S.C. State head coach Buddy Pough

South Carolina State and coach Buddy Pough. Pough will return to coach the Bulldogs during the 2019 season, the school announced on Tuesday. File/AP

ORANGEBURG – When Oliver “Buddy” Pough walked off the field at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium back in November after a four-point loss to North Carolina Central University in the season finale, the long-time South Carolina State football coach wasn’t sure about his future.

Pough’s contract was set to expire at the end of the year and his outlook with the Bulldogs football program – a place where he’d spent the majority of his professional life – was in doubt.

Pough, 65, had spent the last 17 seasons at his alma mater and knew he wanted to continue to coach and be a part of rebuilding a program he’d led to six Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference titles and three FCS playoff appearances.

But those decisions were out of his hands.

“I want to keep coaching,” Pough said back in November.

On Tuesday, the school announced Pough would return as the Bulldogs head football coach in 2019 with the two sides working on a longer term contract extension.

“There’s been a lot of conversation about whether coach Pough would be returning or not,” said S.C. State athletic director Stacy Danley. "When I looked at the program, where we are today, and considered our current reality and what the head football coach at South Carolina State is required to do, there was no question to me that Coach Pough is the man for the job. I believe coach Pough and his staff gave us some much needed momentum and that we are poised and positioned to build on that momentum. We have very talented and young team coming back. I think we have the moving parts in place.”

Pough made it clear at Tuesday’s press conference that he is looking for a longer commitment from the school than just the 2019 season.

“I look forward to being the guy in charge of this program for years to come,” Pough said. “If we had won that last game we would probably be as high as we’ve ever been considering where we’d come from. We are at a crossroads of sorts with the program and we’ve got to figure out where we are headed and I’ll tell you, I think we’re heading in a good, positive direction and I’m looking forward to seeing what these young men can do as we head into the spring.

"I’ll let the powers that be determine for how long and how much. I don’t get into those particulars. The big thing I want to know is do we have the pieces in place to have the opportunity to be successful. That’s what I’m more concerned about at this point.”

Danley said the school’s administration has given him approval to negotiate a new contract with Pough. The length of the contract and his salary are yet to be determined.

“Once we have a contract in place, pending board approval, we will announce the details of that contract,” Danley said. “I believe in (coach Pough) now more than I have at any time during my tenure here at South Carolina State."

That hasn’t always been the case.

After back-to-back losing seasons in 2016 (5-6) and 2017 (3-7), Danley did not extend Pough’s contract past the 2018 season. Last spring, Pough told members of the media that the 2018 season would most likely be his last.

After a 1-5 start this fall, which included a close home loss to Bethune-Cookman, Pough's days on the Bulldogs’ sidelines appeared to be coming to an end. But Pough was able to rally the team – winning four of the last five games – finishing with a 5-6 overall record and a 4-3 mark in the MEAC.

“By the end of the season I thought we could have played with anyone in our league and that’s what gets you excited,” Pough said. “I really thought the week before the last game of the year, that we were the best team in the league. We just didn’t play our best against (North Carolina) Central.”

Pough has compiled a 125-71 overall mark and a 97-35 record in the MEAC in 17 years.

Pough needs just four more victories to become the school’s winningest coach held by Willie Jefferies. It’s a record that many, including Jefferies, would like to see Pough break.

“Records are made to be broken and if Buddy does it, it would be a star in my crown as well as his,” Jefferies said. “No one would be happier than I would if he broke my record.”

With more than two dozen freshmen and sophomores among the Bulldogs two-deep chart, Pough said the Bulldogs have just eight scholarships to hand out for next season.

“Normally our recruiting really starts to pick up in February,” Pough said. “We’ve got three commitments, so we’re looking for two defensive ends, two defensive backs and two offensive linemen and we’re going to take a quarterback and wide receiver. That’s all we’ve got space for on our board. I think we’ve got a quarterback and wide receiver that are going to come in as mid-year transfers, so there’s not a whole lot of space in this class.”

Pough said Bennett Swygert, a former Summerville High School star, will return as the team’s offensive coordinator.

“I’m really excited about having Bennett back,” Pough said. “We’re excited about what our football team became as the season went on.”

Reach Andrew Miller at 843-937-5599. Follow him on Twitter @APMILLER_PandC