My school, my dear alma mater, pulled the trigger, right on schedule.
They shoot football coaches at Eastern Michigan University, every four or five years. Been doing it for 20 years. EMU doesn’t hire football coaches, it leases them.
Ron English is gone. End of lease, and EMU isn’t renewing.
The EMU football program has been lost for two decades now, and counting. They may as well post a sign outside the head coach’s office that says DEAD END.
It’s a place where football coaches go to die. It’s the Roach Motel of Division I football jobs.
Ron English was different, however. Or so I thought.
He had a pedigree, for one.
English worked a few miles west of EMU, right down Washtenaw Avenue, at the University of Michigan, where he served in various capacities on the defense, including defensive coordinator in 2006-07. He moved on to become the DC at Louisville in 2008.
At U-M, English’s defenses were highly regarded. In 2006, Michigan’s defense was the best against the run in the entire nation, in terms of yards per game.
So when EMU came calling, I thought that finally my alma mater had gotten it right—a top assistant who’d coached at the highest level, and with much success.
That by itself distinguished English from his predecessors at EMU.
There were the Two Jeffs—Woodruff (2000-03) and Genyk (2004-08), who ran the program into the ground for nine years between them. This, after Rick Rasnick tried for five years (1995-99), with little to no success.
Ron Cooper (1993-94) came from Notre Dame, but the luck of the Irish didn’t rub off in Ypsilanti.
The last coach who won anything at EMU was Jim Harkema, whose 1987 squad will live forever in Eastern lore for going 10-2 and winning the California Bowl. Hark’s 1987 team was Ypsi’s version of Joe Namath’s 1968 New York Jets—17-1/2 point underdogs to San Jose State. Quarterback Ronnie Adams didn’t guarantee a win, a la Namath, but his heroics were no less meaningful in that bowl game.
Harkema left in 1992, and never since has the football team been worth a hill of beans.
I don’t believe in curses, but for those who do, there’s this.
In 1991, the EMU Board of Regents voted to change the school’s nickname from Hurons to Eagles, an over-reactive, too-PC decision that to this day rankles old alumni, like yours truly.
Since the change to Eagles, the football program has gone into the toilet.
Take from that what you will.
EMU is closer to Metro Detroit and the PSL high schools than its sister directional universities—Western and Central. It’s closer to northwest Ohio than those schools, too.
Yet WMU and CMU, while not winning programs every year, have had far more success than EMU over the past 20 years.
The campuses are all similar between the three directional universities. The athletic facilities are pretty comparable as well.
But Eastern continues to wallow in the muck.
It’s a program that not only has lost, it has lost big. EMU doesn’t lose close games because the Eagles never find themselves in them. EMU has been losing 42-10 forever, it seems.
But still, I thought Ron English had the requisite coaching chops, and that the non-guilt by association of having worked for Lloyd Carr at U-M would be nothing but a positive for him in Ypsilanti.
English’s first team in 2009 went 0-12, but that was explained away with the theory that many of his players weren’t buyers of what English was selling.
Improvement was slight, culminating in a 6-6 record in 2011. English was named MAC Coach of the Year. Maybe he could turn the program around, after all.
But then things tumbled off course again, and through last week, the Eagles have lost 20 of their last 23 games. EMU Athletic Director Heather Lyke gave English the ziggy on Friday, the day before the rival game at home against Western.
Another former U-M assistant, and ex-Ball State head coach, Stan Parrish, will coach the final three games this season. EMU is 1-8 and is again not competitive, giving up more real estate each week than a loser in a game of Monopoly.
Maybe the biggest indictment of English is that, supposedly a defensive-minded coach, he functioned as his own defensive coordinator this season, and the defense got shredded weekly. It was like Charles Manson acting as his own attorney.
So can anyone win at EMU?
Some say that, since it’s still regarded as a so-called “commuter school,” that you can’t attract really good talent.
I don’t buy it.
EMU sits under the shadow of U-M’s beautiful campus and Ann Arbor’s eclectic, Greenwich Village-like town. There may not be anything to do in Ypsilanti after 10—in the morning—but there sure is a lot going on down the road.
Second, the football players don’t commute, so what does it matter what the rest of the student body does?
English had five years and the program is no better today than when he took over. It may, in some areas, be even worse.
A national search will begin immediately, Lyke said, for a new coach.
Somewhere out there, is someone who thinks he has what it takes to turn around 20 years of losing in Ypsilanti. Someone who is determined to put EMU football back on the map, and not a treasure map carried around by pirates.
Athletic Director Lyke will fly in a bunch of wide-eyed idealists, take them on a tour of campus, and hope to be dazzled by their interviews. From among them—each of whom will likely be looking for their first head coaching job—Lyke will pick EMU’s next coaching victim.
They’re starting to say that no one can win at EMU—under no circumstances, no matter the resume.
It’s hard to argue against that notion, because the further the school gets from the winning days of the late-1980s, the harder it will be to attract quality players—and coaches.
Someone has a hell of a mess they’re about to walk into.