1 record and winning the Mid Major I-AA National Championship to cap off a perfect 11-0 season in his second season. Perhaps he can have similar success here in Kingston. Only time will tell.