I didn’t know diddly squat about the Eastern Michigan University football program when I enrolled there as a freshman in 1981. It didn’t take me long to learn everything I cared to know.

There was a losing streak, which I joined in progress. In a heartbeat it turned into one of double digits. The EMU Hurons had managed to beat Bowling Green University, sometime early in the 1980 season. Then they lost their last eight games of ’80. Then they lost every single game of my freshman year, in 1981. It got so bad that the student council president presented a petition to the school’s president, Dr. John Porter, begging him to fire head coach Mike Stock.

The losing streak was 19 games when the 1982 season began.

An opening weekend loss made it an even twenty. In mid-October, the Hurons were driving for a game-winning field goal against Ohio University. I was a scraggly sophomore in attendance that Saturday afternoon, and we prepared to raid the field, perhaps to tear down the goalposts, as the Hurons crept closer and closer to the Bobcats’ goal. The drive stalled, and the EMU kicker trotted onto the field. His name was Bob Hirschmann. I’ll never forget it.

The kick couldn’t have been any longer than 25 yards. A chip shot. But Hirschmann missed it. The losing streak was now 25 games.

Two more losses ensued, before the 27-game losing streak was stopped with a 9-7 win over Kent State. Stock by this time was long gone, fired and replaced by interim guy Bob Lapointe.

There hasn’t been much to cheer about on fall Saturdays in Ypsilanti. Only a mini-resurgence in the mid-to-late 1980s. Other than that…

The Hurons aren’t the Hurons any longer; they’re the Eagles. But their football team still stinks.

It’s no coincidence, in my mind, that the EMU football program is constantly in the toilet because they’ve hired coaches on the cheap who had virtually no ties to the area.

Eastern is the closest Mid-American Conference (MAC) school in the state of Michigan to the metro Detroit area, by far beating out Central Michigan (Mt. Pleasant) and Western Michigan (Kalamazoo) in this regard. Yet they’ve never exploited this advantage, at all.

It’s because their coaches have been ill-prepared and under qualified. And not from anywhere near Ypsilanti. And they’ve been cheap.

The most recent of these overwhelmed men, Jeff Genyk, was given the ziggy by the school before the last game of the 2008 season. It was a 3-9 year for EMU. Typical.

Genyk came to EMU from Northwestern, but was never more than a position coach at a school not really known for its football. Yet Genyk was charged with resuscitating Eastern’s moribund football program. And, like Jeff Woodruff before him, and Rick Rasnick before him, Genyk gave the Board of Regents exactly what they paid for. Which wasn’t much. It’s never been very much at EMU.

But it says here that finally, FINALLY, the administration at Eastern has gotten it right by thinking bigger than they have in years – decades, really.

Ron English doesn’t come from a Podunk school. His resume isn’t filled with years spent at institutions that you have to Google to find.

English is a Michigan Man. Last year he was a Louisville Man. But from 2003-07, English was the defensive coordinator for the Wolverines under Lloyd Carr. This past season, he performed the same duties for Louisville. That’s six years as a coordinator for a big time program. Or six years longer than the El Cheapo coaches EMU has been hiring for the past 15 years or so.

English took some heat for his defense while in Ann Arbor, but that’s part of the deal when you work for a university whose fan base lives and dies every Saturday with their football team. At Eastern, you just die, and then die some more.

“In 2008, there were five MAC schools who got invited to Bowl games,” English said to the media as he was introduced last week. “We want to be one of them. And we want to do it quick. Do it quick.”

The last time an EMU football team played in a bowl game, Ronald Reagan was president. It was the California Bowl, in December 1987. And Eastern upset San Jose State, who was supposed to make mincemeat of the boys from Ypsi.

It was the last hurrah for EMU football.

English (right) served five years as defensive coordinator for
Lloyd Carr (left) at
Michigan

After coach Jim Harkema, who led that Bowl team, was fired in the early-1990s, Eastern started looking below them for coaches instead of above. It seemed as if the first qualification you needed was to have never been a head coach or a coordinator at anywhere of any significance. And you had to not be from this area, and you had to work for cheap.

So the Board tried a bunch of these cheap, overwhelmed, displaced coaches, and the football program, in the meantime, became a joke. The close proximity to Detroit and the outlying suburbs, which has often been rich in high school football talent, proved irrelevant. And all the while, Eastern’s sister schools in Mt. Pleasant and Kalamazoo were fielding competitive, respectable teams.

English, at his press conference, spoke of passion and commitment and of a sense of urgency. I usually wouldn’t give you a plug nickel for anything a football coach says at his first media gathering. But at least the words were coming from the mouth, this time, of someone who’s prepared young men to play before crowds of larger than 15,000.

“All you hear about when you talk about EMU football is losing,” English correctly pointed out. “But this campus has a lot to offer. We can do a lot of good things here.”

Carr, by the way, served as an unpaid consultant during EMU’s coaching search. And he was in attendance as his former defensive coordinator addressed the media.

“I’m happy for Ron, and I’m happy for Eastern,” Carr said afterward.

That makes two of us.

It only took the folks at Eastern a decade and a half to understand: you have a much better chance of making progress if you think big, rather than small.

They finally loosened the purse strings and hired a football coach cut from big time program cloth who knows the area. Goodness gracious, it’s about time.

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