Head coach Chuck Priore (middle) in Stony Brook football’s season opener on Sept. 1. Priore is currently in the last year of his contract. TIM GIORLANDO/THE STATESMAN

When it comes to Stony Brook football head coach Chuck Priore, the question is not “Can he coach?” The question is “Will he still be coaching?” 

As the second football head coach in Stony Brook history, Priore has helped transform the program from a state of mediocrity into one of respectability. Once a relatively young program with a losing record and no playoff berths, Priore has elevated Stony Brook into a program with pedigree and credibility. However, the 62-year-old coach is now in the final year of a contract extension from 2018. With his team currently in a three-season playoff drought, could Priore potentially be on the hot seat? 

“Chuck is a young 62,” Priore said while referring to himself in an interview with The Statesman. “I don’t have a ton of hobbies, so my plans are to be here.”

When talking about Priore’s future, it is important to consider his history. He is not young, and the team has been in a rut since 2019. But are those valid grounds for ousting him? 

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Back in 2005 when he was a Division III head coach for Trinity College, Priore said he saw potential in a Stony Brook program that was 105-110 all-time with zero national rankings and zero playoff berths. He took the job at Stony Brook in December 2005 and has since led the program to the potential that he saw in it 17 years ago.

“It was what I had called a hidden secret,” Priore said. “I thought it had opportunities. Sam Kornhauser, the previous head coach, had done a nice job laying the groundwork.”

Priore officially began his Stony Brook career in 2006 when the Seawolves were still a non-scholarship FCS program. While Stony Brook University President Shirley Strum Kenney and Athletic Director Jim Fiore were looking to move the football team elsewhere, Priore coached them to some success on the field. They finished second place in the Northeast Conference (NEC) in his first year, and produced a winning record as an FCS Independent the next year. That success helped land Stony Brook a new home in the Big South Conference, where the football team finally became a full-scholarship program.

The Seawolves’ tenure as an associate member of the Big South was the golden age of Stony Brook football. Once it was a fully-funded program, the football team found its way into national spotlight under Priore’s guidance. After a second-place finish in 2008, the Seawolves won four consecutive conference titles from 2009 through 2012. 

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They were at their best in the latter two years, earning a national ranking in both 2011 and 2012. The team received automatic bids to the NCAA playoffs both years, marking the first two playoff berths in Priore’s Division I career.

“I really believe our ability to connect with the Liberties and the Coastal Carolinas of the world and eventually overtake them with conference championships laid the groundwork to success,” Priore said. “It also allowed us on a national stage to get a little bit more notoriety.”

The exposure Stony Brook gained in the Big South was instrumental in getting them into the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), where the competition is much stronger. The Seawolves have been nationally ranked twice since joining the CAA — in 2017 and 2018 — clinching their third and fourth playoff berths under Priore. He also developed the program’s first six NFL players while coaching in the CAA. Will Tye, Vic Ochi, Timon Parris, Sam Kamara, Gavin Heslop and Connor Davis all reached the NFL and made regular season appearances. Several of these players were teammates at Stony Brook. 

In his 16 years at the helm, Priore has brought success, upgrades and national recognition to the program. Priore’s career record of 95-83 with Stony Brook has single handedly lifted the program’s all-time record over .500. The four playoff appearances under Priore are the only four in school history. Given the amount of change that has taken place in the program during his tenure, Priore evaluates his career as developmental.

“It’s been a development,” Priore said. “We’ve kept it a common goal that it’s about educating the players. It wasn’t about scoreboard winning, it’s about winning off the field: seeing kids grow, watching kids graduate, watching them have children and winning enough games to keep everybody happy.”

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Priore’s coaching philosophy has helped establish a tough and physical culture at Stony Brook. The Seawolves have become a perpetual rushing powerhouse on offense under him. During their dominant run from 2009-2012, the Seawolves’ offense averaged 234.6 rushing yards and 2.5 rushing touchdowns per game. They have also finished in the top three in rushing yards per game over the last four seasons in the CAA.

Conversely, Priore also strategizes in playing with aggressive defenses who stop the run. Priore’s defenses have also been tough, allowing only 20.1 points per game over the last 10 seasons.

“What I learned throughout my earlier years in coaching is that you win by having a physical part of the game,” Priore said. “So I do believe that games are won defending the run and being able to run the football. When the game is over, if teams do that, you generally end up on the winning side whether it’s NFL or not.”

If Stony Brook’s administration decides to continue with Priore, they would be bringing back a Stony Brook legend who has revolutionized the football program. Not only that, but they would be maintaining a smash mouth attitude with their program, as the run game and defense would continue to be their focal points.

However, there is a negative trend currently in play against Priore. The Seawolves have not made the playoffs or finished above .500 since 2018, but that’s not the worst of it. Stony Brook has been in a mediocre malaise since joining the CAA in football back in 2013 and has not yet won a conference title. Including the opening night game on Sept. 1, the Seawolves are 48-49 overall (33-36 CAA) in that timeframe. This could be an indication that the program has plateaued.

Things appear to be heading in the right direction for Priore, as he and Athletic Director Shawn Heilbron have spoken about a potential extension. According to Priore, there remains optimism that a deal will be reached to keep him for the future.

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“Shawn [Heilbron] and I have a plan,” Priore said. “We’ve had several conversations. It’s in the process. I’m very confident that in a very short period of time it will be handled.”

If Heilbron is not fully convinced with what he wants to do, he will be faced with a tough decision. Does he acknowledge the program’s recent trend and part ways with one of the best coaches in Stony Brook Athletics history? Or, does he put his faith in the proven winner and trust that he will take Stony Brook football to the next level? He has done so several times, but not recently.

Of course, the easiest way for Priore to secure an extension would be to win right now. Stony Brook is projected to finish seventh in the CAA this season, but has an experienced roster with a top-flight run game and a talented defense. Those perks give them the potential to be a surprise team this year, but it will not be easy to pull off in this year’s CAA. 

If Priore is done after this year, he will have definitely left Stony Brook football in better shape than he found it. If he gets to stay, he will have the chance to keep taking them as far as he can.

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