Let’s get one thing straight, right off the bat.
If becoming a winning football program meant simply changing the color of the field, Eastern Michigan University would have done it 20 years ago.
Then there wouldn’t have been a carousel of coaches, losses piling up like dirty dishes in a diner’s kitchen during the lunch rush and an ashamed alumni that, for two decades now, is still stinging from the robbery of their Hurons nickname.
But changing the color of the turf at Rynearson Stadium to gray, as was announced on campus in Ypsilanti on Thursday, isn’t going to be the magic elixir that reverses the fortunes of a program that seems to be forever coming off an embarrassing season.
I think we can all agree on that.
But when you’ve been losing on the gridiron as much as the (ahem) Eagles have since the Clinton presidency, you can be excused for reaching.
Chris Creighton is the Eagles’ new coach (hired in December), and if rah-rah speeches and the use of the word “tough” were a drinking game, you’d have been under the table halfway through Thursday’s press conference.
But that’s OK.
There’s a lot of snickering and eye rolling today, both from alumni and outsiders, at EMU’s new attempt at branding the football program that not only includes gray FieldTurf, but the coining of “The Factory” to describe Rynearson, courtesy Coach Creighton.
“We will play anybody, anywhere,” Creighton said Thursday at the presser. “We even said we’d play in a parking lot.”
So the gray field, according to Creighton and Athletic Director Heather Lyke, is partly supposed to symbolize the mythical parking lot. Also, the coach says that a gray field goes well with the toughness (there’s that word again) of Ypsilanti and hard-working Southeast Michigan.
How about that? The use of the color gray to symbolize blue collar folks.
A cynic would say that it’s typical of EMU football to not be able to get their colors straight.
But you know what? Good for them.
I’m an alumnus, as many of you know. And I have been cranky about EMU football, as many of you also know. I was so fed up that I was willing to give Jerry Glanville a shot, when he threw his hat in the ring following the cashiering of former coach Ron English.
But today I am actually proud.
Like Coach Creighton said on Thursday, it took some courage for EMU administrators to cough up the reported $500,000 it will take to rip out the old, green playing surface and replace it with gray FieldTurf.
What EMU is doing, in the same vein that I wanted them to think outside the box by hiring Glanville as coach, is daring to be different—at the risk of being mocked and derided.
Sometimes that’s what you need to do when the wins and losses have been cockeyed for so long—simply be different.
It’s like that old saying about the only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about.
Being different is a start.
Sooner or later, of course, the branding of EMU football is going to be about winning percentage. The field can be gray, blue, pink or purple. You can call your stadium The Factory as much as you want. But the credibility won’t be there until you start to win some stinking football games.
Coach Creighton knows that. So does AD Lyke, who I believe is a rising star in the world of college athletics. EMU will hardly be her last stop.
But when you’ve been down as long as the football program has been in Ypsi, the short term is all that matters. Everything is done for news and attention NOW.
Creighton made a valid and interesting point on Thursday about the commitment and buy-in of his inherited players.
In 2013, Eastern lost a player to a tragic death, had their coach surreptitiously recorded as having less than high character, lost a ton of football games and experienced the sacking of said coach and his entire staff.
Creighton rightly acknowledged that all of that was a heck of a lot for one football team to endure in one season.
Yet, as the coach pointed out, only one scholarship player transferred to another program.
So there’s a buy-in at Eastern. The players seem to be gravitating toward Creighton, who cited a February workout in six inches of snow as an example of commitment.
This is all well and good, but what about winning on Saturdays in the fall?
That’s the rub.
But you have to start somewhere when you are in a rebuild, and even though EMU can rightfully be accused of entering its seventh or eighth rebuild since the halcyon days of California Bowl wins and 10-win seasons with Ronnie Adams at QB and Jim Harkema on the sidelines, the past is not necessarily prologue in Ypsilanti.
So Eastern wants to drop half a million bucks to have a gray field. They want to call their stadium The Factory.
Laugh at them if you’d like. Deride them for being desperate.
At least they’re trying. And that wasn’t always the case.