By Christian Byers,
“It’s funny, I always wanted to be the head coach at Eastern Michigan. When I was at Michigan State, we won the national championship in the year 2000 and the head coaching position opened at Eastern Michigan, and I really thought I was going to get that job. I didn’t get the job… and it broke my heart, it hurt.”
After 30 years of coaching across multiple divisions, conferences, and even professionally in the NBA G League, Stan Heath has finally landed his dream job of head coaching the men’s basketball program at his alma mater, Eastern Michigan University. Stan Heath’s history with Eastern Michigan University begins in 1984 as a student-athlete within the basketball program. Heath’s desire for coaching roots from his time at EMU coaching various summer camps during summer vacation after his father encouraged him to get a job.
“I'd go to different camps. Orchard Lake St. Mary had a camp, Eastern Michigan would have their camps and different schools would have camps, I would just go work camps,“ Heath said. "I started getting more into it… like 'you know what, this is kind of fun.'”
Heath is confident in his staff as well as the arsenal of athletes within the men’s basketball program. Heath has his eyes set on a Mid-American Conference championship and an appearance in the NCAA tournament.
“Our roster is full of talented, youthful players,“ Heath said. "We have a chance to achieve our goals very fast. We feel good about where we are. We’re building chemistry and putting together a strong foundation of good character guys that work hard and are serious about school, getting better, and graduating. That will allow us to be very competitive within the first year.”
Outside of the current roster, Heath is excited to introduce a newly acquired transfer from Siena College in Ferndale, Michigan. Heath sent out a warning for everyone to keep an eye out for this young talent.
“One of the guys we signed that really stood out is Collin Golson Jr.,“ Heath said. "He's an incoming freshman from Detroit, Michigan, who spent a year at Siena College. He has a year of collegiate experience, but due to COVID, he's still a freshman. He’s six foot six and about 230 pounds; a college freshman built like a grown man.”
Heath exercised three of four eligibility years at Eastern Michigan playing under Jim Boyce and Ben Braun. Approaching his senior year, Heath decided to forego his final year of collegiate athletics eligibility and pursue student teaching, which soon after led to a full-time teaching and coaching position at Ypsilanti Lincoln High School.
“I actually had another year I could have played but student teaching required me to be in a school till like 3 o'clock, and I couldn't make practice,“ Heath said. "It was one of those things where I actually talked to coach [Ben] Braun and told him that was my only way to finish school. So that's why I say I'm a three-year letterman.”
Not long into his coaching stint at Ypsilanti Lincoln, EMU head coach Ben Braun offered Stan Heath an opportunity to begin coaching collegiately as an assistant coach at Hillsdale College. Heath accepted the opportunity, officially beginning his collegiate coaching career.
“I went out, interviewed, and I got hired for the job,“ Heath said. "I got my first job at Hillsdale College. I made a nice $300 a month. It was wonderful.”
Heath began his collegiate head coaching career in the MAC at Kent State University, following a five-year assistant coaching stint under Tom Izzo at Michigan State. Heath led the Kent State Golden Flashes to a 30-6 record, MAC regular-season championship, and a MAC tournament championship, securing Heath the MAC Coach of the Year award in 2003.
Heath found himself climbing the ladder into an NBA coaching job following a successful collegiate head coaching career and a championship run within the NBA G League coaching the Lakeland Magic. A few months into the offseason, Eastern Michigan had a head coach opening for the men’s basketball program.
“When the Eastern Michigan job opened, at first, I wanted to make sure they hired the right guy because I really care about my school," Heath said. "Then some of my former teammates would call me and say, ‘Hey Stan, why don't you get involved with the job?’"
Remembering the hurt after falling short of the Eastern Michigan head coaching job in 2000, Heath decided to take another shot at fulfilling his dream of coaching his alma mater.
“I started thinking more and more about it and realized I could have more of an impact with young college kids compared to the NBA athletes making $20 million a year,“ Heath said. "I want my school to be really good, and I think I'm the guy that can do that.”
Heath also expressed the important role family played in his return home, having a father 30 minutes away from Eastern Michigan campus as well as a mother-in-law two hours away.
“That’s home. You've got connections at the school, you got family connections, right there,” Heath said. “You know, this may not be what you thought you were going to do, but it just feels right. I can't explain it. It just feels right.”
Alumni involvement is a keystone for Heath. Heath’s desire to build connections among the alumni roots from his experience as an assistant coach at Michigan State University, observing consistent engagement from Magic Johnson, Steve Smith, and Draymond Green with their alma mater. Heath has been in recent communication with Eastern Michigan alumni like George Gervin, Earl Boykins, and Grant Long.
Coach Heath and the Eastern Michigan Eagles continue to prepare for the 2021-22 basketball season beginning in early November. For more information on Eastern Michigan athletics, visit easternecho.com.