I was following the Eastern Michigan University football coaching search very closely, leading up to Wednesday’s announcement of Chris Creighton’s hiring for the position.
Until 8:30 Wednesday night, I was convinced the job would go to Eastern Illinois University coach Dino Babers, a man who turned his program around, going 7-5 and 12-1 in his first two seasons, when the team went 2-9 in each of the two years prior to his hiring.
That said, I am really impressed by Creighton – not just on paper, but by hearing the man speak.
His record of 139-46 in 17 years of being a coach at three schools speaks for itself, especially given this key stat: he has never once had a losing season as coach.
His passion for coaching was evident Thursday afternoon, when he took to the podium in a news conference introducing him to the media and various people in attendance.
For a team that won 11 games under its previous coach, a coach who was woefully lacking in terms of his recruiting – especially in talent-rich areas like the Detroit Public School district, Creighton was direct when talking about where he would be recruiting.
And this is where it gets good.
“We’re going to start right here in Michigan,” Creighton said.
The current EMU football team has a lot of talented players on it, but over time, those players graduate. Combined with the absolute need to change the culture, Creighton made no bones about the type of players he planned to recruit.
“I’m going to go out there…and I know these people exist – winners,” Creighton said. “Guys who know who they are so deep that they don’t have to go to a finished product, to a supposed sure thing and be a cog in a wheel. There’s men out there who believe in themselves and know deep down that it might be more of a risk, but they want to go in the front end of something and build something special – not jump on something already done.”
Creighton’s predecessor, the now-infamous Ron English, was fired for a profanity-laced tirade in early November. Some people who played football in high school told me that was a normal occurrence, but I thought there was no place for it.
As it turns out, neither does Creighton.
“I’m going to treat these guys like men,” Creighton said. “I have a six-year old son. I hope he’s out at practice. I hope I don’t have to worry whether my son’s at practice. I’m an intense man, I have a high standard, but I don’t think you need to use profanity to get the best out of guys. I don’t believe that.”
For a team that hasn’t had a winning record since 1995, one might think the expectations on the new coach are pretty high, given the obvious need to win now. EMU vice president and director of athletics Heather Lyke stated her expectations after the news conference.
“To be better than we were,” Lyke simply said.
Lyke cleared things up a little.
“I don’t put quantifiable expectations on him at this point since he hasn’t given me his analysis of a study of the kids and the quality of talent on the program,” Lyke said. “But, I am very confident that he is going to make the program better and more competitive.”
I think it’s pretty easy to put a “quantifiable expectation” on Creighton, even in his first 24 hours on the job.
That expectation: Win five games. It’s not quite bowl-eligible, but it’s definitely a start.
Despite the confusion from the AD, one of the players, right tackle Lincoln Hansen, said he was confident in his coach.
Creighton recruited Hansen when he was still the coach at Drake University, and he said Creighton is a man of his word.
“I have [a] 100 percent expectation that he’s going to come in here and do exactly what he says,” Hansen said. “I actually got to meet him in my recruiting process before I chose Eastern. I believe 100 percent that he’s a man of integrity, and I have no doubt that he’s going to come in here and do exactly what he says. When he says we’re going to get after it, we’re going to work hard – I 100 percent expect that’s going to happen.”
EMU President Susan Martin is confident in the new coach, too.
“We will fill this stadium, we will go to a bowl game.” Martin proclaimed.
Fun Fact: The last EMU coach who had previous head coaching experience was Jim Harkema. What did he do? He led the then-Hurons to a 30-27 win over the San Jose State University Spartans in the 1987 California Bowl.
Now we wait until the season starts to see if history repeats itself. I, for one, hope it will.
Follow Al Willman on Twitter: @AlWillmanEcho
Al can be heard every week on the Eastern Echo Sports Podcast with Sports Editor Eugene Evans. The podcast can be found on SoundCloud or by searching for the podcast on iTunes.