Furman Clay Hendrix

Former Furman player Clay Hendrix returns as the Paladins' new head coach. (Provided by Furman)

Clay Hendrix knows what it takes to win at Furman.

As a senior offensive lineman, he helped the Paladins to the FCS national championship game in 1985. Three years later, he coached the offensive line that helped Furman win the FCS championship.

Now, it's Hendrix's task to restore those glory years to Furman, which has not won a Southern Conference title since 2004. The Paladins have just two winning seasons in the last seven, and parted company with coach Bruce Fowler after last year's 3-8 mark.

Hendrix, an assistant coach at option-oriented Air Force the last 10 years, wants to restore Furman's identity as a tough, balanced team that can run the ball and stop the run.

"We've just got to be a tougher bunch," Hendrix said, alluding to the Paladins' six losses by 10 or fewer points last season. "You look a year ago, we were in a lot of games. We've just got to find a way to win games.

"It's a fine line, and The Citadel last year is a great example. They had a lot of close games and found a way to win them. That's just a mindset, a toughness and discipline, all those things people throw out there."

Hendrix is hoping that former Charleston Southern assistants Chad Staggs (the Paladins' new defensive coordinator) and Josh Miller (defensive line) can instantly improve a defense that ranked fourth in scoring defense (27.1 ppg) and total defense (373 yards per game) in the SoCon last year.

"I got to know Chad on the road recruiting, and those guys did a phenomenal job at Charleston Southern," Hendrix said. "He's done a good job against SoCon teams through the years, as well."

Nose guard Jaylan Reid, a second-team preseason all-SoCon pick, will be a key piece as Staggs moves Furman to a 3-4 defense. The 5-11, 274-pound junior had 31 tackles and 3½ tackles for loss in 2016.

Hendrix and new offensive coordinator Drew Cronic, whose NAIA team Reinhardt University averaged 55.1 points per game in 2016, have a proven quarterback to work with in senior P.J. Blazejowski.

All-SoCon pick Matthew Schmidt (6-3, 290) is back at center, and leading rusher Antonio Wilcox returns at fullback.

"It all goes back to who you are and what you want to be," Hendrix said, "and then doing those things daily that will get you there."

Reach Jeff Hartsell at 843-967-5596. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC